5 Tips for a Healthy Work Life Balance

This shot was taken at Filoli Gardens in California. FiLoLi stands for "Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life."

This shot was taken at Filoli Gardens in California. FiLoLi stands for “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.”

I was asked by one of my readers recently to write a post on how I maintain work-life balance during the all-consuming intern year of medical training. I love this idea because keeping myself sane while spending 80% of my time in the hospital has proven to be a constantly challenging task, and I’ve come up with a few ways to cope. Instead of giving tips that sound good on paper but in reality busy people never have time to do, I’m going to share my top 5 practical tips to maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

1. Plan ahead

This is something I’ve learned to be really good at this year. When you only get 9 two-day weekends in the entire year, you really learn how to maximize those weekends! I can’t emphasize enough how planning ahead helped me to make the most out of my limited free time. Once I knew I was going to have a day or two days off at a time, I would plan something, whether it’s a meal with friends or family or a staycation with the hubs. Another tip is to get multiple people together at a time for a hangout, so you can catch up with a few at a time. Introducing your friend groups to each other may help facilitate group hangouts!

Another thing that has helped is telling my friends in advance what times I have free. Two of my best friends are getting married this year and I am maid-of-honor in one and bridesmaid in the other. It was important to us that I could be present at the bridal festivities since I was helping to plan them, so we chatted far in advance about which weekends could work for me. Think of it this way: if your friends have a couple different weekends they can choose from for major life events, why not tell them which few days you’re free so you can attend? It’s a win-win situation.

2. Arrange time to decompress

IMG_3010This seems obvious but I know how easy it can be to constantly be in work mode, even after you go home. There’s always more material to study, more projects to tackle, more stuff to catch up on. Build an hour or two into your schedule to simply not think about work. Turn off that part of your brain! Use that time as me time, just to relax and get strength to tackle the next work task when it comes. My favorite activities to do while decompressing include hanging out with friends or vegging out in front of the TV. Reading some blogs. Online shopping. Some in person shopping. Cooking a meal. Exercising (see #4!). Watching cute animal videos online. Whatever you need to give your brain some down time, do it and don’t skimp!

3. Surround yourself by people who care about you and vice versa

Back in high school and college my goal was to try to make as many friends as possible. I’d have a friend group for studying, one for partying, one for jamming, etc. Now I just have one group: close friends. When you have limited time to hang out with anyone, you narrow down your friend group real quick to the super important ones. No drama needed. These are the friends who will understand your crazy work schedule, the ones who will cheer you up when you have a bad day, and the ones who will support you through anything. If you are lucky enough to have family or a loving significant other nearby, take advantage of that! We are taught in medicine that one of the major protective factors against depression and suicide is having a good support network. Make yours count.

4.Prioritize health

For many of us, health takes a back seat because we’re young, we think we’re invincible, etc. Even as a doctor, I too often ignore my own health issues! But staying healthy is at the core of work-life balance. Without health, you simply won’t have the energy to keep powering through work. My advice is to eat healthy and exercise. It is so easy to binge eat when stressed, but fill your house with healthy snacks and set clear rules for yourself like no deep fried foods or half a plate of veggies a day. As for exercise, I’ll admit that I am not good at routinely exercising. In fact, my husband has to remind me to exercise multiple times a week before I finally make it to the gym…once. But anyone who is familiar with science (or Legally Blonde) knows that exercise causes release of endorphins, the brain’s natural opiates that induce happiness. Participants in the study I linked above experienced a greater sense of euphoria after exercise and brain imaging confirms that endorphins are released and attach to areas of the brain responsible for emotions. So there’s a major positive there; exercise actually makes you happy. It also happens to keep you from becoming obese, which prevents tons of health problems and self esteem issues.

5. See the light at the end of the tunnel

There has to be some sort of break or end in sight even if you’re stuck in a bad situation at work at the moment. Look ahead and see when your next break is, or when this particular project or rotation is over. Maybe you don’t like your boss; perhaps there’s some way to switch managers or teams. In my case, my most exhausting rotations this year were two months in the intensive care unit and two weeks doing overnight shifts covering the entire hospital. During moments when I felt extremely tired and burnt out, it helped me to think that how I was feeling was temporary, and that there is a foreseeable end in sight. If you absolutely cannot find any sort of end to a horrible predicament, then maybe it’s time for you to reevaluate why you’re in the job you’re in and what you can do to change it.

What are your tips for keeping a healthy work life balance? I’d love to hear the strategies you use!

13 Comments on 5 Tips for a Healthy Work Life Balance

    • Joyce
      March 24, 2015 at 6:16 pm (3 years ago)

      Coco, thanks for stopping by, and I would love to hear any tips you have as well!

    • Joyce
      March 26, 2015 at 4:07 am (3 years ago)

      Linda, I have the utmost respect for ICU physicians! After two months in the ICU this year as an intern, I began to understand how working in the unit is not only physically draining but also a rollercoaster of emotions as well. Thank you for stopping by and for sharing how you manage to have work-life balance with a challenging career.

    • Joyce
      April 1, 2015 at 11:21 pm (3 years ago)

      Thanks Carine, let me know how it works out!

  1. Milford Davey
    April 10, 2015 at 2:31 pm (3 years ago)

    As a 4th year medical student, I can relate to this! Medical school, especially during clinical rotations made it hard for me to find that balance.. It helped to have a great support network in my friends. It’s good to have understanding friends who are okay with seeing you maybe once in two weeks.

    But as you said, you gotta make those meetings count!

    • Joyce
      April 12, 2015 at 10:39 am (3 years ago)

      Milford, thanks for stopping by! Fourth year of medical school is an interesting time; I was incredibly stressed up until Match Day and then after that, it was smooth sailing! I completely agree that a good support network makes all the difference, and I’m glad to hear that you have awesome friends. Good luck and keep me updated on your medical school journey!

  2. ambergalarowicz
    June 21, 2015 at 7:47 am (2 years ago)

    i agree with everything. i only have a few close friends that i talk to regularly now, too. there just isn’t time to keep up with everyone. i was just telling the bf yesterday that it’ll be nice to have more friends again soon (and have time for them). it gets kind of lonely otherwise!

    • Joyce
      June 29, 2015 at 12:46 pm (2 years ago)

      It helps to have friends at work so you kill two birds with one stone!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment *

%d bloggers like this: