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A Balancing Act by Sara Niven

2nd Mar 2018

Getting a healthy work/life balance can be tricky act to master as Beauty Editor and Counsellor Sara Niven admits.

My daughter snorted when she found out I was writing a piece on life/work balance. Truth be told I haven’t always got it right in her eyes (do parents ever?) She has a point.

In my twenties, as I embarked on a career in a competitive field, 50-60 plus hour weeks were regularly the norm which I realise is still the case for many. It was considered bad form to leave before the boss; more than once I missed the last train home, ended up sleeping under my desk and frightening the cleaner. I suffered debilitating bouts of stress related IBS and didn’t bother to cook or eat healthily. The bagel and wine diet I existed on then is not to be recommended and I’m lucky I didn’t get scurvy.

This was pre-parenthood when work had no competition as a main focus. By the time I became a mum in my 30’s I considered myself fortunate to be freelancing from home, something increasing numbers of us do or aim to. It is seen as providing the ideal solution in terms of life/work balance and is definitely preferable to lengthy, frustrating and expensive commutes. But as I discovered, it can present other challenges and pressures.

One moment that still stands out is sitting at my computer on a gloriously sunny day with an energetic toddler and no childcare. An editor was emailing at hourly intervals checking the progress of a feature, something I was doing my best to complete in between hastily fixing snacks and putting on Disney DVDs.  My daughter grew increasingly frustrated with promises of being taken out “soon.” (This was in a small, stuffy, gardenless flat). Eventually the sun clouded over, as did her face. I’d made my deadline but completely missed hers. The guilt I experienced that day (and others) never fades. It is at times like that when I have felt I’m failing to do a good job of anything and pleasing no one, that I have wanted clearer divisions between work and home life.

Few working situations are perfect and as I point out to my daughter, at least I have managed to make numerous sports days that wouldn’t have been possible if I worked in an office. My difficulty has been in trying to set (and stick to) some basic boundaries. Something that is increasingly difficult for both employees and the self-employed.

“The demands placed on people by communication technologies have intensified considerably over the last 10 years or so,” points out Emma Donaldson-Feilder, a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and Director of Affinity Health at Work.

The expectation of being available anytime, anyplace, anywhere makes it harder to carve out recovery time. But research has shown that it is vital for our wellbeing to have times when we are not under the pressure of feeling on ‘call’ and able to properly switch off and rest.”

If like me, you remember a time when mobiles and laptops weren’t common place, you probably appreciate her point. Even on holiday, I have found myself checking and replying to work related emails; the fear I may lose a client if I don’t provide an immediate response and knowledge my holiday time is unpaid and I need to make that up, is a powerful driving force.

For me, life/work balance has been and continues to be, a learning curve.

Three things I’ve realised:

You need regular breaks to remain effective

I used to be rubbish at this – surely the longer I worked the more I’d get done? Then I realised that it was getting harder and harder to focus, both physically and mentally. Now I know I’m more effective if I take a break every few hours, ideally one involving fresh air.

Make time for the basics

Exercise, sleep and a balanced diet can fall by the wayside with a busy workload and other responsibilities but are the cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle (I appreciate anyone with young children doesn’t get a choice when it comes to sleep and can struggle to get through the day, let alone a circuits class). Any effort counts, be that cooking up a storm on a day off to stock up the freezer or using the stairs instead of lifts. One working mother I know who has three children, including one with special needs, runs to work a mile away as the only thing she can fit in and claims it helps keep her sane.

Avoid (or at least limit) work related calls and emails during days off and holidays

Enough said. Give colleagues or clients adequate warning that you won’t be available on certain dates and set up an automated email response. I now only check my phone once a day during holidays. Alright, maybe twice...

For those who can only spare an hour, to those who are desperately seeking escapism, SenSpa has indulgences to suit all from 30 minute treatments, spa afternoons, evenings and full days of blissful peace and quiet. What are you waiting for? Take Sara's advice and begin to find your balance.


A Balancing Act by Sara Niven

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