Do you really need to be so busy? How to have a better work-life balance in 2020
Making one or two small changes to boost your mental health in 2020 is well worth the effort
Christmas is over and our thoughts in the new year inevitably turn to how to make it better than the last one. A steely resolve for self-improvement rears its bossy head and suddenly you’re changing job, running a marathon and ditching the drink all before the bells strike midnight. The bad news is that it won’t last.
Change experts say it takes between 18 and 254 days to establish a new habit and if you try to change everything in one big bang, you’ll fail.
Psychologist Jamil Qureshi focuses on building high performance in sport and business. And when it comes to change, he says the trick is to “be motivated by what you’re seeking to achieve, not by what you’re seeking to avoid. If you read the biographies of Boswell, Carnegie or Galbraith – all people who wrote self-help books a long time ago – they talk about changing one thing at a time”, he adds.
“We often say to ourselves, ‘I need to be a better starter or finisher, more collaborative or supportive of my colleagues’ and we give ourselves several things to try to work on. It’s always better to choose one thing but to stack up the energy levels and focus we put into changing that.”
If you’ve reached the end of the year feeling tired, intolerant and and low on patience then you’re like many of the people business coach Pamela Fay sees every week who find themselves battered by the demands of fast-paced working and living. They continue to function at a very high level, but often at a cost to their mental, physical and emotional health.
Her key question to ask yourself as 2020 kicks off is: do you really need to be so busy?
“I encourage my clients to look at their diaries and cut out all non-essential activities when they’re feeling under pressure,” she says. “Review your diary for the year ahead and schedule personal time with no appointments and nowhere to be.
“We feel ‘overwhelmed’ when our mental, emotional, physical or spiritual selves go into energy deficit,” Fay adds. “If you’re feeling like this, tell someone you trust. Speaking out loud will get the thoughts out into the open and the experience of being listened to will help. Don’t be on your own with the feeling of being overwhelmed.
“Many of us grow-up without learning to ask for help. There is no shame in getting help or in taking care of yourself through sleep, silence, rest and fresh air. An hour or two a week to yourself can make a huge difference.”
Making one or two small changes to boost your mental health in 2020 is well worth the effort, says Dr David Morris, head of wellness at the VHI. “Life is busy, work is pressurised and people are stressed, so my three tips for 2020 are: invest in self-care; practice mindfulness or meditation; and find time for relationships.
“Everybody’s time is being squeezed and we all have a harder time finding space in our day to look after ourselves,” he says. “As well as including time for relaxation and down time, it’s important to make plans for eating well, exercise and getting enough sleep. It’s important these plans are realistic and sustainable so start with small steps.”
Morris recommends checking if your company has a quiet room for meditation or would be amenable to providing one. If it doesn’t, book a meeting room and encourage some colleagues to join you for a daily time out.
“Practising mindfulness or meditation is an effective way of boosting emotional wellbeing as is finding time for relationships,” he says. “Humans are social beings and people increasingly report feeling isolated and lonely in today’s world.
“Although many of us have expansive networks on digital platforms, it’s also important to have face to face relationships with people who can identify with our day to day lives. For some, this can take effort and feel uncomfortable at first, but it will become easier over time.”
Now that the annual gorging of the festive season is behind us, nutritionist Alva O’Sullivan advises following a few simple principles to get back on track. “I look at hundreds of food diaries each week and so many of us have fallen into poor habits that, if changed, would dramatically improve how you feel both physically and mentally,” she says.
“Food has a direct effect on our energy levels and fuelling the body correctly keeps blood sugar stable and us feeling strong and energised. I’d suggest focusing on one or two areas where you usually falter and see how you feel in a few weeks.”
O’Sullivan says to start by sticking to a regular daily eating routine of three healthy meals and one snack. Avoid skipping meals and reaching for junk food to keep yourself going. Cut down on processed foods and choose wholefoods instead.
“If you are fond of sugary snacks reduce your intake to one small treat per day, home cook more often and fill your plate with 50 per cent plants, 25per cent protein and 25 per cent wholegrain carbohydrates,” she says. “Make water your drink of choice and drink 2-3 litres a day. If you eat out regularly be mindful of the calorie content and choose carefully.”