International Women’s Day 2021: How women can find a balance between health and work-life
Our bodies work in a particular rhythm. They work optimally if given food at the right times, adequate uninterrupted rejuvenating sleep, moderate regular exercise and plenty of positivity
Work-life balance, does it even exist? Many women might say- work is also part of my life, so why call it work-life balance. So, let’s be clear. Work-life balance can be rephrased -- BALANCE IN LIFE.
Women take pride in multitasking and wearing many hats at a time. Be it homemaking, high profile management, profession, passion, social work or politics, women are in all spheres now. There is the traditional job of getting married, bearing and rearing children, household chores and not to forget, caring for elders. All in all, women now-a-days have to strike a balance in their life like never before.
As a gynaecologist, I come across women of all ages- adolescents to menopausal; all spheres- homemakers to CEOs and entrepreneurs. They are all primarily women with the same anatomy, physiology and hormones. Each one of them faces problems and issues intrinsic to their feminine bodies and minds. As women, our body clocks are slightly different. We apparently need more of that elusive sleep than men. We have a circadian rhythm which can go berserk with child-rearing and household chores. With the sleep deficit, comes hormonal disharmony. Career-oriented women face a unique set of challenges. Early starts and cooking meals for the entire family, long commutes, being online for every call, night shifts for some, handling colleagues, juniors or seniors, with all this comes the unrelenting stress from many quarters.
Our bodies work in a particular rhythm. They work optimally if given food at the right times, adequate uninterrupted rejuvenating sleep, moderate regular exercise and plenty of positivity.
Menstrual and reproductive problems are on the rise. It is not uncommon for me to see college girls coming with body image issues with new breakouts of acne, sudden weight gain which is difficult to lose, unwanted facial and body hair and several mood disorders. Polycystic ovarian syndrome has been directly associated with lifestyle and is no less a lifestyle disorder than diabetes and hypertension. Heavy or light periods, irregularities and pain during periods can stem from change in lifestyle, stress, career moves and relocation. Women working with MNCs based on other time zones (more than 4 hours from IST), tend to develop weight issues and hormonal imbalances within a few months of work. Constant VDU use in air-conditioned chambers with little or no exercise leads on to several problems such as repetitive stress injury, sleep deprivation, mood disorders and of course weight gain.
Another big concern is that women with high-flying careers who want to climb up the ladder professionally tend to postpone child-bearing to their late thirties and early forties. With this delay, come a host of inevitable challenges like the poor quality and quantity of eggs in the limited ovarian reserve. Pregnancy in this age group can be a bit more challenging to the body. Pre-existing obesity, diabetes and hypertension complicate the matter. Chromosomal disorders are more likely to occur. They need more follow up, more blood tests and ultrasound scans than a younger woman which they may not be able to comply with. Menopause is another challenging period in a woman’s life wherein mood swings, hot flashes and uro-genital symptoms can interrupt quality of life and work. Most women continue work until age of retirement and may face a host of challenges such as empty nest syndrome, loss of a loved one or caring for elderly.
With that in the background, how can we make it better for ourselves? The following may help as a guideline to a better balance in life:
· Acknowledge that certain jobs are incompatible with a good balance
o Face the truth about your limitations
o Take responsibility for designing your life as you would like to prioritise
o Set boundaries to all the chores
· Incorporate good habits
o Find time for mindful eating at regular intervals and stick to it (pack up boxes with salads, fruits and protein)
o Find opportunities for regular moderate exercise (taking the stairs, walking to work)
o Get adequate uninterrupted sleep by being organised and disciplined (do the ironing, pack school bags, delegate tasks)
· Network and delegate
o Networking starts at home (ask hubby to help with homework, ask mom to help with chopping)
o Delegate individual tasks to people and ask them to report back, make it their habit
o Ask help from colleagues and keep them in your good books. Treat them occasionally.
· Separate home and work
o Forget work after you cross the office gate
o Focus on home and children at other times without distractions
o Keep that phone away for a few hours of the day while at home
o Work from home during the school hours and switch off after
· Making time for yourself
o Get a few hours of the weekend for yourself, an hour of gym, a run, a meal out with family or friends
o Relaxation and meditation times every day
o Investing in a spa appointment or a massage
The ‘Five-ball concept’ in management refers to our priorities in life- Work, family, health, relationships and spirituality. Practically, a mortal being can only handle 2 of these balls at a time, whilst the remaining three are in air. There is a delicate balance of time and coordination. The lesser priorities could be considered to be rubber balls which can bounce back and be incorporated in the juggling cycle. However, the top priorities which are likened to glass balls, are likely to break, if not taken care of. This analogy helps us understand what our top priorities would be. It would be prudent to try and amalgamate two spheres in one activity to save time. For eg., health and family could be amalgamated through a family day out trekking. A yoga session amalgamates spirituality and health. The possibilities are limitless.
As women, we have the responsibility and the prerogative of designing our and our families’ lives to incorporate discipline, skills and independence in our loved ones. We can find the freedom of taking our lives in our hands and live it the way we want to. Unless, we are healthy, our careers and families are in jeopardy. Finding joy in work and finding purpose in family and life are worthwhile pursuits. Our happiness may in fact have nothing to do with finding balance but much rather, as John Irving writes, with finding a way of life we love and having the courage to live it.
(Author - Dr Aruna Muralidhar, MD, MRCOG (UK), FRCOG (UK) is the associate director and senior consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Fortis La Femme Hospital, Richmond Road, Bengaluru)