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  • Sarah Pospos, MD, MS

How to Achieve Good Work Life Balance

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

As a psychiatrist and mom of 2 under 2, I use my training, experience, and research to help others (and myself) who continuously strive for that good work life balance. Here, I’ll share some practical tips and evidence-based stress management techniques to reach it.

Good Work Life Balance

A few facts:

  • 94% of US service professionals works >50 hours per week.

  • 76% of US employees experience burnout

  • 32-44% are exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally

  • 19-26% have low motivation and poor effort at work

No work life balance can be compounded by excessive workload, time pressures, intense job demands, minimal work control, poor support at work, and more. On the other hand, however, good work life balance looks different to everyone. Thus, it’s imperative to define YOUR version of good work life balance before going after it.

To do so, take 15-20 minutes to write down your current priorities (which often change depending on which stage of life you are in). Note how your current work/home responsibilities align with your current priorities.

If you need to and can change some things around, list your own pros and cons of all the options in order to be fully informed and content with your choices. If you can’t change some things at this time, being mindful of how your responsibilities and priorities are currently aligned can empower you during daily struggles.

As you can see, every choice has its own pros and cons. For instance, working from home offers great flexibility, but may blur professional and personal boundaries. Additionally, technology improves ease of communication, but enables constant connection between work/home life.

Some Practical Tips

#1 Start the day with a to-do list

Focus on 1-3 main tasks daily. Cross them off once completed as this visualization helps your mind feels less overwhelmed and allows you to build on the momentum.

#2 Block specific hours a day to reply to emails

Turn off notifications as they can distract you from important work. If it’s urgent, they will find you on other channels.

#3 Schedule breaks, e.g. every 2 hours

Getting some movement (even stretching), fresh air, or short meditation can “reset” your brain, restructure your thoughts, and facilitate your decision-making.


Therapy for Stress Management

# 1 Exercise

Exercise boosts your brain chemicals and stimulates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) – a Miracle-Gro to our brain – which improves brain functions, structures, and connections, in both the short- and long-term. It enhances your sense of self-mastery that translates to other areas in your life. It offers social stimulations which prevent feelings of isolation.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150+ minutes weekly of moderate aerobic exercise, which is any movement that brings your heart rate to 50-70% of its maximum heart rate (220 minus your age).

Low-intensity exercise, like yoga, also has beneficial components:

  • Certain physical postures are found to improve mood

  • Meditation increases BDNF

  • Intentional breathing improves brain function and reduces anxiety by activating your parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of your fight-or-flight response)

#2 Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Start with the muscle group on the top of your head and gradually make your way down to the bottom of your feet. Tense one muscle group for 10 seconds, then relax it for 20 seconds. Focus on the different feelings between tension and relaxation.

Muscle tension often accompanies stress and anxiety. Thus, muscle relaxation will not only activate your parasympathetic nervous system, but also reduce tension and anticipatory anxiety, increase concentration and feelings of control, create a pleasant mental state, and improve your energy and sleep.

#3 Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness means bringing awareness to the present moment, NOT blocking out all thoughts. Just as your physical muscles get stronger with each exercise repetition, your mindfulness muscle gets stronger with practice, too.

Mindfulness affects brain areas that regulate awareness, attention, and emotion (reducing negative mood), improves energy, and stimulates BDNF.

For these relaxation techniques, you can also use your Apple watch (Mindfulness app), phone (Calm or IntervalTimer apps), or the 5-20 minutes guided sessions here.

When to See a Psychiatrist

If an endless, no work life balance has caused you distress that interferes with your work, relationships or daily responsibilities, more help is needed.

Psychiatrists are specialized medical doctors who require at least 12 years in higher education and 15,000 hours of clinical training before being allowed to independently diagnose, treat, or prescribe medications. In comparison, nurse practitioners (NP) require 500 clinical hours (typically supervised by a medical doctor), and physician assistants (PA) require 2,000 clinical hours.

One major hesitation for busy professionals is that medication may cause daytime sleepiness or brain fog that interfere with your work. I worked in the corporate world before my medical training - I understand. Some antidepressants, like trazodone, can be sedating and help with sleep. However, in the case of trazodone, you may also watch out for morning grogginess.

Every patient is different, and my recommendations are always made on a case-by-case analysis. If together we determine that medication is beneficial, I’ll walk you through different options, thoroughly explaining the risks, benefits, alternatives, and potential side effects, so you can be fully informed and content with the next steps. My Masters Degrees in Psychopharmacology and Applied Psychology add even more insight on all things medication and human behavior.

Book a free 15-minute initial phone call to become the best version of yourself again.

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