Balancing Work and Life
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Teresa Mulvena, CBT Cert, MA Counselling, MBACP (senior accredited)
31st January, 2009
“I regularly wake in the night with work concerns going around in my head, and I find it difficult to go back to sleep. When I’m watching TV or reading a book I find it hard to concentrate because the unresolved work issues keep worrying me.”
Although this an obviously worrying example of being unable to switch off from work, the more gradual eroding of neglected relationships is harder to detect, but equally damaging:
“I’ve just had a promotion at work, and I’m excited about this but I’m anxious about the effect it will have on my home life – my children and my relationship. How am I going to balance my career with the needs of my family? There is only a limited amount of time in the day, and I’m going to have to put in more work hours. How do I strike a balance, and how much is too much. There’s that old saying about no-one on their death bed ever wishes they had spent more time at work, but on the other hand my father always regretted that he never took up opportunities in his career.”
Many people in the workforce are faced with similar dilemmas. Balancing personal and career demands can be a major challenge. Technical advances such as the blackberry, following on the footsteps of the mobile, and the laptop, mean that you need never be away from work demands.
Is It Bad For You?
Work addicts should not be confused with people who are simply hard workers. There is nothing wrong with loving your work, going the extra mile to meet a deadline or finish a project, and feeling satisfied with your achievements.
However always working long hours is a different situation. It confuses quantity with quality. Working long hours and being productive is not necessarily the same thing. It is unsustainable and can lead to health problems, stress, and emotional burnout. Relationships too require a certain amount of time and attention to keep them alive. It's too late when you are divorced, your kids leave home hardly knowing you, or you have a health scare.
Should You Always Aim For Balance?
There will be times when life is quite out of balance. It may be wiser to accept this and lower your expectations rather than fighting against a period of imbalance such as when you have a new baby, a health problem, or a special work project. The skill is to weigh up how much to tolerate these periods of imbalance, and to be careful that they don't become the norm.
So what is balance?
Is it ticking all the boxes on a daily or weekly basis - work, relationships, exercise, and learning? Or is balance different for each individual?
Take a few moments to ask yourself what ideal balance would look like for you. Depending on your stage of life and your personal circumstances it will vary.
What is Workaholism?
Work can become an addiction. "Workaholism" is not a recognised psychological disorder, but describes a common psychological issue. Someone is struggling with workaholism when s/he has a relationship with work that excludes time for self-nurturing, friends and relationships.
Workaholics can in fact become dependent on the adrenaline naturally released in their bodies as a result of the pressure at work, but this can have negative health effects such as high blood pressure leading on to cardiac problems.
They can also become addicted to the buzz of achieving more and more. The problem is that it never really satisfies because it is not addressing the real unmet need.
It develops from the unspoken belief that a person can effectively address challenges both in life and work exclusively by working harder at work. People who are workaholic work to hide anxiety, low self-esteem, and intimacy problems. As with other addictions, workaholics will deny that their behaviour is causing problems, despite feedback from loved ones and friends
The Workaholic Loop
Working hard distracts the workaholic from underlying worries. Instead the person feels good by accomplishing things at work. However, their personal life begins to suffer from lack of attention. As their personal life suffers, it causes more anxiety, so the workaholic works even harder at getting more things done at work, in order to give themselves the feeling of some area of their life going well, causing their personal lives to suffer even more - and the vicious cycle goes on and on.
Signs of Workaholism
- Thinking about work constantly and if unable to work, feeling panicky or depressed.
- Resisting taking breaks or holidays. Any holidays are likely to be highly organised, and purposeful; just relaxing leads to restlessness
- Taking work with you to bed, on weekends, on holidays
- Work preoccupying your thoughts and your conversation
- Complaints about you cancelling or being held up by work
- Taking on extra work because you are concerned that it won't otherwise get done
- Fear that if you don't work hard you will lose your job or be a failure
How to Regain Some Balance
- Re-examine your long-term goals: Are you doing what you want to be doing with your life, and is what you are doing now taking you in the direction you want?
Imagine you are looking back on your life and your achievements. What is it you want to be able to say about how you spent your life? From the vantage point of your deathbed, what do you want to be able to say about how you spent these years? Not many people on their deathbed say they wish they had worked longer hours. When you are caught up being busy, it is difficult to see the bigger picture. Take some time to think about your bigger picture. What is it all for? Ask yourself if this is what is most important to you.
- Take a moment to ask yourself why you work so hard. What need is being met? Try and identify whether working so hard compensates for some unmet need. Reasons may include:
- an attempt to please, to seek approval
- a belief that if you were successful you would feel happy
- distracting yourself from other problems
- filling an inner emptiness
- self-worth depending on a sense of achieving
- fear of what you might feel if you weren't busy all the time.
Sometimes your reasons are out of awareness and you may need professional help to understand your hidden feelings and motivations. A therapist can help talk through these issues and help you understand what need is being met through work.
- Schedule time for your relationships: Most relationships require at least 20-30 minutes of quality time every day. This time is spent simply checking in with, and catching up with one another. When you're away call home regularly. When you get home, take extra time for re-connecting. Plan an evening out together regularly.
- Treat family time like you would an important appointment: Try not to reschedule, no mobiles, and no blackberries. Making an appointment means you will treat it like a firm commitment. Keep to it like you would keep to any other appointment.
- Take care of your physical health: eating, sleeping, and exercising. Treat these as seriously as you treat your work commitments.
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