Juggling the demands of our personal and professional lives has always been tricky, but never more so than now. Long hours, high-pressured roles and working across time zones can all conspire to overwhelm us if we’re not careful, and that’s before you’ve even begun to consider maintaining a real life – which, as most of us know, has the habit of throwing you a curveball when you need it least. And whilst some elements of our lives can be controlled, it’s often the unpredictable elements that send everything else into disarray. But the key question is this: what do you do about it, and how do you keep yourself healthy?
First, of course, we have to recognise the signs that we need some downtime. If you’re spending so much time meeting the needs of others – whether your employer, your partner or your friends – that you’re not meeting your own, it’s likely to cause problems. If your usual sleep, diet and exercise regimes start to fall by the wayside you’re probably not going to be in peak physical condition to cope with multiple demands on your time. And, knowing what we do about the impact of physical health on overall wellbeing, if you’re not looking after yourself physically you’re almost certainly not looking after yourself psychologically.
Once you’ve spotted the signs that things are taking a toll, it really is time to take a step back. It might not be easy – there will always be that email that needs to be sent, or that proposal you need to look through – but it’s hard to perform at your best when you’re beginning to feel the pressure. Here are five key things you can do to try to redress the balance:
TAKE A BREAK (OR TWO) - It sounds obvious, but try to take regular breaks, and avoid working longer hours simply to ‘try to get stuff done’. A half-hour lunchbreak might seem like a luxury but you’ll actually be much more effective if you spend a little time away from your desk;
TELL SOMEONE - Let your manager know if you’re struggling. This can often feel intimidating but they will almost always be helpful – after all, it’s in their interests to have a happy workforce. And, of course, seek support from your social network. They might not have any magic fixes, but it’s good to have people around you who know what’s going on;
KEEP ACTIVE - Maintain an exercise regime, even if it’s only twenty minutes a day. Exercise releases endorphins, which lift our mood and have the added bonus of increasing antibody production. Walking, running, cycling, squash – it doesn’t matter what it is; the important thing is that you do it;
EAT, SLEEP, REPEAT - Ensure you eat well and get enough sleep. It’s easy to fall into the habit of eating processed, fatty foods when you’re under pressure, but they’ll do nothing for your energy levels, or your waistline. Eating a nutritious diet doesn’t have to be a chore. As for sleep, if you’re not getting at least seven hours of it a night, you’re probably not getting enough. You might be able to survive on less, but sleep deprivation is associated with anxiety and depression, as well as a raft of physical health problems. Allow yourself to recover from the demands of the day so you can go into the next one fighting fit;
MAKE TIME FOR THE LITTLE THINGS - Make time for the things you enjoy. It’s important to be able to switch off and spend time doing things for yourself. Whether it’s reading, meditation or fishing, it needs to be something that will help you feel recharged.
It’s not always easy to take care of yourself, and too often we allow other things to take over. But to be at our most effective, sometimes we have to prioritise our own needs. Try it and see: you’re almost guaranteed to notice the difference.