We’ve all been there: A big project comes up that’s super important to your company (and your career), and it quickly becomes an all-hands-on-deck situation. Work shifts to priority number one, leaving everything else in your life to fall by the wayside.
Suddenly, you’re clocking 12 hours at the office every day, responding to emails from home at all hours of the night, and fighting off the million to-dos running through your head to catch a few precious hours of sleep. Your exercise consists of sprinting between your desk and the printer, and you can’t remember the last time you ate something that didn’t come out of a package.
You may think to yourself: “Work-life balance–what the heck is that?”
Stressful periods at work may be inevitable–and while they can be manageable in the short term, if you don’t take steps to keep the stress under control, it can lead to fatigue and burnout.
No matter how much you love what you do, striking a balance between work and your physical, mental, and emotional well-being is essential. Studies have repeatedly shown that happy workers are more productive workers, so keeping up stable relationships with friends and family, making time for fulfilling activities, and taking a break from work is key to maintaining a quality of life that serves you and your employer best.
When you find yourself in the midst of a period of total insanity, gain back control with these strategies to maintain your happiness and keep your well-being in check.
Even if you choose to embrace the extra work and additional responsibilities as a challenge and way to grow your skill set, it’s important to communicate with your boss about expectations such as deadlines and the duration of the project. Be sure you’re both aware of when the craziness will start to wind down, whether the project is on schedule, and any potential roadblocks that could arise.
Not only will having this information help you feel in control of your workload, it will actually help you control the process. With full knowledge of your boss’ expectations, you can step in when things aren’t moving along to suggest a change in direction, and you’ll be able to weather surprises (like the project getting extended for an extra week) with grace and ease.
Research shows that following a morning routine can help get your day off to a productive start–and that good feeling can boost your mood throughout the rest of the day.
Create a routine around a daily morning practice, such as meditating or waking up a half-hour early to get work done before ever checking your email. By sticking to this morning after morning, you’ll automatically begin your workday on a positive note, with a sense of accomplishment.
Then, at the end of the day, make a point to go to bed at the same time each evening (more or less), and designate some time beforehand to wind down by reading, jotting down tomorrow’s to-dos, or another calming routine that isn’t in front of a screen. Engaging in a nighttime ritual signals to your body it’s time for bed, and clearing your mind before bed also helps calm your nerves, which improves sleep.
Exercise is often one of the first things to go when work gets crazy, but its stress-reducing benefits make it even more important to incorporate during demanding times in your life.
If there’s no way you can squeeze in your normal gym routine, think of smaller ways you can get the blood flowing, like changing up your commute to walk or bike to work, YouTube-ing a short yoga or abs routine that you can do at home, or even just spending 10 minutes stretching when you wake up. Physical activity is proven to reduce stress and can help calm you down when you’re amped up–which will help keep you sane during marathon workdays.
When it feels like you’ve signed your life over to your company or clients, carving out some time for yourself is essential to stay grounded. Whether you squeeze in time to call a friend or just sit and decompress sans electronic devices, designating uninterrupted time (however short!) to clear your head can work wonders for your mood and will help you to think more clearly when things are moving fast.
Try getting in early to take advantage of the empty office, or, if most days you’re starved for a peaceful moment, pop on some headphones and jam out to your favorite Spotify station on the way to work. Or, taking lunch away from your desk–especially if you can find a quiet park or courtyard–is a great way to de-stress.
Making time for creative expression–whatever that looks like for you–will help stay centered when it feels like work is taking over your life. Creativity is cathartic: It allows you to channel stress, anger, resentment, or whatever other negative emotions you may be holding onto in a productive, healthy way.
So, be sure you’re still making time to sing your favorite jam in the shower, write posts for your blog, or send your mom a thoughtful card in the mail, no matter how busy things are in the office. Yes, there is always one more thing on your to-do list and you can always find more reasons to work, but if you don’t pause to take a timeout, you’ll stop being productive.
Finally, when it seems like all you do is work, do your best to maintain perspective. It can be helpful to remind yourself that the stress will not last forever, and in the meantime, you have plenty of resources to cope with the stress and take back control of your life.
Making time for yourself amid the dozens of other demands on you is what will help reset your balance–and what will make you a better employee and happier person in the long run.
—Melody Wilding, LMSW is a psychology expert and licensed therapist who works with entrepreneurs and young professionals. Melody has worked with top performers running some of today’s biggest startups along with published authors and media personalities. She has been featured on New York Magazine, FastCompany, Glamour, and more. Sign up for your free session at www.melodywilding.com and follow her on Twitter @MelodyWilding.
This article originally appeared in The Muse and is reprinted with permission.