How Work-life Balance Helps Boost Your Mental Health
Sounds familiar? Think of any get-together – intimate or a large social event, whether you’re meeting many strangers, or catching up with close friends or family – a large part of the conversation is often about leaps or setbacks at work, future goals, upcoming promotions, or the next stint after you quit.We wear our work as our identity and carry it around like a medal – or a wall of shame – depending on how we feel about our work.
“Architect” - “doctor”- “blogger”- “accountant”
It’s not unusual then that we stress so much about our jobs. We all walk around with dark circles, stifle yawns at meetings, wear a restricting shirt around the belly that reminds us of the previous day’s stress-binge, gulp coffee-after-coffee, cancel plans with friends, come home to an already asleep family, and take pride in unutilised work holidays because that makes us dedicated, diligent workers. Argumentum ad populum, right? “Everyone seems to be giving it so much importance, so it must be important!” Wrong. We limit ourselves by thinking that our work is the entire or most important part of our identity. And that’s where it becomes important to realise that a balance is essential.
Why is work-life balance important?
“But why?” you ask.
Consider this beautiful quote by the wonderful Stephen Fry:
“We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I'm going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”
We are not what we do. We’ve all heard the phrase “work-life balance”: it wrongly gives the impression that one half of our life is “work”, and the other is “life”.
The 5 spheres of our identity
However, there are broadly 5 spheres of our identity:
- Social: Who you identify as in social settings – with friends, at gatherings. More on the introvert end of the spectrum, or extrovert end? Or maybe you’re an ambivert, having days when you’re feeling social, and days when you just want to be quiet, by yourself.
- Family: Your identity as a family member – a parent, a child, a sibling, a spouse, an aunt, a nephew... and what meaning and duties do these roles bring with them.
- Relationship: Single, committed, cohabiting, married, it’s complicated, just friends... these come with their own sets of assumptions, expectations, joys, sorrows, and responsibilities.
- Career: Your profession, your organisation, its location, your salary, your position. This dictates how much time you spend commuting, working on a specific activity, with a certain team or alone… .
- Personal: Your spiritual/religious self, your health, your hobbies, your values and beliefs, your existential crises... all these form your personal identity, and are a part of who you are, how you express yourself, and how you choose to spend your time.
What are the benefits of work-life balance?
So I’m going to go ahead and list some of the benefits of a work-life balance:
- Holistic growth and contentment: As in the 5 spheres theory mentioned above, ensuring you are paying enough attention and nurturing other parts of your ‘self’ ensures holistic growth as a person, taking you one step closer to contentment. In fact, the concept of “flow” according to psychologists, emphasises the need to do things in which you lose yourself and become one with the activity. Through their studies, they found increased levels of happiness and contentment among individuals who practised activities purely for the sake of doing that activity, without being aware of time, hunger, distracting thoughts, etc. So, finding yourself time to indulge in things you truly enjoy is actually what will take you closer to joy
- No burnout: Work-life balance will ensure you prioritise your health, sleep, meals, social life, and very importantly, your “me-time”. This, in turn, keeps your energy and motivation high, keeping stress-related heart diseases and other illness at bay. No burnout means continuing to have a job, a life, and before you know it, you are on the road to a healthy, fulfilling life!
- Job satisfaction and productivity: An overdose of anything starts bringing in irritation and dissatisfaction. Ensuring that your day is also spent doing things you enjoy at home or outside, in turn, leaves you feeling positive towards life, which in turn brings a boost to go into work and get things done.
- Lower chances of depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns: In India itself, according to a 2016 study, 46% of the workforce was suffering from the effects of stress – which is half our workforce! Prolonged stress leads to the development of clinical conditions, which in turn impact your performance at work, and overall well-being. So, in the process of chasing a better position at work and sacrificing everything else, you end up performing worse at work, and distancing yourself from the life you’ve envisioned.
- Increased focus and memory: Excessive hours at work without proper sleep, food, and rest time for your brain lead to an information and sensory overload, which reduces attention, focus, memory, and even comprehension capacity. Cutting off from the mundane routine is essential to ensure that you manage all aspects of your “self” at optimum capacity.
(ONLY) Money can’t buy you happiness
We all assume that money will bring us happiness. Why else would we spend the majority of our waking hours doing something we don’t entirely enjoy? A study by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who is a reputed a Hungarian-American psychologist, found that while some amount of money is essential to ensure positive emotions, after hitting a certain level of income- happiness and negative emotions, remain constant. However, the desire for more persists. Thus, the pursuit of money and larger salaries can buy us happiness, but only to a certain extent. Maintaining a regular connection with other hobbies and important people in your life to find more lasting mental peace is essential.
How do you figure out whether you are balancing work and life?
Try out this activity:
On a sheet of paper, draw 5 circles: 2 above, 2 below, and one at the center. Label each of them using our 5 spheres. Now imagine they are 5 baskets, and you need to divide 100 eggs in those 5 baskets according to the weight age of priority. So if you feel like 80% of your time and priority is currently focussed on work, write the number 80 in your work basket/sphere, and divide the remaining 20 eggs in the rest of the baskets accordingly. Do it once by denoting how your life priorities are currently, and then again in terms of your ideal – how would you like it to be?
This will give you a clear picture of what’s important, and what’s severely impacted in your life, so you can chalk out where to begin.
Sold to the idea? Great! Read these articles to work out how to maintain a work-life balance.
Juhi Parmar is a Psychologist at Mpower -The Centre.