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Home / Tending Ourselves: Self-Care Strategies for Sustainable Work-Life Balance

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Tending Ourselves: Self-Care Strategies for Sustainable Work-Life Balance

Thu. March 23, 2017

Creating a sustainable work-life balance is an ongoing challenge for many, even those who love their jobs. If you’ve been burning the candle at both ends and are feeling frazzled, it may be time to reflect upon your current self-care regimen. Rather than face burnout, try these simple strategies to help restore balance and productivity in your daily life.
 

1. Practice mindfulness

A regular mindfulness practice is an effective and inexpensive way to combat burnout. Both Transcendental Meditation and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction have been shown to help, as have some less-structured meditation programs, (Luken & Sammons, 2016; Elder, Nidich, Moriarty, & Nidich, 2014). Finding the time to learn and practice meditation can be challenging. While searching out a local class or teacher is the best way to get started, apps like Buddhify and HeadSpace are great options for those who are not able to access in-person classes.

2. Don’t skip sleep

Sleep deprivation can adversely affect cognition and generally contributes to physical and mental stress. One study of university faculty found that getting less sleep was related to higher levels of burnout, (Padilla & Thompson, 2016). It can be tempting to sacrifice sleep for work or personal time, but most people find that they can think more clearly after a good night’s sleep. Prioritize your sleep, and you may find that you’re better able to cope with life’s challenges.

3. Prioritize

Over months and years, many people find that they’ve lost sight of the tasks or goals that attracted them to a job in the first place. One study of medical faculty physicians found that those who spent less than 20 percent of their time on what they considered to be the most meaningful aspect of their work were the most likely to experience burnout, (Shanafelt et al., 2009). Reconnect with the parts of your job that bring you joy. If you spend most of your time on tasks that are not personally meaningful, meet with your boss or other colleagues to discuss ways to reconfigure your roles. Get better at saying “no” to focus on aspects of your job (or life!) to which you’d like to devote your time.

4. Fuel up and move your body

We recommend scheduling snacks and meals while at work, and eating them away from your workspace. Leaving your desk while eating provides an opportunity to get your body moving and may also help prevent mindless snacking. Some of our favorite snack recommendations: a small piece of dark chocolate; nuts and seeds; fresh fruit; and spicy, sour, or tangy foods. Savor the flavors as you nourish yourself and take a few moments to rejuvenate. Set a reminder on your phone or calendar so that your snack/meal breaks don’t slip off your radar. Try our recipe for Purple Sweet Potato Bars for a healthy and easy-to-pack snack.

6. Maintain a daily rhythm

Circadian rhythms are behaviors or physiological patterns that happen approximately every 24 hours. They help our bodies anticipate and respond to changes in the environment. For example, if you eat at predictable times your digestive tract can produce enzymes in anticipation of an upcoming meal. By creating a degree of predictability in your daily rhythm, you can support your circadian processes. Waking up and going to bed at about the same time each day will help to synchronize your body clock. Similarly, eating and exercising at predictable intervals can help as well. Many people notice a significant difference in energy levels when they follow these basic guidelines.

Start with a few small changes rather than a complete revamp. You’re more likely to stick with small shifts, which can result in significant improvements to physical and mental well-being over time. We also recommend doing your part to create a culture that promotes work-life balance. Don’t normalize or glorify “busyness,” and be sure that you are respectful of other peoples’ need to engage in self-care. Remember that focusing on your own health isn’t a detriment to your work. By choosing to engage in self-care, you are creating a more sustainable path forward for the sake of yourself, your personal and professional communities, and those affected by your work.

 

Co-authors:

Bevin Clare
Associate Professor
Maryland University of Integrative Health

Camille Freeman
Associate Professor
Maryland University of Integrative Health

 

Elder, C., Nidich, S., Moriarty, F., & Nidich, R. (2014). Effect of transcendental meditation on employee stress, depression, and burnout: a randomized controlled study. The Permanente Journal, 18(1), 19–23. https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/13-102

Luken, M., & Sammons, A. (2016). Systematic Review of Mindfulness Practice for Reducing Job Burnout. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy: Official Publication of the American Occupational Therapy Association, 70(2), 7002250020p1-7002250020p10. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2016.016956

Padilla, M. A., & Thompson, J. N. (2016). Burning Out Faculty at Doctoral Research Universities. Stress and Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 32(5), 551–558. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2661

Shanafelt, T. D., West, C. P., Sloan, J. A., Novotny, P. J., Poland, G. A., Menaker, R., … Dyrbye, L. N. (2009). Career fit and burnout among academic faculty. Archives of Internal Medicine, 169(10), 990–995. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2009.70