The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Ohio State’s chief wellness officer explains why establishing a work-life balance is important for your health and wellness.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is easier said than done for many of us.

Between juggling increasing work demands and family responsibilities, plus squeezing in extra activities from exercise to hobbies, it’s little wonder we sometimes struggle to keep all the balls in the air.

The pressure to do everything invites major stress into our lives and can have multiple adverse effects. In the short term, high stress levels reduce concentration and productivity, make us feel irritable or depressed and affect personal and professional relationships. Stress also may wreak serious havoc on your long-term health because it increases the cortisol level in our bodies and weakens the immune system, putting us at greater risk for developing chronic conditions. A recent Ohio State study found that women who worked 60 or more hours a week for the majority of their careers were three times as likely to develop chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.

I am one who tried to do it all for years. Long days at the office were followed by too many nights at home where I still found myself checking emails and working to meet deadlines. Instead, I should have set aside quality time to fully engage with my family. It wasn’t until I attended an energy management workshop that I realized just how much my life was out of balance.

Corporate Athlete is an energy management program from Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute, which offers the workshop to business executives and emphasizes tactics for optimizing physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. I felt a renewed sense of purpose and vitality in my life after finishing the course — so much so that we collaborated with the institute and developed a version of this workshop for Ohio State called Health Athlete. The more than 700 leaders, faculty, staff and students who have attended this workshop over the past two years laud its benefits.

During the institute’s workshop, I vowed to make a change — and you can as well. Here are a few practical tips, several of which we emphasize in the Health Athlete workshop, to help you strike a better work-life balance:

Don’t procrastinate.

Procrastination often leads to undue stress. When you face a big project at work or home, divide it into smaller tasks as if eating a big bundle of carrots — a much more healthful option than a two-ton chocolate elephant — one small bite at a time. Complete the first one before moving on to the next, and eventually you’ll finish that to-do list.

Consider your options.

Ask your employer about flex hours, telecommuting or other scheduling flexibility. Also, take advantage of your company’s Employee Assistance Program, which can offer resources such as referrals for mental health services and child and elder care.

Take time to recover.

Recovery comes in many forms, including spending time with loved ones after a hectic day, meditating to quiet the mind and getting enough sleep. Running on empty can lead to exhaustion, illness or injury.

Communicate.

Be honest when you start to feel too stressed. Work with your supervisor and colleagues to identify practical solutions. If you consistently feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to seek help from a mental health provider. Taking care of yourself is a sign of strength not weakness.

Unplug.

It’s easy to feel burned out if we never disconnect from our work, including email. While making ourselves available is important, we must recognize the need for personal time, too.

Learn to say no, and don’t feel guilty about it.

When we stop over-committing, we have more time for activities that are meaningful.

Stay aligned with what you are passionate about.

You’ll discover an abundance of energy and less stress.

Treat your body right.

Just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week is all you need to reduce stress, depression and anxiety and boost energy. Don’t forget to hydrate and fuel your body with healthful liquids and foods for the energy you need throughout the day.

Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk is the university’s chief wellness officer, associate vice president for health promotion and College of Nursing dean.