What does work-life balance mean to you? Is it about carving out some time just for yourself, making the most of every moment with your family or reaching certain career ambitions? For many, it is all of the above and that has some of us stretched pretty thin.
As a full-time working mom, I know I certainly struggle, so I reached out to seven busy and successful professionals to find out more about the physical, mental and emotional strategies they use to find that balance each day.
Take Intentional Breaks
Thomas R. Milam, M.D., a psychiatrist at Carilion Clinic’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, keeps stress at bay during busy workdays by taking moments to himself here and there.
“Learning to take intentional breaks during the day, often 5 minutes or less, to text my family or listen to some music helps me deal with stress,” he explained. “Also, I've learned to see interruptions as part of my work rather than as annoying distractions. Sometimes interruptions to what WE think are important tasks can reveal real needs that we are missing and need to attend to.”
Go for Healthy Choices
Karrie Wills, R.N., senior director at Carilion Children’s, admitted that she sometimes struggles with work-life balance, but she has found that making healthy choices helps keep her balanced and happy.
“I always feel better when I make healthier food choices, so I meal prep every Sunday,” she said. “It makes it easy for me to grab and go with healthy options instead of giving into my cravings mid-afternoon.”
And working out regularly goes right along with that habit. She aims for three to five workouts per week and also teaches boot camp classes at Roanoke FitBody a couple times per week. She makes sure to get her family involved as well.
“I plan activities that my daughter and I both enjoy, such as biking on the greenway or going to the lake or the pool,” she said. “It also gives us some uninterrupted time together without electronics.”
Plan and Schedule
Karen Kuehl, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, said that she is happy with her work-life balance, but she definitely puts some work into making that happen.
Since Dr. Kuehl and her husband are both emergency medicine physicians with two very busy work schedules, she makes a point to sit down with the yearly school calendar and plans the family’s schedule many, many months in advance.
“I make sure that I can be present for the first day of school, the band concerts, the Halloween parties, important lacrosse games, etc.,” she said. “As a working mother, I do miss some important childhood events, but my kids know that I try hard to be present for as many as possible.”
The schedule also includes family vacations that allow them to unplug, literally.
“I schedule at least one to two family vacations each year where our cell phones don't work well and we can catch up as a family,” she said.
And Dr. Kuehl makes sure to plan some things for herself too.
“I select one marathon or half-marathon for the spring and one for the fall to train for,” she said. “The training gives me private time, allows me to have girl time with my training partners and keeps up my physical and mental health.”
Make a Moment for Mindfulness
Whenever Laurie Seidel, M.S.N., a Carilion Clinic Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine nurse educator, is feeling rushed, stressed or just plain overwhelmed with her to-do list, she takes a moment to complete a simple mindfulness practice.
“It's a mindful moment for self-care and helps me to create pauses in the day for my health and well-being,” she explained. “It helps me to take care of my body and brings a feeling of ease, and it also helps me to remember that I'm not alone; other people feel this way too.”
To incorporate the practice yourself, just remember S.T.O.P.
Stop and pause.
Take a few slow, deep breaths and then let your breathing settle into a natural rhythm, feeling the gentle movement of your breath.
Observe and notice any physical sensations, thoughts or emotions that you're holding onto.
Proceed with awareness and kindness toward yourself and others; aware that everyone has challenges and difficulties.
Learn more about the power of mindfulness here.
Mark H. Greenawald, M.D., a Carilion Clinic Family Medicine physician and an expert on physician well-being and burnout, incorporates many things such as exercise, healthy eating and meditation into his daily routine to maintain a healthy and balanced life, but one other habit that he does regularly really stuck out to me. His focus on gratitude.
“Practicing gratitude and expressing appreciation are integral to my values,” he explained. “I seek out opportunities to express this as well as journaling about it regularly.”
Dr. Greenawald added that the practice, which only takes about 5 minutes per day, allows him to recall moments of gratitude associated with ordinary events, personal attributes or valued people in his life, including his patients and those he works with.
If you want to give this practice a try, but you aren’t sure how to get started, Dr. Greenawald recommends trying the “3 Blessings” exercise.
Start by taking time each evening (or any time of day that works best for you) and do the following:
1. Think of three good things that happened that day.
2. Write them down.
3. Reflect on why they happened.
Make Fitness a Priority
The importance of regular physical activity was a common theme among all of our professionals. For Allison Bowersock, Ph.D., program director and assistant professor of Health and Exercise Science at Jefferson College of Health Sciences, doing something that is active and outside (ideally both) on a daily basis is imperative to maintain balance.
“Running outside, for me, kills many birds with one stone, but I also use strength training and yoga for physical and psychosocial outlets,” she explained. “I find that I am a more patient parent, more engaged employee and more loving person overall if I have had my ‘daily dose’ of some type of physical activity.”
Patrice Weiss, M.D., Carilion Clinic’s chief medical officer, noted that making fitness a priority allows her to maintain the energy she needs to complete her work and manage a demanding career. The first thing she does every morning is work out.
“This gets my day started positively and with a sense of accomplishment,” she said.
Plus, she tries to inject as much physical activity throughout the day as possible, and she ends her day with a walk with her husband.
“This is our time—no phones, no TV and no distractions— to catch up and chat one-on-one,” she explained. “No matter how exhausted I may feel when I get home, my walk with my husband rejuvenates me physically and mentally.”
And one more thing about Dr. Weiss. That whole work-life balance thing? She doesn’t subscribe to it.
“Instead, I try to make the best of each moment and give my all to do what's required, then move on,” she said.
So, what did I learn? Much like what Dr. Weiss said above, it is not about finding the perfect balance, but it is about doing your best and making time for the things that are important to you and make you feel healthier and happier. I think we can all do that!