• It's important that we split our time and energy between work and other important aspects of our lives

  • Avoid hyper-vigilance by taking practical steps to find a good work-life balance says Hayley Van Zwanenberg

  • If you are looking for a therapist, you can find one here

Work-life balance is all about learning to prioritise different elements of your job and lifestyle. Achieving a happy medium means splitting your spare time where it’s needed between your family, relationships, leisure, health and pleasure.

The increasing pressure on employees to perform, compete and be available at the touch of a button means that finding the balance with your home life is increasingly difficult. Managing the expectations of those around you and setting personal boundaries is important in order to make sure every element of your life gets some love.

Be aware of hyper-vigilance

Juggling an important job with a busy lifestyle means that you’re always being mindful of what’s going on around you. Whilst it’s good to be vigilant and aware, maintaining your attention and alertness over prolonged periods of time can psychologically wear you out.

Vigilance can lead to hyper-vigilance, a mindset that over-estimates the potential for danger and means that you’re in a perpetual state of fear. I once had a boss who slept with his mobile phone under his pillow (on loud), and check it throughout the night in case he missed anything. This state of mind also goes hand-in-hand with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and exhaustion, and can easily have serious physical and mental consequences.

Protect work-life boundaries

Once you’ve carefully considered some realistic boundaries to stick to, you need to be ready to defend your priorities. If you’re happy to push back on employers, friends and family, do it confidently and calmly, giving rational explanations without over-justifying yourself. If there’s a way to keep everyone happy whilst keeping stress levels low, think about how this will work and fit in with you before taking action.

A shift in culture is needed in the working world. Directors and managers should lead by example, and educate their leaders and staff so there’s a shared understanding and company culture around mental health issues.

Avoid a culture of dependency

A great piece of advice for unravelling your work and home life, is to literally separate it in every sense. A different phone for home and work is a good place to start. Leaving your work phone in the office when you’re not there is a good way to combat the temptation to stay connected.

Before I started doing this, colleagues and clients became used to relying on me to help them solve problems at short notice, at whatever time, even on my days off. They would take advantage of this, calling around the clock and making me feel like their problems were mine. I sometimes give out my number now to trusted colleagues, but make sure that they’re aware not to abuse my kindness.

Dr Phil Hopley, Consultant Psychiatrist and Resilience Coach at Priory Hospital Roehampton provides insight on work-life balance:

You shouldn’t try to aim for the perfect balance between work and home life, because it’s completely unsustainable. You can’t possibly predict which weeks will be more demanding. It’s important to work a recovery routine in to your everyday life, so it gradually works its magic in the background. That way you’ll be subconsciously prepared if you have to deal with a demanding week.

Cognitive distortion is a way for your mind to convince you that something isn’t true, and it reinforces negative emotions and thoughts. Resigning yourself to the type of negative thinking that tells you there’s no free time to deal with your own wellbeing is a downward spiral. It’s best to pinch irrational thoughts in the bud before they take over.

Challenging yourself on cognitive distortion, and putting negative thoughts and emotions to bed before they deepen is essential for a healthy mind.

Reducing the risk of burnout

Keep things simple but make sure you find the time to do little things each day to reduce the risk of adverse effects on mental and physical health:

  • Take a few minutes break every hour
  • Stay hydrated
  • Try mindfulness, meditation or apps that help with reflection
  • Exercise as regularly as possible
  • Keep your alcohol intake low 
  • Eat healthy and avoid foods that make you feel sluggish (sugar, fats, rich foods)
  • Spend time with family and friends every week
  • Sleep and nap when you get chance

Further reading

How to embrace mindfulness at work

Why perfectionism can cause havoc at work

11 tips for highly sensitive people at work

Mental health affecting your work? You're not alone