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5 Self-Care Tips For Staying Sane While Juggling A Demanding Career

There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing your career, but things can quickly go south if success comes at the expense of your health, relationships, and sanity.

Heidi Zak

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As a group, busy professionals with big career aspirations tend to be lousy at balancing the demands of their work with their personal health. 

It’s not that they don’t want to take time for themselves and let their inbox be for a few hours—it’s that work somehow always finds a way to encroach on other parts of their lives. 

I know, because I’m very familiar with the demands of a busy work life. After undergrad, I started my career at an investment bank, and after stops at Aeropostale and Google, I co-founded ThirdLove with my husband.

I realize it can be difficult to find time for self-care. But if you want to protect both your physical and mental health, you have to prioritize your well-being every chance you get. That often comes down to how you organize your schedule and how you face challenges at work and at home. 

If you’re struggling to find the sweet spot where your job feels more rewarding than overwhelming, then try these five self-care tips that I’ve come to live by:

1: Stop feeling guilty for saying no. 

Saying “no” is one of the most important weapons in your arsenal when it comes to battling chaos and burnout. 

There are times, both at work and in your personal life, when you simply have to decline. Meetings are a prime example. People often complain about how much time they waste in meetings, but there’s no law that says you have to blindly accept every meeting invite that comes your way. It’s not rude or disrespectful to evaluate whether you really need to be in the room when you see an invite pop up. If you don’t need to be there, simply explain that to the person holding the meeting. 

The same goes for personal events. There’s no harm in saying “no” to an invitation if you know it will leave you drained for the rest of the week or eat up precious time with your kids. 

As long as you clearly explain why you don’t need to be in that meeting or attend that dinner, you’ll find that people will generally understand and accept your decision without any fuss. 

2: Take control of your time.

Your calendar and inbox can either be your best friends or your worst enemies—it all depends on how you use them. 

Personally, I like to schedule 30-minute open blocks of time into my calendar every day. It might buy me time to eat lunch, tackle an urgent issue, or just take a breather during a jam-packed day. 

Email is another area where I try not to get bogged down. I like to do a quick inbox check in the morning before I work out. If something urgently needs my attention, I attend to it. But if not, I can enjoy my workout without wondering what I may have missed overnight. 

If you find yourself constantly refreshing your inbox, set specific times to check for any new messages—and avoid it the rest of the day. 

3: Come to terms with uncertainty.

You’re never going to have complete certainty about everything at work. 

You should strive for clarity on what matters to you—personal goals, career development, current projects—but at some point you also have to make your peace with the fact that there’s only so much you can control. There will always be tradeoffs to different choices. The data will never be perfect. And that’s okay.

You don’t have to take your hands off the wheel completely, but it’s crucial for your self-care that you learn to adapt when the road ahead is unclear. 

4: Focus on finding time for friendships—however and whenever you can.

A hectic work schedule demands a strong support system. If you focus strictly on your career and forget about the relationships you’ve built with friends and family, then you’ll be on a one-way track to burnout. 

That doesn’t mean you have to host elaborate dinner parties or schedule get-togethers weeks in advance. Sometimes, a spontaneous happy hour or Saturday afternoon barbecue is all you need to recharge and reconnect with people who matter to you. 

In fact, casual, intimate get-togethers—where everyone can relax and let their hair down for a bit—are usually easier to plan and more rewarding for everyone involved. Do you really need to get a reservation at the trendiest new restaurant in town? Or would it be easier to order in and catch up with friends while the kids tear around the kitchen playing tag?

5: Create routines that work for you. 

Everyone needs a different routine. Mine may not work perfectly for you, and yours probably wouldn’t be great for me. 

But simply having a routine helps you stay sane when your work schedule is overwhelming. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time, working out in the morning, reading before bed—a routine imposes structure on an otherwise chaotic day. It alleviates some of the mental strain that comes from constantly making decisions on the fly. 

And, most importantly, you can use them to create periods of time for yourself, moments when you can relax for a bit and stop thinking about projects, email, or quarterly reviews. Because there’s nothing wrong with prioritizing your career, but things can quickly go south if success comes at the expense of your self-care, health, relationships, and sanity.

Here are a few other related articles you might find helpful:

Getting Heated? Here’s How To Stay Cool During Tough Conversations At Work

Why Emotional Empathy Is A Leader’s Greatest Strength

How To Encourage Workplace Friendships And Increase Team Happiness

Heidi Zak is the co-founder and co-CEO of ThirdLove. Prior to ThirdLove, Zak cut her teeth in retail at Aeropostale where she quickly rose to Director of the retail giant, launching and running the International Division, before becoming a marketing executive at Google. Zak holds an undergraduate degree in Economics from Duke University and an MBA from MIT Sloan. In her free time she loves spending time with her two kids. Heidi has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People, Goldman Sachs 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs, Business Insider's 30 Female-Founded Startups to Watch, and SF Business Times 40 Under 40. Follow her on Instagram: @Heidi.

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