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This article was published 25/11/2019 (417 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In today’s fast-paced workplace, we are urged to do more (with less), at a faster pace and to work more independently. Phones and computers can keep us connected to our workplaces 24/7 and fears of losing our jobs can sometimes convince us to work longer hours than we’re getting paid for.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that finding a work-life balance has become more difficult than ever. The compounding stress of a busy schedule and never-ending workday is damaging — it can hurt relationships, your health and overall happiness.
Angie Lamirande knows this all too well. As a business owner, she has been working around the clock for more than 20 years. Along with her husband, Dave Sherman, she is co-founder and partner of POP Entertainment & Management, a Winnipeg-based public relations, marketing and live-event production company that specializes in music and entertainment-focused events.
It’s not uncommon for Lamirande, 47, to work 20-hour days and her hectic schedule of managing clients and producing events often leaves her with little free time.
"There’s no time to stop, you just keep going. I’m someone who operates on a very high frequency," she says. "I can do a lot of hours and get a lot done in a short period of time. It’s one of the things I’m really good at."
But one day in August 2018, Lamirande felt uncharacteristically off.
"I lost my ability to control my emotions and I started crying every day," she says. "I had no idea why. My back was out and I had shooting pains in my neck and shoulders."
She had collapsed emotionally. The stress of work and life became too much — she was overworked, anxious and drained. So, she took a step back.
"I think what happens in life is that you get signs that you should stop things. If you don’t listen to them, the universe intervenes and puts up a roadblock," she says. "The push-through — I couldn’t do it anymore. I knew I needed to rest."
According to a Harvard Business School survey, 94 per cent of service professionals reported putting in 50 hours a week and nearly half of respondents said they worked more than 65 hours per week. Numerous other studies show overwork and the resulting stress can lead to health problems such as impaired sleep and memory, heart disease and diabetes.
For Lamirande, the pursuit of balance was exhausting. After an arduous workday, she wanted to spend time with her family and socialize with friends. Instead, she got into the wrong kind of routine. She was neglecting herself.
"It was scary for me. I was worried because of the stigma of mental health," she says. "You think you’re doing good because you’re helping others and going above and beyond for your clients but if you get to the point where you literally can’t function, you’re no help to anybody."
She put up a brave front on social media but "would hide behind a facade of my life being great.
"I was naive in thinking I could operate at that level forever. It took me going down to realize that I’m human," Lamirande says.
She ended up stepping away from some of her biggest clients because she knew she had to re-evaluate her life. She went to her doctor and underwent MRI and CT scans. She received some scary news following a visit to her physiotherapist — she had a protruding disc in her neck that caused pain to radiate down her neck and into her shoulders.
Following a soul-searching break, she returned her work-life balance to equilibrium. Yoga and meditation have been crucial in Lamirande’s recovery, which help her feel renewed physically and emotionally.
"Through yoga and quieting my mind, I’ve been able to start the process of rebuilding my foundation," she says. "When you’re in the midst of a burnout, you lose hope and don’t feel like you’re going to be OK. Meditation in moments of anxiety has saved me from horrible panic attacks."
On long work days, Lamirande schedules coffee breaks, yoga class and walks outside. There’s no shame in taking time for yourself, she says. For years, people have glorified the "hustle" and celebrated those who work "really hard." But at what cost?
"I think we’re shifting as a society to realize that we need to start taking better care of ourselves," Lamirande says. "I’ve luckily been able to find work that I love but, still, too much of a good thing can be bad for you."
When a problem arises at work now, Lamirande has a different perspective.
"When a roadblock comes up, I know it’s not the end or anything to panic about. I say, ‘How am I going to manage this?’ In the past, I would have fed off other people’s anxious energy. Now that I’m more grounded and able to calm myself, I can make decisions easier," she says.
Like many of us, Lamirande still has stressful days but feels better equipped to handle them.
"I bask in the good days and am OK with letting the bad ones just flow, whether it’s anxiety, stress, anger or sadness," she says. "Now, I ask for and accept help."
The Canadian Mental Health Association says 58 per cent of Canadians report "overload" associated with their many roles — work, home and family, friends, physical health, volunteer and community service.
The nature of today’s fast-paced society is one of the reasons why people have a hard time keeping up, says Joyce Odidison, president, coach and founder of Interpersonal Wellness Services in Winnipeg.
"We are more hurried now than we were 50 years ago," she says. "We have the same DNA strand as we did back then, we’ve just put more pressure on it."
Odidison and her team provide workplace wellness education, coaching and support for organizations and their employees across North America.
"We’re seeing more and more employees stressed out at work. Often, it’s an unhealthy organization that is the cause of undue stress, so we look at the system," says Odidison, who is a conflict analyst by trade. "We provide wellness conversation topics that help people to start thinking about wellness from a different perspective."
It’s easy to do what you love to the point where you’re not taking breaks or recognizing your well-being, she says. You have to make your health and wellness a priority.
"We need time to rejuvenate and give our bodies a complete rest where there are no demands. Otherwise you will leave yourself vulnerable to burn out," she says. "It’s about managing expectations, strategizing your life and developing healthy boundaries."
When it comes to emails and texts, answering them after work hours is not always the best practice, Odidison says. By responding to everything within minutes of them popping up on your screen, you show people you’re always on-call and reachable.
"You respond to them when you have time," Odidison says. "Another option is to set an email auto-responder letting people know you’ll return their email in the morning or will get back to them within 12 to 24 hours."
Lamirande says she still receives emails and texts on evenings and weekends but realizes some things can wait.
"Just because it’s in your inbox or someone texts you doesn’t mean you have to respond right away," Lamirande says. "Take an hour away from staring at screens. So many of us are addicted to being connected and we’ve lost our connection to ourselves in that process."
Odidison agrees and says it comes down to managing mental stress. "We cleanse our bodies, we cleanse our skin, we are always cleansing — but we never cleanse our mind. We need to take time to declutter our minds," she says.
For people who often burn the midnight oil, trying to achieve work-life balance can be a source of imbalance in itself. Balance isn’t a one-time achievement. Life ebbs and flows and right when you think it’s all under control — bam! — something swoops in and knocks you off your feet.
In fact, balancing work and life "is probably not even a reality," Odidison says. "We need to think about balance in a general sense, not necessarily work-life balance."
We’re all looking for that sweet spot — the magical, yet elusive, time and place in our daily lives when everything is up to date. There isn’t an unread email in sight or a chore left to be done.
Perhaps the best way to achieve balance might just be giving yourself permission to not have it. It’s a work in progress, so cut yourself some slack.
Lamirande has found a place where she feels better equipped to set those healthy boundaries.
"It’s hard to be vulnerable. Especially as an entrepreneur who relies on people having faith that you’re strong and can handle things," she says. "But, as a result of the last year, I’m stronger than ever and more in tune with what my limits are."
Sabrina Carnevale is a freelance writer and communications specialist, and former reporter and broadcaster who is a health enthusiast. She writes a twice-monthly column focusing on wellness and fitness.