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“We aren’t superheros": The work-life balance struggle

There’s a fine line between the daily grind, and a major work-life imbalance.

Studies show Americans are working more hours and days a week while sleeping less and cutting downtime at home. It’s a situation you are probably all too familiar with, but you’re not alone.

There’s a fine line between the daily grind and a major work-life imbalance.

But unfortunately, as Carilion Clinic's Dr. Robert Trestman explains, that line comes in all shades of gray.

“Work-life balance is an elusive goal for so many of us,” Trestman said.

He is the chair of psychiatry at Carilion Clinic and Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and is very familiar with the struggles people here in Southwest Virginia face every day when it comes to balancing work and life.

Long gone are the days of a 9 to 5, 40-hour workweek. A Harvard Business School survey found 94% of professionals put in more than 50 hours a week. That’s not counting time spent checking work emails on their smartphones at home.

Another work-life balance study conducted by RescueTime, a company that provides technology that tracks and helps individuals manage their work-life time found that on average, workers take more than a quarter of their work home with them.

And while some claim long hours are necessary, study after study shows that when we lose work-life balance, everyone suffers the consequences.

“When you are overworked, you start turning to things to help you cope. You start smoking, you drink more coffee, you eat junk food because of the immediate release of sugar,” Trestman explained.

To make ends meet financially, sometimes working overtime or even multiple jobs is necessary. But there is a difference between working hard and working smart.

Trestman said that individuals who are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet should plan to save as much money as possible to continue their education, or work toward other opportunities that can offer them a job that provides enough.

“It’s about investing in yourself,” Trestman said. “Have a discussion with your employer about the company investing in you, too.” He suggests meeting with your employer to talk about receiving training or moving up to a better paying position that would prevent you from having to take on a second job.

“It’s really important not to think that the rest of your life is going to be working two jobs non-stop with no meaningful time for yourself or your family. We all need to develop opportunities to develop balance. Frankly, it’s not easy, but it’s important,” said Trestman. “In each person I have worked with over the years, we have found ways to make that happen. Not overnight, but incrementally.”

He said it’s important to not live in crisis-mode but to plan long term.

“We like to believe in superheroes, but we’re not. We have our limits. Some of us incrementally deteriorate. Some of us will go until we crash. But there are limits to each and every one of us,” Trestman said.

He says unless we respect and honor those limits, and take joy in the fact that we have those limits, we can live a life without meaning.

“Whether that is spiritually, or engaging in church, not for profit activities, volunteerism. All of those things that bring joy to our lives, we have to negotiate with our employers that those things are an important part of who we are and what we do. We need to plan for that. As people, we aren’t good at that. We really aren’t. We are really good at reacting to a crisis and dealing with the immediate thing. If we can take a step back ad really look at planning, it’s going to benefit us in the long run,” said Trestman.

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