I’m solidly in my sixth full day of work and won’t have a day off for another six days. It’s been fun. The fall season tends to be the busiest time of the year and so far it’s been true to form. Even though I do my utmost to maintain a healthy work-life balance, it’s inevitable for the pendulum to swing and stay in one direction for far longer than I would like. This obviously isn’t a problem when it’s say, a vacation, but putting in those long hours at work is an entirely different story.
It’s incredibly easy to feel miserable and curse under my breath every time I find myself driving into work instead of relaxing at home but this wouldn’t accomplish much of anything. The reality is that there will be times when additional effort at work is warranted (or demanded by your boss) and your options are limited. I am fortunate in my case that it’s the former but it is still stressful to look at the calendar and realize a true break is not yet in sight.
When my weeks are this full, I employ everything at my disposal to make things run as smoothly as possible and maximize any downtime I get. If my focus needs to be on work then I make sure to cut out anything that is an energy sucker. Meals become very simple. I preemptively buy easy to make foods or make a huge batch of beef stew which lasts for several days. I also pay close attention to when my body tells me I need rest and do my best to listen instead of staying up late which is my natural tendency.
I also cut myself a break when it comes to having my house clean and tidy. My husband and I really don’t tend to make a huge mess but I’ll let the pile of magazines get a bit higher than usual or put off things like vacuuming or cleaning the kitchen and bathroom floors. I also delegate, a skill I have honed more and more the longer I have been married. Doing one chore a day is about the most I can muster on really full weeks and that is perfectly acceptable.
Listening not just to my body but the cues of those around me is also extremely helpful. My husband can usually sense when I’m feeling stressed out and he will suggest things like taking a long, hot bath or taking a nap even if it’s 6 pm. My tendency is to resist the urge to do these things but if he is particularly insistent, I find that my life is that much better for taking the time to do something that recharges me. That was the case last night when we had dinner plans for 7:30 and I arrived home exactly one hour before we were supposed to be at the restaurant.
My initial plan was to just sit and watch TV to kill time before we left the house and drove back into town from where I just came from. He gently encouraged me to take a hot shower as I was definitely feeling stressed from having such limited time at home before having to leave again. It was the best decision of the entire night. I felt completely rejuvenated (and a little sleepy) after that shower, and it made the rest of the evening that much more pleasant.
Even though every fiber of my being as I was driving home last night was screaming to cancel my dinner reservation and just sit on the couch all night, I knew I would feel much happier if I followed through with my original plans. Same today with meeting with a friend and her husband to watch a movie together and grabbing dinner later tonight with two other friends. Working so long and so intensely makes me want to retreat into my little comfort zone at home and often enough that does happen. I have found though that ultimately there has to be something every single week that I look forward to even if in the moment I am too physically tired to enjoy it properly. Otherwise the really hectic weeks just blend with one another and before you know it another season has gone by without having felt truly alive.
It’s not easy. If I could have a healthy meal prepared for me every single night, guaranteed eight hours of sleep and two days off minimum every single week, life would be pretty sweet. Since that’s not the case, I have to do the best that I can and that includes reminding myself that life doesn’t just stop because I spent all those extra hours in the lab. You can have your cake and eat it too, just maybe a little less cake some of the time.