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Work-Life Balance Needed By Women Physicians To Overcome Burnout

In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion over whether work-life balance, especially for women physicians and working moms, is even possible. For many, it seems like an elusive goal. As a result, many industry experts prefer to use “work-life integration.” The term isn’t as important as the understanding that we all need to figure out how to have a personal and professional life and allow the two to coexist in ways that work for our loved ones, our employers, our businesses, and ourselves.

Work-life balance, work-life integration, or whatever you want to call it, will look different for each person. As we continue this journey to become a wellness-empowered woman, we will look at how you might define what it looks like based on your core values, personal and family life, health considerations, career path, goals, inner desires, and other needs.

Like all the other working physician moms before me and the many who have and will continue to come after me, I had to go through some growing pains, which required figuring out what worked best for my family and me. Struggling, having victories, then more struggles, then more successes, and everything in between was part of my learning to balance my career, family, and life. Over time, I figured things out, and it became easier to manage. I ultimately found a better work-life balance for myself. Experience provides perspective, perspective offers wisdom, and wisdom provides space for creative solutions and contentment. It was not a straight path to nirvana by any means. However, it was a worthwhile experience in which I had the opportunity to learn and grow and be better for it in the long run!

We all can do many things to better manage our personal and professional lives to create more outstanding work-life balance and, in essence, become wellness-empowered women. According to an April 6, 2017, article by Eric Garton in Harvard Business Review, psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees cost between $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the US. Burnout has become a severe problem, and in many cases, it has become an epidemic. Unfortunately, when we’re caught up in the daily grind of work, family, and life, we often lose sight of the bigger picture and may not even realize we’re running ourselves. So we’re just trying to survive each day as best as we can most of the time.

However, consistently taking a step back and assessing our daily and weekly schedules, habits, moods, and emotions are essential to protect our health and well-being. We need to be honest with ourselves and write down what’s truly going on. If these elements of our lives aren’t serving us well, we have to be willing to stop and figure out how to make changes. The more we can do this regularly, the less risk we have of letting our work and personal life get entirely out of balance and out of control. So it’s up to each of us to have a mindset that supports taking stock of our own lives regularly because no one else will do it for us, including those in our personal life or professional network. So how do you do this, you ask? Well, here are three ideas to help you.

1. Schedule a weekly work-life balance review with yourself.

I know it might sound silly or too formal and rigid, but it’s an effective way to create a consistent check-in and understand where you stand. If your job is important enough for your boss to conduct a regular review with you or for you to conduct one if you have your own business, then you’re necessary enough to complete one for yourself, your health, and your level of work-life balance. It may be helpful to ask yourself the following list of questions every week, or you can create your list. You can also update or change these questions as your life evolves.

What does my schedule look like these days?

Does my workload feel manageable right now?

Am I spending enough time with my family?

Am I making time to tend to my own needs?

How is my health these days?

How are my energy levels?

How are my emotions?

Are my habits healthy, or do I have any unhealthy habits I need to pay attention to?

Do I feel I can thrive in my day-to-day life most days, or am I constantly in a state of exhaustion?

If I could change anything in my life right now, what would it be?

What do I need to do to make necessary changes or keep things the way they are?

These questions allow you to dig deep and figure out where issues may be. For example, when life moves at lightning speed, it can be challenging to slow down or even pause unless we build it into our lives and force ourselves to do it.

2. Block time in your calendar for health, wellness, and family activities.

To be a wellness-empowered woman who strives to balance her personal and professional life, I recommend becoming best friends with your online calendar. If you don’t already have one, create one now. Trust me, it will save you from burning out, but it will help you thrive!

The key is to create consistency in how you label and color code meetings, appointments, events, and reminders. For example, work meetings and deadlines are in bright green, volunteer activities are in red, self-care activities are in purple, activities for family are in blue, and leisure, relaxation, and entertainment activities are in dark green. It helps me look at your day and see where you’re spending your time, what you need to accomplish, where you need to be, and when and where you need to make adjustments.

Your calendar is a beautiful mechanism to block out time for your health, wellness, and family needs, so it doesn’t get overridden by work obligations.

But, please remember that everyone is different, so you’ll want to find a system that works for you. If my system seems too rigid, detailed, or unsustainable, you can always simplify or change it. Find what works best for you, and then stay consistent with it. And if you need to evolve or change it over time to meet your needs as your life changes better, please feel free to do so.

3. Set expectations at work and home.

It’s also critical to set expectations at work with your boss, team, clients, and your family at home. If you aren’t clear about your schedule, abilities, boundaries, and limitations, everyone will expect as much out of you as possible. It’s not intended to be malicious or inconsiderate; it’s just the reality that when people feel they need you, they need you. If you’re a people pleaser like me and many of my friends, family members, and clients, you’ll want to pay extra attention to this section.

Sometimes we assume people can read our minds. I know so many women, including myself, who genuinely think our spouses, significant others, kids, employers, or business partners know when we’re struggling, are frustrated, or need a break. Now, some people, especially those who are wise or highly emotionally intelligent, can see when we’re in these challenging states, and I applaud them for that.

I want to encourage you to set expectations at work and home and communicate what you need and when you need it from those in your life, especially daily. They will thank you for being honest and communicative because then they don’t have to guess, wonder, or feel as if they’ve let you down. It creates a win-win for everyone when you say things to your employer, business partners, spouse, significant other, or kids, such as:

“I’m pretty exhausted from finishing that last big project and would appreciate a day to reset so I’ll have the energy to take on the next one.”

“I will take my kids shopping for school supplies next Friday afternoon off work. I’ll be sure to manage my workload, client communications, and calendar accordingly.”

“I would appreciate some help with school drop-offs and pickups for the kids this week because my plate is full.”

“Let’s plan a trip to the beach next weekend because I would love some relaxation time with the family.”

“I need you and your brother to please help me get the table set for dinner.”

“I need you and your sister to please listen to me and put your toys and bikes away.”

These are clear and kind statements that allow you to let others know precisely what you need. For example, if you had to put your statement list together, what would it look like?

The more we practice, the better we’ll be at setting expectations, creating boundaries, and using clear communication to make our voices heard and get our needs met kindly. I believe these changes can make a big difference in your life!

Again, while the work-life balance will hold different meanings for different people and at various stages of life, putting in the time to figure out what works for you is critical to achieving both personal and professional success and preserving your health and well-being in the process.

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