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Has Achieving Balance Become Another Stressor?

Achieving balance can feel like a confusing puzzle
Is the ideal of achieving balance stressing you out? You're not alone. When being balanced becomes another "to do" list, it can harm more than help.

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Usually, in our posts, we review academic literature that provides scientific support for wellness practices or interventions. But, this week, we are focusing on something that the academic literature has yet to explore. Specifically, we have noticed that achieving work-life balance seems to be stressing people out, instead of decreasing stress. The popular press has started to pick up on this as well, and we think it’s important to call out. Wellness is a multi-trillion dollar industry. Yet, as the wellness industry has grown, burnout has continued to rise. Why isn’t wellness, as an industry, helping people in achieving greater balance? Learn more below and find out what you can do about it!

Why Might Achieving Balance Be Stressful?

Work-life balance is scientifically defined as having the amount of positive emotions, competence, and involvement that you require in your work and life roles. In this way, balance is really about connecting with yourself and your needs. It is also about ensuring that your unique needs are met. Achieving balance, then, is really a tailored, individualized activity. We have talked about the benefits of finding true balance before.

Yet, the wellness industry promotes blanket solutions to finding balance. Juices, diet plans, fitness classes, meditation apps, beauty products, and getaways are all posed as “solutions” to balance. Besides the fact that these offerings are often costly, they are not panaceas for wellness. But, they are sold as if they are. Approaching wellness by floating from trend to trend leaves out an important piece of the puzzle – you. What do you really require to be well? Instead of prompting us to connect with ourselves, the wellness industry often pushes us to buy a quick fix.

If achieving balance is a "to-do" list, it might be stressful.
If achieving work-life balance feels like another list of “to-do” items, you might end up more stressed.

Is Achieving Balance Possible?

The answer to this question is both yes and no. If you think about balance as a tipping of scales – dedicating even amounts of time to yourself and your work – you will likely never achieve balance. Life gets in the way of splitting our days up into perfectly pre-programmed plans that we then accomplish. The good news is that balance isn’t about splitting time. It’s about finding emotional, cognitive, and time-related supports. If you think about balance as truly understanding your needs, and then finding ways to meet them, it is possible to achieve balance.

There is one trick though. Because we are trained to think that wellness can be totally solved by actions we take as individuals, we often fail to question structures that decrease balance. For example, we fail to question norms of overwork that glorify a 24/7 work culture. When companies have these cultures, but then offer programs to promote balance, they are engaging in hypocrisy. You can’t say you want employees to find balance but then make it impossible for them to do so. Unfortunately, another downside of the wellness industry is that it doesn’t aim to reform this culture. Without the existence of a problem, no one would have to buy a solution.

Achieving balance should be tailored to you.
Achieving balance is about seeing the world through your own lens – not someone else’s.

What Can You Do to Find Real Balance?

It can be hard to wade through the Instagram posts and targeted ads that try to sell us balance on a regular basis. But, the first tip that we have is to tune out fads that try to sell you a quick fix. Wellness is about turning inward and understanding your needs. So, before you jump into the next wellness craze, ask yourself the following questions. Which activities make you feel happiest? Which make you feel less happy? What makes you feel most competent and useful? Which activities are not giving you an opportunity to display skills that are important to you? What do you value spending time on? What time do you feel is being wasted?

After answering these questions, try to think about how to get more of the activities into your life that cause you to feel happier, more competent, and that you value. Then, try to think about how you can decrease time spent on activities that don’t bring you joy, that aren’t a good fit to your skills, or that you don’t find valuable. We will all have to do busy work or tasks we don’t like at times. But, you might be spending time on activities that are throwing your balance out of whack without even being aware of it. Those are good candidates for elimination, if you can. Lastly, if you tried a trend and it’s not for you, ditch it. If you have a practice you love, but it’s not Insta-worthy, don’t worry about it. Work-life balance decreases stress when it isn’t another list of to-do’s that you don’t enjoy. Find out what actually matters to you, and you will achieve better balance.

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