Work Life Balance – Cortisol

Work-Life Balance. It’s what we all want to achieve right? That perfect mix between a profitable career that’s rewarding both personally and financially, and a good balance with leisure and pleasure activities, like spending time with family, relaxation time and enjoying hobbies. But the reality of actually achieving this kind of ideal work-life balance is out of reach for almost 99% of the population. The vast majority of us have to work increasingly hard just to make ends meet it seems. While it’s not a hard fact, we’ve all heard the statistics about the ultra rich being only a very small proportion of the population.

We also knows for ourselves because we struggle with work-life balance and financial commitments every day. But work-life balance is possible for the majority of us, we just need to learn to say ‘No!’

Many of us get bogged down with too much work, too many responsibilities and too much stress because we don’t know how to say ‘no’. Here are a few things we all need to learn to say ‘no’ to, for a better work-life balance. 

Say No to working after hours – Work usually already takes up at least 8 hours of our day. Ideal models from the past outlined a 24 hour day that could be divided into 3 parts – 8 hours for work, 8 hours for leisure and 8 hours for sleep. But if your workday begins to extend significantly beyond it’s 8 hour slot, it’s going to eat into time meant for leisure and sleep. So it’s important to be aware of the impact that working after hours will have on your work-life balance.

Say No to bringing your work home – Once again, bringing work back home will interfere with your leisure time and also create a stressful environment in your home. Your home should be a haven of relaxation and a place you can kick back and not worry about work responsibilities. Bringing work home with you will basically prevent any chance of that happening.

Say No to answering your phone or emails for work at home – Although you might think this won’t hurt, even something as subtle as answering the phone or emails about work can mean that stressful activities creep into your leisure time. Having clear boundaries and knowing when to switch off from phones, tablets and computers can help you more effectively enjoy your leisure time and rejuvenate.

Keeping the 8 hours work; 8 hours leisure; 8 hours sleep model in mind is useful for determining our boundaries and knowing when to say ‘no’. It might seem hard to say ‘no’, but it is possible, just try it for yourself!

Why Is Work-Life Balance Important?

It’s all thanks to a little hormone called Cortisol. Cortisol is important for a variety of reasons: it’s our fight or flight hormone, it helps us to stay awake and alert, and helps us to use our glycogen and fat stores for energy when we need it. Cortisol peaks in the early morning, when we need it to stay awake and alert, and it is at it’s lowest in the middle of the night when we should be asleep. However, in modern times, we humans have found other ways to ‘mess’ with cortisol, and as a result it has proceeded to ‘mess’ with us.

Ever felt that knot in your stomach when you’re stuck in traffic and late for an important meeting? Or that feeling of dread when you have to do public speaking? That’s cortisol coming in to prepare you for the flight or fight in reaction to the perceived threat. Sometimes that feeling of stress and anxiety goes away, but sometimes it doesn’t. 

If you are dealing with a particularly stressful or difficult project at work, that feeling of stress could last your whole work day. If you bring that work home, or you don’t leave thoughts of it behind when you leave work, that stress will also finds it’s way into your leisure time and even your sleeping time.

Having cortisol levels that are all over the place during the day and night will of course, also affect your sleep. Just as the light is dimming, you’re trying to wind down and your melatonin levels are increasing inducing sleepiness, you may all of a sudden find your mind racing due to worries about your work.

When sleeping gets disrupted like this, it’s easy to get into a vicious cycle where you can’t seem to get enough sleep at night and relax during leisure time, and you’re also not alert and focused enough at work to get your projects done. This is called ‘Tired and Wired’ because although you’re fatigued, worn out and would like nothing better than to just sleep, once you get into bed your mind won’t stop racing and you just can’t rest properly. 

How To Manage Work-Life Balance?

As I mentioned before, saying ‘no’ is a critical aspect to managing work-life balance and not putting too much pressure on yourself. This also applies to financial burdens as well. Many people take on more work so they can afford to buy that new car, or new outfit or new entertainment system. Properly budgeting your expenses allows you to manage your finances and prevents the need to work more and accrue more stress!

Maintaining a good work-life balance makes both your work and your leisure time more rewarding, while keeping you healthier and happier.

How is this possible and why is it important? 

It is possible. Try it. Say No. The world continues. Now moving on. It is very important due to a lovely little hormone we call Cortisol. We need this hormone for various reasons, it’s our fight or flight hormone, and it begins to increase at sunrise when we wake up and peaks during the day (Funny that the hormone that keeps us alert is most active during the day – when we once had to hide from predators and go hunting). That is the natural cycle of Cortisol, however we humans in our advanced lifestyle have found another way to introduce it into our lives. Ever felt the knot in your stomach when your stuck in traffic and late for something important? Yes that is Cortisol. Sure it disappears when the traffic subsides, but that same knot/anxiety/pressure can and will stick around when you are constantly working, bringing unpleasant work into your personal life, and not taking time out. Guess what increased levels of Cortisol also affect? Your sleep! Yes that’s right… So just when you should be winding down (as the Sun goes down and your Melatonin increases inducing sleepiness) your mind may begin to race due to your work pressures and all of a sudden you can’t sleep/sleeping is disrupted – this is known as tired and wired!