Why Work-Life Balance Matters For Your Mental Health

May 31, 2018

The month of May marks Mental Health Awareness Month, an observance that aims to increase awareness of and discussions surrounding mental health conditions. It’s also about combating stigma. At Elysian, we believe that everyone should be able to go to work as a whole person–not as part of a bottom line, or the means to an end in a creative project. Being a whole person with strengths, weaknesses, and talents also means being a person who may sometimes experience hardship that makes life and work more difficult. This month, we’re devoting our blog to talking about mental health and how it relates to work and the workplace.

Maybe you love your job so much that you never want to stop working--or maybe your work requires so much effort and time that you feel like you can never stop checking your e-mails and scheduling meetings. Whatever the case is, a lack of work-life balance can be extremely unhealthy, both physically and mentally. According to Psychology Today, “Research shows that people at all career levels suffer from the emotional and physical damage of workaholic expectations; destructive, stifling management practices; and a lack of sufficient vacation (link is external) and leisure time.” Learning how to manage your time and set boundaries between your work life and your personal life is one of the most important professional skills you can foster.

Here are some of the top tips for how to create more work-life balance to prioritize your mental health and wellbeing:

Use every last one of your vacation days
When employees are feeling engaged and energized, they’re 28% more productive. That means all of those hours you’ve been spending at the office and working overtime are taking a toll. Have you used all of your vacation in the last few years? And if you have, have you really used it, or have you gone on vacation but checked your e-mails and phone frequently? Even if you don’t use your vacation days as whole periods of time, like a two-week vacation away, making sure to use them will re-energize you.

Depending on your lifestyle, you may want to save everything for two weeks and take a really good vacation with your family. Or maybe you want to take a three-day weekend every so often. Whatever you want, you should be using your time off. Otherwise, you’re not only putting a damper on your productivity, but doing yourself a disservice. A day off or two on a random week might refresh you. You could even make it a self-care day.

Set boundaries around when you check and answer e-mails
If you’re not in the office and you don’t have a pressing matter like a serious deadline or a client who needs an answer right away, why would check your phone or e-mail after hours? It’s easy to feel compelled to constantly be in-the-know and on top of things, but checking your work e-mail while you’re with family or friends at dinner, trying to enjoy the weekend, or even at the gym won’t do you much good. Setting a boundary and committing to only checking your e-mail when you have to will set a healthy precedent in your life, and solidify the idea that your personal time is for you and not for work. We can’t be on all the time. And interestingly enough, it will actually harm your ability to be as productive as possible in the office and during actual work hours if you expend too much energy after-hours.

Plan at least one enjoyable activity for yourself, social or not, during the week
It can be spending time with friends and catching up, or learning a new skill and finding a new hobby once a week. Whatever it is that you choose, it can be helpful to set a recurring activity or addition to your schedule that you can put in your calendar. That way, at least a part of your life is revolving around something you choose to do and enjoy, instead of everything revolving around your work calendar all the time.

Create a healthier work space
By creating a work space that you feel more comfortable in, you’re creating a more productive environment for yourself. Create a work space that isn’t 100% about work and will allow you to take breaks and focus on something other than your job for even ten minutes every day can be helpful and keep you motivated. Adding a pillow to your chair, creating a portion of your desk that’s reserved for plants, photos, stress toys, or an adult coloring book can be great. Or creating a snack drawer or snack space on your desk will remind you to eat regularly. All of these things can help to promote balance, and make sure you’re taking some time for yourself as a person and not just an employee throughout the day.

Use your lunch hour for yourself
It can simply be a personal hour where you check in with yourself, write in a journal, go for a walk, and pause your workday. If you have the time and access, you can go for a quick gym session. Maybe there’s a park somewhere near your workspace or office. Whatever it is, setting up a routine of fully immersing yourself in your lunch hour and truly using it for yourself can be life-changing.

It doesn’t have to be the same thing every day. But using your lunch time to focus on something that excites you, revitalizes you, or inspires you is a great way to renew your spirit for the second part of the day.

Plan what time you’ll leave the office
If you go into work with the mindset that you’ll finish whenever you get your work done, your work is more likely to control you than the other way around. Creating boundaries that you put on your calendar or let co-workers know about, will also set an understanding that you’ll be leaving at a certain time and they can’t schedule things with you for later than that. You’ll also be more likely to hold yourself accountable to leaving at that time as opposed to doing extra work just because you can.

At the end of the day, the ultimate priority is arranging your schedule and the way that you use time so that work is not controlling your life. The intention is to do small things for yourself each day and create a space in your life that isn’t about work, even though you may be at your office or doing work during the day. Going on walks, scheduling meetings only on specific days, and creating routines that work for you are all ways of choosing to own your time.

All the best,