Work can be overwhelming sometimes. It’s hard to stop thinking about work-related problems after the working day has ended. How to improve a process, what needs to be done in the next few days, running through tomorrow’s meeting in your mind to ensure you remember everything which needs to be said, working into the evening at home to ensure that you keep up with your work-load: it all takes energy and causes anxiety. We might even use alcohol or drugs to switch off the mental chatter about work. If you’re prioritizing work over your personal life, anxious about your job, or feeling exhausted by work, then it’s time to take stock of your situation and turn some of your mental energy towards improving your work-life balance.
Take time to look after yourself: body, mind and spirit
If you’re wearing yourself out at work, paying attention to your own needs at the end of an exhausting day can be a matter of heating a ready-meal and eating it while slumped in front of the TV. It’s hard to break this habit, but ready-meals are rarely designed to do you good as well as taste good, and TV is rarely engaging enough to take your mind off work. How many times have you forgotten what you just ate ten minutes after putting the container in the bin? Can you remember what was on TV yesterday?
Preparing your own meals does take more effort than simply microwaving something, but you’re going to feel the difference in a few weeks. Meals don’t need to be incredibly complicated or contain no ingredients which have been prepared for you: an omelet stuffed with vegetables such as frozen sweetcorn and frozen spinach and accompanied by a microwaved sweet potato is simple to cook and very tasty. Setting up a slow-cooker or crock-pot is a great way to come in to a hot meal based on nutritious vegetables — and you can even freeze portions for later in the week.
TV is not a great choice for a relaxing and calming evening after a hectic day. A program which relies on excitement is not relaxing, and watching TV is usually a passive experience unless you are inviting unwelcome emotions such as indignation and sorrow into your evening. Decide to only watch programs or films which you are genuinely interested in, not ones which are only on by default. If you’re not looking forward to watching the next installment, then don’t watch it.
Bright light from a screen will stop you from sleeping if you watch it until it’s time to go to bed. Stop at least an hour before bed-time, preferably sooner. Choose to read a book from a non-backlit screen or on real paper. Don’t be determined to read difficult books! It’s your time, you can spend it engrossed in a romance or books intended for children if you want.
Once you have more energy in the evenings, play old-fashioned board games with friends and family or take up a simple creative hobby such as knitting or adult coloring-in. If your job is desk-bound, try going for a swim once or twice a week. The change of scenery, exercise, and the feeling of being in a different environment will help distract you from work. If your job is physically demanding, take a gentle exercise class such as yoga or Pilates to help you recover. Anxiety can cause tense muscles, and gentle movement relieves the tension.
Don’t feel guilty about time spent not working
Does your workplace have too much to do, and too few people to do it? Some jobs seem to be a never-ending tide of catastrophe which is only being held back by an extraordinary effort by all workers. This impression is sometimes accurate, and sometimes is simply a sign that you are working far too hard and can’t let go at the end of the working day. If you work too hard and burn out through an overload of anxiety, the remaining people will have even more to do – so take care of yourself.
If you’re struggling to keep up with your workload, then don’t smile and say ‘no problem’ when more is added to your to-do list. Remember, a busy workplace does not want to go to the trouble of hiring a new person and definitely won’t have the time to train someone else to take over your job. You are valuable to them – and if you’re not, find a job which appreciates your hard work. Remember that your workplace was functioning before you started to work there and will continue to function if you decide to leave.
If you do feel guilty, try to work out why. Is it because you believe that time spent on yourself is wasted time? It isn’t, you need to take care of yourself and you need to enjoy your life. Guilt is simply a lack of self-esteem masquerading as a feeling of selfishness. Put yourself first, and you’ll find that you are better able to do your job well.
Make work less important
Spending every hour at work and every free hour thinking about work makes it seem like the most important thing in our life. Make sure you have an engaging hobby to fill your free time.
If you are paid hourly, look at ways in which you could save money and cut back on your hours. Many of us work extra hours to afford luxuries such as the latest game or a bottle of wine as a treat. We can even spend more time at work to be able to afford time-saving devices! Keep a diary noting all of your expenditures for a month and see if there are any areas in which you can cut back.
Making your own home-brewed wine or beer is a fun and money-saving hobby, and last year’s must-have computer game is as good as it was last year, and is considerably cheaper if you buy it second-hand. Books can be borrowed from a library or bought from a second-hand bookshop, toiletries can be bought from bargain stores and are just as effective as more luxurious brands. The most cost-efficient food has had minimal processing but is not necessarily fresh. Frozen or canned food can be considerably cheaper because it does not spoil as easily, so the supermarkets don’t have to throw it out. Clothing does not have to be ultra-stylish or new. Can you live in a smaller home, or one which is closer to your job so you don’t have to spend as much time and money commuting to work? Can you grow some of your own food, even if you just have a windowsill or tabletop?
If you are salaried, then make it a habit to work regular and not excessive hours. Delegate tasks as much as possible, bearing in mind that you don’t want to drive away any of your co-workers with excessive demands on their time and effort.
All of these tips take energy to implement, and if you have none to spare then it can be hard to make the changes to improve your work-life balance and your anxiety. Choose to do one positive thing and stop doing something negative – making your own food and limiting your screen-time after work is a great first step. Add another change once you’ve got used to the first. Remember – you did not become so anxious in days or even weeks and it’s going to take time to repair your life.