Your hours are not always predictable. You work the ER night shift Mondays and Wednesdays. By Friday, you’re running on coffee and adrenaline, and you realize you left your lunch at home in your sleep-deprived morning haze. Some days, finding a balance seems impossible. Don’t fret, young grasshopper—balance is possible. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. Here are a few steps you can take to feel more balanced during the workweek:
You might not get very many breaks throughout your shift, but when you have a few free minutes, use that time to take a real break. Take a walk, eat lunch on a bench outside, do a couple stretches… And leave your cell phone in your locker. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck in hyperdrive, it might be tempting to sit down, check your Instagram, and live vicariously in a world of exotic locations and latte art for a while. But studies show that passively scrolling through social media feeds can actually increase feelings of loneliness and boredom, and it won’t allow your brain to get the break it needs to recharge. If you’re scrolling through your phone all through your break without any type of real engagement, it won’t actually feel like a break. You’ll still feel just as exhausted when you get back to work.
Your work will sometimes try and follow you home. Maybe there’s a tough patient or a sick child you can’t stop thinking about, and you just want to solve it or hash it out at home. And to an extent, that’s okay. Your job is a huge part of your life, and it’s natural for it to have an impact on you after hours. But do your best to leave your work at work whenever possible. When you’re home, with your family, with your friends, be present. If your head is constantly at work, it'll be difficult to feel a true sense of balance.
Thinking about abandoning work for a vacation might feel like just that—abandonment, laziness, lack of dedication—especially if you’re a millennial or if you’ve started a new job and are trying to prove yourself. You might feel like there’s too much pressure and too little time for time off. But studies show that that taking vacation days actually has overwhelmingly positive effects on both mind and body. Various studies compiled by Project Time Off found that people who use their vacation days are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, more likely to experience higher levels of emotional positivity, and—get this—less likely to die of coronary heart disease or heart attack.
Dr. Eric Schadt, PhD and senior author of Translational Psychiatry, conducted research on the subject and reported that “on a relaxing vacation, you allow your body to get out of that defensive posture, reduce your levels of stress, which in turn affects the states of cells that are involved in your immune system.”
Science, guys. Word to the wise: Don’t be a martyr, and use those vacation days. You’ll be better off for it.
I know, I know. It can be so tempting when you come home after the end of a long shift to kick your shoes off, plant yourself in front of the TV, and get lost in 3 hours of Grey’s Anatomy reruns (this is so not how real hospitals work, but you just can’t tear your eyes away!). Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to indulge in a Netflix binge every once and a while, but don’t make the mistake of using all of your (very scarce) work-week free time engaging in mindless activities. Plan a few activities throughout the week that you can look forward to—whether it’s a new hip hop class at the gym, a hot date with that book you’ve been meaning to read, or game night with the family. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing outside of work, make your free time count.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: “But I can’t just sit down and meditate all my problems and stressors away.” Except, yeah, you sort of can… Sure, your bills and fatigue and coffee-stained scrub top will still exist post-meditation, but over time meditation and mindfulness can change your perception of common stress-inducers. Think of it as brain training. Even just a few minutes in the morning or before bed can help you feel more relaxed and balanced throughout the day. If you, like many (including myself) feel like you’re bad at meditating or don’t know where to start, here are a few of the best apps out there that are made to guide you along: Pause | Headspace | Stop, Breathe, & Think | Buddhify
Now go forth, and be balanced. Have any stellar techniques for balancing your work and home life? Let us know in the comments!