HQC employees learn how to balance home, work life

By By Beth Reece

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Setting boundaries and taking at least 15 minutes of “me” time a day are among the tips employees received in a work-life balance presentation at the McNamara Headquarters Complex March 22.

Although stress is unavoidable, “it can also reach a point where it’s overwhelming and affects our ability to cope,” said Judy Neary, a licensed clinical social worker from Federal Occupational Health.

Neary described seven “life categories” in which people divide their energy and time: work; family; friendships; recreation; health and physical activity; personal, spiritual and religious growth; and community.

Attendees discovered how much time they spend in each category by creating a pie chart of their activities ever month. Then they compared the results with how much time they’d like to spend in each area.

“If there are great differences, it’s a sign that our life is out of balance,” Neary said.

A variety of lifestyle changes can help restore balance, she continued, adding that individuals may need to try several things to know what works best for them. The first step for some may be improving their physical and mental health. Regular exercise helps reduce stress and improves sleep, she said.

“Stress manifests itself when we don’t take care of ourselves. We’re more likely to get sick because our immune systems can become compromised. It also tears down our resistance to colds and increases inflammation in the body,” she added.

Setting boundaries is one of the most difficult yet most important things people can do to develop a sense of balance, Neary said. While an employee may not mind covering for a coworker who’s on vacation for a week, boundaries shift when that coworker starts asking the employee to cover for them during a two-hour lunch break.

“You have to decide for yourself which boundaries you’re comfortable with,” she said. “Which ones can we honor and still be able to function well in our lives?” The same applies to activities such as volunteering and saying “yes” to something just because it’s what a “good” sibling, friend or spouse would do.  

Individuals who feel overburdened at work should also ask their supervisors which tasks need to be completed first. “Sit down with your supervisor and say, ‘You’ve told me to do A-Z. You’re the boss; tell me which ones you want me to accomplish first’,” she added.  

Having too many priorities is a common obstacle for employees, especially those with children and elderly parents. If everything is a priority, nothing is, Neary said.

“If you have 10 priorities, that’s seven too many. All it does is discourage you or make you feel like a failure at the end of the day or week,” she said. “Set yourself up with three priorities. It doesn’t mean you don’t have other goals, but it helps you stay focused.”

At home, employees can ease stress by planning menus ahead of time and cooking big batches that can be frozen for later. Neary recommended preparing lunch the night before and shopping during off-peak hours. Parents can also set a timer for 15 minutes during which everyone in the household puts away items that belong to them.

One of the most effective ways to restore balance at home is to make time for relationships, she said.

“Schedule time to sit down with your spouse or partner with no TV, no kids, no phone,” Neary said. “This isn’t a time to talk about the thing with the coworker or complain about the things your spouse didn’t do that you asked them to do last week. It’s not a time to complain or nag. It’s a time to share positive things with one another.”

Neary cautioned employees not to compare themselves with others. Although one person can work 70 hours a week while also training for a marathon and cooking gourmet dinners without feeling stressed, others will react differently.

“We can only look at how the life we’re living currently is experienced by us,” she said, adding that the sooner a person who needs help seeks it, the sooner they’ll start feeling better.

DLA employees can find resources to help them balance their work and home lives through the Employee Assistance Program, which provides assessment, counseling, referral and coaching services to federal employees. Services are free, confidential and available 24 hours a day at 1-888-262-7848.

“The number is answered by a real-life person, and you can specify whether you want to see someone after work, on weekends or away from the worksite. Counselors don’t provide a diagnosis, but they are there to help,” Neary added.

More information is available at the Federal Occupational Health website (www.FOH4You.com).