This piece is an excerpt from Fulfilled: 52 Prescriptions for Healing, Health, and Happiness, by Bernadette Anderson, M.D., M.P.H., published by Woodhall Press and due to hit bookshelves June 6, 2023.
Have you ever felt like a circus elephant trying to balance on a ball? Staying steady and not falling off, well . . . that’s the real challenge. There is give-and-take with everything in life, and the scale is usually tilted more to one side than the other. The same holds true for work and personal life. The more you attempt to balance them, to keep things equal, the more you realize it’s nearly impossible. And there’s this constant underlying feeling that you are always sacrificing one for the other.
What you’re really in search of is harmony—that just-right combination (that sweet spot) between work and home. While the debate continues over whether you can have it all, work-life harmony is the happy medium where you can at least have your slice of the pie.
When your professional and personal life don’t mesh—they clash rather than co-existing—life gets very messy. You are pulled in every direction. It’s a sign of work-life disharmony. The discord can lead to real aches and mental side effects. It can manifest in your body as neck and shoulder tension, back pain, headaches, stomach problems, irritability, and sheer exhaustion. As if that wasn’t enough, trying to keep it all together can cut your sleep short, which usually means quality of sleep goes out the window. Sleep deprivation can also snowball into anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. A rift between pleasure and business can surely leave you feeling sick and tired.
Restoring work-life harmony requires striking the right chord. Although emails, text messages, and work laptops have unofficially extended accessibility to 24 hours, seven days a week, you can still orchestrate a meeting of the minds between work and your personal life such that the two don’t create a sour note. But how do you do it?
H: Have focus and manage your time. That doesn’t mean keeping tabs on the number of hours spent working versus personal time; remember, you are striving for harmony, not balance.
The point is to use your time wisely. Doing so lessens the competition between work and life and protects my me-time at the end of the work tunnel.
A: An active social life is also a good indicator of how well you are maintaining work-life harmony. If you can’t remember when you last went out or met up with friends or loved ones, you might be overworking at the expense of missing milestones and special events. Set a goal to socialize at least once a week with people who uplift you and let you unwind. There is truth in the adage “All work and no play makes life dull.”
R: Resist taking work home unless it rewards you with more happiness. If it looks like work, feels like work, and sounds like work, should you leave it at work? It depends. Work-life harmony requires a little flexibility. Sometimes you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and give more at work for more personal time later; just promise yourself not to make it a habit. To enjoy more fruit from your labor, checking an email, answering a phone call, or responding to a text message after the whistle blows is a trade-off. But do proceed with caution, because these seemingly minor tasks can prevent you from recharging and place a strain on your mental health.
M: Make room for yourself at home and work. If your work demands that you keep everything that shapes your personal life separate from work, you’re only living part-time—the evenings and maybe weekends.I’ve done it and felt miserable. A large part of work-life harmony is bringing what makes you feel good about you, what empowers you, and what motivates you into the office with you. It can be as simple as taking a few minutes during lunchtime for a brief meditation or journaling. Another thought is arranging your work and, if possible, your work environment to reflect you. For example, find a place to post a daily positive affirmation. Perhaps you and the team can come to a consensus on a couple of essential oil fragrances to lift the office mood. The main takeaway: It’s important to love what you do; otherwise, harmony will fall flat.
O: Opting for excellence over perfection is a hot tip for work-life harmony. You are not going to have 365 perfect days any year, no matter how well you plan. Trying to walk such a tightrope defies work-life harmony. Do yourself a huge favor; cut yourself some slack and set more obtainable goals. When you focus on excellence instead of perfection, you’ll feel more accomplished because you’ll have more checks in the success column. When wisdom whispers “Be perfectly imperfect,” listen to that voice.
N: Nutritious eating isanother key to striking better work-life harmony. With all the deadlines and high expectations, it’s easy to place your well-being on the back burner. Fueling your body with healthier foods can mean the difference between having the stamina and health to achieve professional and personal goals or not. Pack a lunch and take a few minutes away from your desk to enjoy it. It keeps you in control over what you eat and ultimately helps you eat healthier.
Y: Your physical fitness is a great outlet to cope with the added pressure to do more faster and with less personal time.The survival of the fittest is applicable to creating work-life harmony. Exercise helps release pent-up stress, which is germane to being both happier and more productive.
Switching from personal to work mode shouldn’t be a “hard no” when it comes to all the things you love. Find creative ways to integrate work and life that’ll leave you in perfect harmony—I know I told you not to strive for perfection, but the word works well here, ha-ha.
Prescription for Restoring Work-Life Harmony
For a happier ending, abandon the unproductive pursuit of the impossible work-life balance. Instead, strive for what’s possible; find harmony between the two. It does exist!
Arrange your life to accommodate your work and adapt your work to embrace aspects of your personal life—a melody that will leave you pleased about what you’re doing in the office and at home. On that note, compose your thoughts (use the guide below) to make peace between your professional and your personal life.
- What features of your personal life have a positive influence on your work?
- Which ones make your work life more challenging?
- How can you incorporate those positive things more often during work?
- What can you change to lessen the negative effects of the more challenging aspects of your personal life on your work?
- What features of your work life have a positive influence on your personal life?
- Which ones make your personal life more challenging?
- How can you incorporate those positive things more often in your personal life?
- What can you change to reduce the negative effects of the more challenging aspects of your work life on your personal life?
Dr. Bernadette Anderson is not your ordinary family physician—she’s a wellness curator, author, and founder of Life in Harmony LLC, an innovative, intentional, action-oriented approach to well-being based on the principles of lifestyle medicine. Her upcoming book, “Fulfilled. 52 Prescriptions for Healing, Health, and Happiness,” (Woodhall Press) includes a foreword from renowned skincare founder and Father of Modern Wellness, Dr. Howard Murad. With more than two decades of experience in health and wellness, Dr. B is a respected authority in her field who also written for GoodRx, Essence, USA Today, Fatherly, and The Grio.