"Me time" is a distant memory for Kate Wiley. Most days she can barely catch her breath between caring for her 18-month-old son, working, and studying to become a dietitian. "Housework, spending time with my son, a date night with my husband, working, schoolwork -- the list goes on. There are weeks when I feel like I am running at 110% with no time to stop," Wiley tells WebMD. "The house isn't clean, I have too many things to do for my internship, and I want to spend time with my child -- quality time where we get to sit and read or cuddle or play. There doesn't seem to be enough time for it all."
If this sounds like your life, you're in good company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most parents with children younger than 18 work outside the home, including a majority of mothers with infants and toddlers. It's no surprise that working moms and dads, particularly those with additional responsibilities such as caring for an aging parent, find it difficult to make time for themselves. Activities that contribute to health, such as preparing nutritious meals, exercising, and pursuing hobbies tend to become elusive goals if they make the list at all.
"The last thing on my list is time for me," Wiley says, "and the lack of downtime often makes me feel overwhelmed and ready to crack."
Almost everyone feels overwhelmed on occasion, but how do you know if your life is chronically out of balance? Prominent personal coach Laura Berman Fortgang tells WebMD, "You know it's time to make a change when misery and stress outweigh joy on a daily basis for two weeks or more."
Fortgang, who is the author of Living Your Best Life and NOW WHAT? 90 Days to a New Life Direction, recommends evaluating the state of your life with the following quiz.
True or false:
1. I have more than enough time to do what I want to do.
2. I am on a health regimen that helps me feel energized.
3. I look forward to every day.
4. There are no people in my life (at home or at work) who drain me.
5. I love my home (location, contents, the feel, the style).
6. I have no clutter in my home and/or office.
7. I live a life pursuing what I want instead of what I should do.
8. My work is satisfying and rewarding.
9. I take at least two week long vacations a year.
10. I do not work on weekends.
11. I get plenty of sleep.
12. I have plenty of quality time with my children and/or the people who matter to me.
13. I have at least one hobby or pastime outside of my work and family activities.
14. I eat foods that make me feel energized instead of sluggish.
15. I have the space to take at least 15 minutes of silence a day.
16. I have friends that are easy to be with and a joy to spend time with.
17. I carry no heavy emotional burdens or addictive behaviors.
Give yourself one point for every time you said "true." If you answered "true" more often than "false" (a score of at least 9), you are probably living a well-balanced life. If you scored 8 or less, your lifestyle may need some fine-tuning.
So you flunked the quiz -- now what? "Stop. Take two days off immediately to regroup and relax," Fortgang advises. "Ask yourself what you are hating, tolerating, or resenting about the current state of your life. Make a list and start doing your best to correct things right away."
Why is it so important to get your life back in balance? "Without change, everything will get worse, not better," says Stevan Hobfoll, PhD, distinguished professor of psychology at Kent State University. Allowing your life to overwhelm you week after week, year after year, can lead to exhaustion, depression, and anxiety disorders. Your health, your family, and your career will suffer as a result, Hobfoll tells WebMD. "Relationship problems will get more serious, burnout will become more severe. You will do your job badly and possibly get fired. ... The romantic parts of your relationship will become part of some deep webs of your memory."
Hobfoll and his wife, Ivonne Heras Hobfoll, co-authored Work Won't Love You Back: The Dual Career Couple's Survival Guide. Rather than viewing your family and job as competing commitments, Hobfoll recommends shedding "the mythology of the rat race." He says investing time in your relationships will benefit you career. "Intimacy is one of the main things that counteracts burnout and stress." Similarly, investing time in yourself will benefit your relationships. That means creating space to do the things you enjoy, even if you have to neglect the dishes on occasion and ask friends or family to help out with your kids.
"I thought I could do it all on my own, but when I stopped and asked for some assistance, things got much easier," Wiley says. "I have realized that taking a break from the baby can be a great thing. I am a better mother if I get time to myself and time with my husband. "
So you've decided to strive for a more balanced life, but you're not sure where to start? In Part 2 of our series, WebMD gives you five realistic tips for better work-life balance. No major overhauls. Nothing costly. Just some fine-tuning that most people can accomplish through a little self-examination and planning.