Is your work-life balance feeling a little out of alignment? Here are five signs to look out for.
Modern technology and alternative ways of working were meant to make work easier. Or at least that’s how it was sold to us. But due to smart phones, wi-fi and email, for many people it feels like the work day is never over, with no natural end point. Technology provides more opportunities and greater flexibility than ever before, but the pressure this places on people is taking a toll on our work-life balance and our wellbeing.
The latest research from the OECD’s Better Life Index ranks the UK 29thof 38 countries for work-life balance. 13% of the population reported working over 50 hours per week, with the research noting that long hours impair health and lead to increased stress.
This is backed up by recent findings by the Office for National Statistics. The data show that anxiety and depression are now the most common form of work related illness, overtaking musculo-skeletal disorders for the first time.
Is work stressing you out to the detriment of other areas of your life? Here are five signs to look out for that your work-life balance is out of alignment:
1. Being on constant call for work emails
Answering emails outside normal work hours is something many people do. Indeed, working through emails on your journey to and from work may be an efficient use of your time, especially if this means you can arrive late or finish early.
The problem occurs when you find yourself checking your messages all night, getting involved in protracted email exchanges until late and hardly ever turning your work phone off. This creates an expectation that you will always be available. Soon you feel like you can never switch off from work.
2. Developing unhealthy eating and drinking habits to cope with stress
This creeps into your daily routine when you use sugary foods and alcohol as crutches to help you deal with the long hours you are working. At the office, this can include ‘treating yourself’ to muffins, chocolate and other snacks to help you get through the day.
And when you finally get home from work, opening a bottle of wine or having a few beers becomes an ever more familiar habit to ‘help you unwind’ and reward yourself for your efforts. Pretty soon, this can turn into alcohol dependency.
Taken together, eating the wrong things and drinking too much will take a toll on your health. Negative impacts may include weight gain increased your risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and Type II diabetes.
3. Waking up during the night thinking about work
The more hours you work, the longer work is on your mind. If you’re working late, this means your brain will be processing information about work all through the evening. So there is little time to switch off before bedtime. This is especially true if you sit in bed at night answering emails!
Put simply, your mind is working overtime. This makes it more likely you will sleep fitfully and wake up during the night, worrying about what has happened today or what might happen tomorrow.
As well as adjusting your email working hours, try a short mindfulness exercise at bedtime to help your mind unwind and switch off before you go to sleep. These days it’s simple with smartphone apps such as Headspace and Calm. They provide short, tailor-made pre-sleep meditations you can follow easily.
4. Feeling tired and sluggish all the time
Are these habits familiar to you? The effects of working too many hours in the office, eating unhealthy comfort foods, not exercising enough, drinking on weeknights and not sleeping enough combine to create one much bigger problem. You end up feeling tired and sluggish all the time.
Not having enough energy to get through the day means you do things like increasing your caffeine intake and have more and more sugary snacks to get you through.
This creates a vicious cycle which could have a significant long-term impact on your mental and physical wellbeing. It’s something you need to address right now, by focusing on each unhealthy habit one-by-one, including the root cause: working too many hours.
5. Friends complain that they never see you
One of the first things to get squeezed out if you work too many hours is your social life. Soon, you find the only time you see your friends is on social media. Weeks and months go by without seeing the people you care about most. Your Facebook and Instagram feeds are full of pictures of your friends out and having a great time — without you.
The paradox is that seeing the people you care about regularly is one of the best ways to reduce cortisol. This is the hormone released by your brain during stressful times. Seeing and talking to your friends is a better way to deal with tough times than alcohol or comfort food. It’s time to start marking out more time in your diary to see friends and family.
Do you recognise any of these five signs of work-life balance stress? If so, it’s time to act now by re-examining the relationship between your career and the rest of your life.
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