What’s Holding Us Back From Work/Life Balance: A Perspective From An Adelaide Psychologist

An image of a set of scales with work items on one side with life items on the other, to illustrate the article, What's Holding Us Back From Work/Life Balance: A Perspective From An Adelaide Psychologist

One of the recurring themes I encounter as a psychologist in Adelaide is the constant struggle for work/life balance.

More and more people are reaching out, expressing their frustrations about not having enough time for themselves.

This imbalance often leads to stress, anxiety, frustration, and even depression.

In today’s society, the demands placed upon us are immense.

We are expected to juggle multiple aspects of our lives while maintaining good physical and mental health and nurturing positive relationships.

We often put pressure on ourselves to be available for everyone—family, partners, colleagues, bosses, and friends. Unfortunately, this often results in neglecting our own needs.

Why Do We Let It Happen?

Many of the people I see are quite aware of what is needed to feel content and manage their lives effectively.

However, the need to please others and the fear of letting people down often take precedence over self-care.

We tend to place a higher value on others’ time and feelings, leading us to avoid uncomfortable emotions.

Being everything for everyone allows us to feel needed, worthy, and competent, at least for the time we are busy. Avoiding conflict and the guilt of letting someone down often drives us to put ourselves last.

Does It Work?

While meeting your responsibilities to others might make you feel good temporarily, how do you feel about yourself when you realise that once again, you had no time for yourself in a week?

  • As a parent, are you setting a good example for your children by never taking a moment for yourself, always running around after everyone else?
  • As employees, are you reinforcing a culture of extreme working hours because you’re afraid to limit your day to standard working hours?
  • Are you truly living by your values when you stop doing the things you love or don’t take a moment to reflect on what you want for your life?

Time and again, I see people feeling resentful and depressed because by avoiding discomfort and conflict, they end up creating even more powerful feelings of frustration, anxiety, and sadness in the long term.

This strategy of avoiding discomfort really doesn’t work well for us.

Achieving Work/Life Balance

So, what might an alternative look like? How do you achieve this elusive work/life balance?

  1. Reflect on Your Values: Stopping still long enough to reflect on your own values is the first step. If you don’t know what you want in life, how can you make the best choices for yourself? For some, asking the question, “What do I want for my life?” is very confronting and foreign but turns out to be the most liberating and life-changing question of therapy.
  2. Take Action on Your Values: Balance your time according to your priorities. Rather than act on the desire to avoid emotions, make the decision to act on your values and avoid regrets down the track.
  3. Face Discomfort: Be willing to face the discomfort and disappointment of others sometimes when it is impossible to fulfil their requests and meet your own needs.
  4. Practice Assertiveness: Let go of thoughts that feed unnecessary guilt or anxiety and practice being assertive.
  5. Assess Your Commitments: Evaluate whether all the things on your plate need to be continued. Let go or delegate those things that are holding you back from being still and doing more of what you want in your life.

Insights from Recent Studies

Recent studies on work-life balance in Australia reveal a complex picture of how Australians perceive their ability to balance professional and personal commitments.

Here are some key findings that can strengthen and inform our approach to achieving a better balance:

Perception of Work-Life Balance

  1. General Sentiment: Australians generally struggle with achieving a satisfactory work-life balance. About 13% of employees work very long hours (more than 50 hours per week), which is above the OECD average of 10%. Many report stress, burnout, and strained relationships as a result of these long working hours.
  2. Future Expectations: There is a growing optimism about the future, with 30% of Australian workers believing that a four-day work week will become the norm within the next five years. This shift is seen as a potential solution to improve work-life balance and mental health.

Definition of Work-Life Balance

  1. Balance Between Professional and Personal Life: Work-life balance is defined as the ability to manage time, energy, and attention to meet both professional and personal commitments equally. It involves having enough time for personal care, leisure, and family responsibilities without being overwhelmed by work demands.
  2. Quality of Leisure Time: The quality and amount of leisure time are crucial for overall well-being. Full-time workers in Australia devote about 60% of their day to personal care and leisure, slightly less than the OECD average of 63%.

Major Obstacles

  1. Long Working Hours: Long working hours are a significant barrier to achieving work-life balance. The high percentage of Australians working more than 50 hours a week limits their time for personal care and leisure activities.
  2. Workplace Culture and Expectations: Workplace culture often demands high productivity and long hours, leading to stress and burnout. The lack of flexible working arrangements and supportive policies further exacerbates the issue.
  3. Shift Work and Irregular Hours: For professions involving shift work, such as nursing and midwifery, irregular hours can disrupt circadian rhythms and social interactions, leading to chronic health issues and social isolation.
  4. Lack of Supportive Policies: Insufficient support for working parents and inadequate time-off policies are also major obstacles. Employers need to provide more flexible working options and better support systems to help employees manage their work and personal lives effectively.

Strategies for Improvement

  1. Flexible Working Arrangements: Providing flexible and remote working options can help employees better manage their time and reduce stress.
  2. Promoting Regular Breaks and Leisure Time: Encouraging employees to take regular breaks and ensuring they have enough leisure time can improve overall well-being and productivity.
  3. Implementing a Four-Day Work Week: The adoption of a four-day work week is seen as a promising strategy to enhance work-life balance and mental health.

Bringing Balance Back into Focus

By reflecting on your values, taking action on them, and being willing to face discomfort, you can start to regain a sense of balance. Assess your commitments, practice assertiveness, and ensure you are not avoiding important self-care practices.

Addressing work-life balance is not just about managing your time better; it’s about making conscious choices that align with your values and priorities. Whether it’s setting clear goals, scheduling regular appointments, or practising new skills, each step you take brings you closer to a more balanced and fulfilling life.

Incorporating insights from recent studies can also help. Recognising the barriers and obstacles to work-life balance and adopting strategies for improvement can make a significant difference. Flexibility, regular breaks, and potentially shorter work weeks are all strategies that can contribute to a better balance.

Seeking Work/Life Balance Is A Worthy Challenge

Seeking work-life balance in Adelaide is a multifaceted challenge.

However, by understanding your values, making conscious choices, and incorporating strategies for improvement, it is possible to find a balance that works for you.

Remember, therapy can be a powerful tool in this journey, providing support, guidance, and practical strategies to help you achieve your goals.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and struggling to find balance in your life, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional support.

At Attuned Psychology, our team of dedicated psychologists is here to help you navigate these challenges and find a path to a more balanced and fulfilling life.

Are you ready to start your journey towards a better work-life balance? Contact Attuned Psychology today to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced psychologists in Adelaide. Together, we can help you achieve the balance and well-being you deserve.

Alexandra Frost
Senior Clinical Psychologist

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