Office Hours: How to Stay Balanced When Life Gets Busy
This post originally appeared on Medium.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed working at a startup. You’re making decisions at breakneck speeds, always aiming for the next goal, and often working way past 6. Eventually, you realize you’ve been living in a constant state of busyness — never catching up with the elusive work-life balance.
I’m hardly zen on a daily basis. In fact, my comfort zone is being active, a little busy, but not overwhelmed. I’ve realized achieving this delicate balance of “happy busy” but not “crazy busy” takes effort on my part. I don’t follow strict rules like going to yoga 3 times per week or meditating for 15 minutes each day, but I’ve learned to make self-care a priority. If I am not taking care of myself, I cannot bring my best to anything I’m working on. Over time, I’ve learned to use three kinds of practices to keep me in balance: renewal, maintenance, and release.
Renewal practices energize you. These are the things that can bring you to a state of feeling “okay” to feeling happier and having greater mental clarity.
Meditation and deep breathing exercises provide a gentle energizer. Just five minutes of focused, deep breathing can create more confidence, clarity, and creativity. Doing so before a big meeting or in between stressful projects will renew your energy and clear your mind. For longer and even more impactful meditations, try the guided ones on Headspace.
Any form of movement can be a renewal practice. For me, it’s dance parties. If meditation and deep breathing were candles, then my dance parties would be a bonfire! No one else is invited when I’m feeling the urge to dance — just me and my playlist of African and Caribbean beats. I dance some mornings before work until my entire body fills with happiness. Beyond dancing, consider jogging, taking a workout class, or stretching the muscles where you hold tension, like your shoulders or back. Break up the work day with some quick exercises or a walk around the block in the afternoon. Whatever it is, the release of the energizing “feel good” chemicals that comes from moving is undeniable!
Once you’ve found your state of balance, maintenance practices help you stay there. They’re like the daily life vitamins that ward off more extreme states of imbalance such as anxiety or burnout.
When life gets busy, healthy eating habits are often the first things to go. We’ve all been there. You have every intention of cooking a real meal, with equal parts protein, veggies, and whole grains, but then that project blows up and next thing you know, you’re raiding the office pantry and making a lunch out of whatever free snacks you can find. No matter how busy I am, I’ve learned to stop compromising on meals. I’m much nicer when I’m fed and my mind works better! For a quick fix at work, keep healthy snacks within arm’s reach. Fruit, nuts or a bar (granola, protein, jerky, etc.) are easy to keep in your bag or desk drawer. If it’s meal time that poses a challenge, take small steps and plan ahead. Commit to packing lunch one day a week or take a few hours on Sunday to prep some food for the week ahead.
Autonomy is highly valued at startups. Your boss will love that you’re able to put your head down and get things done on your own. All of that autonomy can also lead to feelings of isolation. Quality time with the people you care about is the best antidote for that. You need your reliable crew, whether it’s your family, friends, or other groups where you’ve found community. Texting is great, but also make time for a quick chat or video call to connect with long distance friends. Make the effort to catch up with local folks over coffee, dinner or a fun event in your city. Explore groups on platforms such as MeetUp if you feel you need to create more community and support around you.
Releasing practices help you to let stuff go! These are great when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
Sometimes the best way to clear your mind is to put those thoughts to paper. Grab a notebook and a pen, or even pull up a private Google doc, and just let the words flow. You can set a goal for the number of pages or the amount of time your spend writing. Schedule it for first thing in the morning or at night just before bed, and just write. Releasing the words as a stream of consciousness will help you to get all the clutter and gunk out of your mind so they don’t seep into your thinking and your day. In putting down everything that seems unresolved for the moment, you’ll be left feeling clearer and more peaceful during the day.
When challenges become too much for you to resolve on your own, it’s time to enlist the support of someone else. This could be a friend, family member, or mentor who usually gives you good advice. However, if the issue is more personal and you need the expertise of a trained professional, find a coach or therapist. They have a great way of reframing your experiences so that you view them as more empowering. They can also help you develop strategies to use when working through challenges in the future. In addition, simply having the space to share what you’ve been feeling releases the heaviness of struggling with something on your own. Resources like Open Path Collective or BetterHelp can help you find a professional who is right for you.
Finally, what better tool to use after a coaching or therapy session than a private dance party to honor the fact that you’ve identified what you need and responded to it!
Our experiences in the world will have highs and lows. We may go through periods of being utterly bored or completely overwhelmed. This is normal and natural. If you find yourself operating outside of your optimal state of balance, try some of these practices to get you back there.