Written By: Angela J. Patino, Psy.D.
The future is unwritten, 2020 is history, and one way we can improve our present is by reflecting on the lessons learned thus far. The following PNBC blog series will focus on highlighting lessons learned from the pandemic, with an emphasis on mental health.
While we continue to recover from the whirlwind year of 2020, the increased vaccination rates have a provided our communities a pivotal moment in the pandemic. Of course, in no way is the pandemic quite over, yet, the aftershocks are still very present. However, many states have re-opened, schools are expected to resume in-person this fall, and the employment sector is in a hiring/rehiring spree. Some individuals never stopped working – hats off to all essential workers! Some are slowly getting back into the grind. While others are trying to figure out their return to work. Whichever position you find yourself in, IT IS OK. Remember the year we all just had?
One of the first crossroads that many individuals faced at the start of the pandemic was maintaining a work-life balance. Now, maintaining a work-life balance was already a tough task for most, even before the pandemic. Combining the promoted work culture of high productivity, eating meals on the go, long work hours, and answering emails after hours, is a recipe for disaster. For many, especially for parents of school-aged children, this balance continues to remain in “survival mode.” As we enter a different phase of the pandemic, a new normalcy is settling in, and this work-life balance needs to switch back to a “thriving mode” for the sake of our mental health. The following recommendations bring light to different aspects of our day-to-day work environment and interactions that can be used to help achieve a more aligned work-life balance and decrease burnout.
What are your working hours? Are you sticking to them or running over time more often than not? Do you take your meal break or eat on the go? It is important to give yourself enough time to complete your duties and set appropriate resting points. Prioritize tasks into urgent vs non-urgent. If you find yourself frequently having trouble meeting deadlines, this may be a sign that you are doing too much and there may be a need for delegation.
In connection to the last point, if you have too much on your plate, speak up! Being assertive in the workplace is vital as it allows you to speak your mind, share your ideas, express your needs, and wants in an effective, respectful, and clear manner. Hostile work environments feed on passivity and aggression. Assertive communication is a great way to place boundaries, which brings us to the next point.
Place healthy boundaries
From your labor rights to professional etiquette, learn when to say no. Prioritize what is important to you. Is staying an extra hour worth missing out on _______? The same can be applied at home, do you feel overwhelmed with household chores, can some duties be delegated to a partner or roommate?
Let go of perfectionism
Do you have perfectionist tendencies? Perfectionism is difficult to achieve, and someone who takes pride in perfecting their craft, may have difficulty clocking out. This often leads to long work hours with limited personal time, a perfect combination for burnout. A great read for embracing imperfection is “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown (link: https://brenebrown.com/thegifts-hub/#close-popup).
Make time for exercise
The documented benefits of exercise are exhaustive; no, really just do an engine search! A healthy body = clarity in mind = improved mood = better you. Prioritize your exercise as if your health depended on it.
What do you practice to promote relaxation? Yoga, meditation, music or just deep breathing exercises help us recharge and obtain mind clarity.
Are you getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep? Or are you answering emails during your usual bedtime? Similar to exercise, sleep is crucial to our overall health.
Nurturing relationships outside of work
Positive social support is also important to our mental health. Research has shown that social support helps ward off the effects of stress on depression, anxiety, and other health problems; this is especially so for women and older adults (Cohen, 2004; Harandi et al., 2017). People found creative ways to maintain social contact during the pandemic, be it through a glass door, parking lot car-meal meet-ups, or videoconferencing calls. Human nature calls for human connection.
This year brought unprecedented times in more ways than we can count. Even taking just one day off to unwind and detach from work can have positive effects on your mental health. It is important to realize when it is time to “take a break, before you break.”
Seek professional help
If you find yourself struggling to maintain a work-life balance, especially through the pandemic, you are not alone. None of us could have predicted the challenges that have come our way this year. Ensuring your mental health is being managed properly is important. If you think that talking to a mental health professional about your struggles may benefit you, PNBC is here to help.
The following hotlines also provide free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: English 1-800-273-8255; Spanish 1-888-628-9454
San Diego Access and Crisis Line: 1-888-724-7240
Cohen, S. (2004). Social relationships and health. American Psychologist, 674-84.
Harandi, T., Taghinasab, M., & Nayeri, T. (2017). The correlation of social support with mental health: A meta-analysis. Electronic physician, 9(9), 5212–5222. https://doi.org/10.19082/5212
Hart, S. (2020). The Differences Between America’s Working Culture and the Rest of the World. The National Digest. Retrieved from https://thenationaldigest.com/the-differences-between-americas-working-culture-and-the-rest-of-the-world/