The Benefit of Balance in Avoiding Burnout
By Judith M. Rush
We can all benefit from balance. Balance is a positive state of being realized by identifying your values, assessing how your life reflects your values, and harmonizing your life with your values. Balance is not juggling obligations, managing time, or resolving career and family conflicts to meet others’ expectations.
Balance avoids burnout. Burnout emerges when occupational demands outstrip a person’s ability to cope with the stress.[i] Characterized by emotional exhaustion, mental distance from or negativity to one’s job or career, and reduced professional efficacy, it happens to lawyers and others whose careers are focused on caring or serving others.[ii] Consider a dramatic example:[iii]
If a frog is put into a small pail of water with a lighted Bunsen burner beneath it, the frog’s system will adapt as the temperature of the water increases—continuing to adapt until it dies. If a frog is placed in water only half the temperature at the point the first frog died, the frog will immediately jump out.
Awareness of balance may enable you to focus on what is meaningful, jump out in time, and make your life more enjoyable.
Identify your values. Assess your professional, family, social, physical, community, and spiritual values. What gives your life meaning? Are you achievement driven? Where do intimacy, creativity, and compassion fit in? Your work should reflect your career values but should not be your sole source of satisfaction in life. To what extent do independence, dedication to service, competence, creativity, and lifestyle motivate you? What other values make life and work worthwhile for you?
Assess your state of balance. Does your personal and professional life reflect your values? If it does not, your life is out of balance. If it does, you have achieved balance–guard it and share your story with others.
Develop a strategy for balance. Knowing what makes your life worthwhile or pleasurable empowers you to improve your quality of life one day, week, month, or year at a time. Strive to achieve balance in the long haul. Make choices in every area of your life that carry out your core values and allow you to achieve balance within and between each area.
Realize balance is not a constant. While few of us can hope to achieve daily balance, we can strive for weekly, monthly, or yearly balance. Develop a longer term plan (retirement, job change, education) if necessary—but find small ways to incorporate your core values in the short term to avoid the fate of the frog.
Suggestions for achieving balance:
Schedule time for leisure–and keep it
Guard private time from intrusion
Define working time and manage it effectively
Find opportunities to do what gives you joy
Build satisfying relationships in your personal and professional life
Take care of yourself-eat nutritious food, get sleep and exercise
Be aware of stressors and how you respond to them
And remember, LCL is here to help you balance.
[i] Alexandra Michael, “Burnout and the Brain” Association for Psychological Science Observer (Feb. 2016)(describing the work of Christina Maslach, Ph.D. foremost researcher on Burnout).
[ii] See Id.; World Health Organization definition of the burnout occupational phenomenon.
[iii] Sue Gilmore, “Balance or Burnout: Which Way are you Headed?” in Life, Law and the Pursuit of Balance: Lawyers Guide to Quality of Life 19 (Maricopa County Bar Ass’n 1996).