The Physical Dimension of Work-Life Balance

It’s hard to be fit as a fiddle when you’re shaped like a cello.

I confess. I’ve been a workaholic most of my life. I’ve had a job since second grade. While my friends would be playing, I’d be selling door-to-door. At an early age, I learned how to make money, and as I got older, I simply learned how to make more and more money.

Then I had some wake-up calls. Some personal tragedies occurred. I lost some relationships, and I lost my health.

Friends sent me cartoons, hoping to get my attention. One cartoon showed Ziggy near a vending machine that read: “Get a Life — 50 cents.” But one cartoon that really made me think was a picture of two men standing outside a door. The sign on the door said: “Workaholics Anonymous. Out to lunch. Back in 4 minutes.”

It hit me like a bolt of lightning. If I continued with my old way of doing things, I would probably end up rich, but I would also be sick, single, or dead. I didn’t like those options, so I began to change. I wanted to make a life and a living.

I wanted to do more than “manage” the stress in my life. I wanted to balance my life. So I went on a crusade to learn all I could about the subject.

I discovered that a lot of companies were offering classes on “job stress.” They really wanted to help their employees through the changing and difficult times. But I also learned that a class that only focused on one aspect of life would never create a balanced or stress-free life. When a person has lots of stress, it shows up everywhere — in his eating habits, in his mental state, in his relationships, everywhere — not just the job.

I learned that if a program is going to be successful, it has to focus on all 8 dimensions of life. It has to focus on the: 1) physical, 2) recreational, 3) financial, 4) occupational, 5) relational, 6) mental, 7) emotional, and 8) spiritual.

So that’s how I structured my program, “Take This Job and Love It! A Program for Managing Stress, Preventing Burnout, and Balancing Life.” It gives you simple strategies for each of the eight dimensions of life that really, really work.

When I’m asked to speak on the topic, whether it’s a keynote address at a conference or a longer workshop for an organization, I emphasize the critical importance of having all the dimensions of your life in good shape. But for today’s purposes, for your “Tuesday Tip,” I’ll only focus on the first dimension, the physical dimension.

Unfortunately, Americans have way too many degenerative diseases. Some studies indicate that 90% of all adults suffer from colon difficulties, and 77% have some form of arthritis. And to make matters worse, 54% of all deaths will come from heart disease, and 33% will get cancer.

The good news is you don’t have to be one of those statistics. Research makes it clear that a well-cared-for body is less likely to break down or burn out. So what can you do in the PHYSICAL dimension that is positive and healthy?

=> Start By Being Honest With Yourself.

If you have too many aches and pains, too many signs of stress, your body is trying to get your attention. It’s trying to tell you that you’re out of balance. Until you admit this to yourself, you’ll probably rationalize away your need for change in the physical dimension.

=> Then, Eat Nutritiously.

You get a new body of cells every 90 days, and what you eat determines the health of those cells. Just as you wouldn’t put kerosene in your car and expect to make a cross country trip, you can’t eat the wrong foods and expect to live a long and healthy life.

Very simply put, you must limit your intake of sugar, salt, red meat, and caffeine. These items put stress on the body and increase your burnout potential.

=> Third, Free Yourself From Addiction.

Millions of Americans are addicted to a substance and don’t even know it. Their conversations are sprinkled with comments such as, “I can’t get going without a cup of coffee,” or “I can’t relax without a cigarette,” or “I can’t open up without a few drinks.”

The price you pay for addiction, any addiction, is lowered self-esteem. You cannot feel good about yourself if you need a substance to make it through the day. But when you are free from addiction, you feel in control — and that prevents burnout.

=> Fourth, Exercise!

Proper exercise reduces the emotional stress that leads to burnout. “Proper” means choosing an exercise program that you enjoy and that is noncompetitive. It means exercising at least twenty vigorous minutes three times a week, doing something that makes you stop thinking about your problems.

=> Finally, Get Adequate Rest.

The research is clear. You need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. And if you don’t get it, you may die at an earlier age. So it’s up to you. You can get your rest 6 feet above or 6 feet under.

Of course you may wonder, will these changes actually prevent burnout? Absolutely! They will even extend your life span.

Dean Lester Breslow and Dr. James Enstrom, of the UCLA School of Public Health, completed a ten-year study of 7000 people and found that men and women who follow seven health rules live 7 to 11 years longer. The rules were: 1) do not smoke, 2) get regular exercise, 3) use little or no alcohol, 4) get seven to eight hours of sleep each night, 5) maintain your proper weight, 6) eat breakfast, and 7) do not eat between meals.

You can reduce your stress. You can prevent burnout. And you can have a balanced life. You can do something positive and healthy in the physical dimension. Just do it. And come back next week as I delve into the other 7 dimensions of work-life balance.

Action:  Take an inventory of your physical habits. Do you eat as nutritionally as you should? Are you free of all addictions? Do you exercise regularly? And are you getting adequate rest?

If your answer is anything less than an enthusiastic “yes,” decide on two small steps you can take this week — and keep on taking — that will give you more health and less stress in the physical dimension of life.