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Healthy minds 04 Jun 21

Men’s mental health

Achieving work-life balance: Harness better mental health

Man looking worried

Readdress your work-life balance and improve mental wellbeing with some top tips from Dr Pablo Vandenabeele, clinical director for mental health at Bupa UK.

Take a step back from your daily pressures and use it as an opportunity to troubleshoot common stresses and strains with the aim of creating a happier, healthier future.

Do you ever find yourself suffering sleepless nights, tension headaches, an occasional pounding heart or an unusually short temper? You’re not alone. The stresses and strains of a professional career can have a huge mental and physical impact on men of all ages.

Anxiety, depression and stress manifest themselves in a variety of ways and can sometimes sneak up on you. Dr Pablo Vandenabeele, clinical director for mental health at Bupa UK, describes a few warning signals and symptoms to watch out for.

Anxiety, depression and stress warning signs

  • Disrupted sleep: Struggling to drop off, waking up earlier than usual or waking frequently during the night.
  • Changes in appetite: Finding yourself frequently not hungry, or perhaps eating far more than you would normally. Watch out for noticeable weight changes.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Lack of focus, or even forgetting meetings, chores, tasks or other things you normally have no trouble with.
  • Reduced or absent libido: This is a common symptom of depression and one that can be especially difficult to discuss.
  • Feelings of anxiety: Panic attacks and palpitations, or tingling sensations in your extremities.
  • Frequent headaches: These can also be caused by tension and stress

“Allow yourself to be comfortable saying ‘no’. That doesn’t mean you’re lazy or a failure – instead, it shows you can recognise your limits.”

Man lying on grass

If you experience symptoms like these or you can recognise that an unsustainable work-life balance is likely to comprise your wellness in the future, try these effective ways to minimise daily pressures and look after yourself mentally as well as physically.

Stressful situation: Impending and conflicting work deadlines

Solution: The best way to deal with crushing deadlines or unrealistic work expectations is to recognise the problem and find ways to combat it before it occurs. “Avoid finding yourself in that position by alerting people to what your realistic capacity is,” Pablo says. Allow yourself to be comfortable saying ‘no’. That doesn’t mean you’re lazy or a failure – instead, it shows you can recognise your limits.

Pablo explains that many people worry that advice to work less or ‘switch off’ will actually leave them falling behind. “Instead, another way to look at it is in terms of productivity. Working five hours at 100% is still better than working eight at 50%.”

Stressful situation: Lengthy commutes and travel plans

Solution: It’s important to be very logical and minimise unnecessary travel as much as possible. You may not be able to change your morning commute drastically, but if there’s any option to work remotely on crunch days then be sure to discuss it with your colleagues. Shaving a few hours off your weekly travel time can do wonders for time-poor professionals.

If you have frequent site changes or meetings outside the office, always take a step back and see how they can be approached. Pablo says rushing from one meeting or work site to another can leave you feeling stressed for the entire day. “With all of the modern technology we have now, you need to ask yourself the question: ‘Is there a need for me to physically be there?’” Consolidate your commitments as far as you’re able to and minimise travel time when you can. It might mean more organisational work initially, but it could save you a lot of stress.

Pablo’s top tip for achieving work-life balance

“Make sure you factor in enough time to look after yourself.”

It takes a bit of experimentation to find ways for you to let off steam – some people love yoga, others prefer to hit the gym hard and some might find photography or art classes are the best way to relax. Once you’ve found a way to unwind that suits you, make space for it in your diary and commit to it.

Stressful situation: Personality clashes with colleagues

Solution: Everybody is different and it’s entirely normal for personality clashes to arise in the workplace. Occasionally, these can grow into larger problems and leave you feeling depressed or anxious about going into work. Pablo says the best way to combat these mood-affecting problems is to ensure you don’t wait until a situation has grown very serious before approaching a manager.

Don’t take six months to bring up your issue in a private and appropriate setting – ask for extra one-to-ones or set aside time in your diaries to air grievances before they’ve caused you unwanted stress. “Having that regular opportunity to make people aware of difficulties ensures that suffering doesn’t go on for as long. It’s about making sure there’s a system in place to address problems at an earlier stage.”

Stressful situation: Too many personal commitments

Solution: When deadlines and essential meetings are piling up, you might find it very difficult to maintain the commitments you have outside the workplace. This can cause tension at home and become a major contributor to stress.

When it comes to work, you know you need to speak to your chain of command to find a solution. At home, Pablo suggests keeping loved ones “in the loop and aware of what’s happening so they know when things are getting busy. It’s about having that open dialogue because then they become more understanding when you’re not able to see your mother-in-law, for example.” By being transparent and sharing your crunch points and your quieter times, you make it much more likely that your loved ones won’t assume you don’t care about your home commitments (or don’t like your mother-in-law!), but that you’re under an unusual amount of pressure.

Keen to find ways to boost your physical health but not sure where to start? Find inspiration in our Work it out guide.

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