We all know one of the secrets to better health is finding the right balance in life, both at work and at home. But with busy lives and priorities, it can seem impossible to find time in our schedules for ourselves and for others.
Finding balance is so important that there are hundreds of books, blogs, articles and resources on the topic. Which ones do we read? How do we know what to do? It can be overwhelming.
So to help you out, here are some straightforward tips for striking that balance – and the tech tips and apps that can help you get there.
1. We are what we eat
It’s often said that what you eat can affect how you feel, and that you should eat healthy to feel healthy. Yet with so much information out there about what to eat, what to avoid and how many portions you should aim for in a day, it’s easy to just throw your hands up and aim for more vegetables.
My job has me traveling around the city most days, so my meal schedule doesn’t always line up perfectly. To avoid those last minute trips to the drive-in or take-out counter, I try to make sure I have a packed lunch or enough leftovers from the night before.
My favourite app for helping me stay on track with food throughout the day is MyFitnessPal, which lets you track your meals and calories with ease, plus save tasty recipes for later.
I do find it easier to eat healthy at home and at the office if I cook myself, even prepping those lunches in advance. Overall, I try to stick to the following rule when it comes to cooking — the vegetables and protein should look larger on your plate than the starches and carbs. The same goes for when you eat out. Get the salad with your meal instead of fries. It may not be as fun as ordering the fried chicken, but your body and mind will thank you later.
Sticking to these simple rules allows me to save money, eat better, and I don’t feel as guilty.
2. Psst! Take the stairs
The more active you are, the more your mood will improve. We’re supposed to get 30 minutes of activity a day, which can be hard if you think of activity only in terms of going to the gym or running through your neighbourhood. But 30 minutes adds up, and we can all sneak in a little time to move our bodies throughout the day. It’s important, especially when only 15% of Canadian adults meet Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines.
Some easy things you can start doing to increase your activity? Take the stairs at work. Seriously. Take them on the way down, and on the way back up. If you’re not already in the groove, it hurts at first, but soon it gets easier and easier.
Take a walk on your lunch hour. Walk around the corridors of your office. Stand up while talking on the phone. Walk down to your co-worker’s office instead of emailing or phoning (and in-person conversations also help maximize effective communication).
Set alerts on your desktop or smartphone to remind you to move around. Check out the Health App on your phone for ways to track your activity and boost your movement — most will track your steps for you, using the device’s built-in accelerometer, gyroscope and compass. As soon as you make it a habit, it becomes easier to maintain this level of activity.
3. Hydration is key
Our bodies are made up of 60% water and it’s essential in maintaining our mental and physical health. A common suggestion is that the average adult should have 8 – 10 glasses per day, a goal I’ve always had a hard time meeting. So I now have a “fancy” water glass thatI keep at the office and I use an app called Waterlogged (yes, I picked it for its name but it’s actually very useful) to help me keep track of how much water I am getting. Check it out on iOS or Android.
Having the reminder to drink water has made it easier for me to drink those 8 – 10 glasses a day. I start in the morning with a glass as soon as I wake up, because my best friend told me that doing this would result in an immediate improvement in how my day started. She was right! If you think about it, when we sleep, we go 7 – 9 hours with no water. When we first wake up, our bodies crave hydration, but how many of us go straight for the coffee? Make water your first liquid in the a.m. and you won’t regret it, and you’ll have a better chance at staying hydrated throughout your work day.
4. Spreading some kindness
Showing kindness to others will make you feel good. Have you ever noticed the change that comes over a stranger when you say something pleasant to them? You don’t have to make friends with everyone, but courtesy and kindness go a long way.
At the office, there are some everyday ways to do something nice for coworkers, and make yourself feel good in the process. Next time you make a coffee run, buy one for your team member or colleague to thank them for all their hard work. You can also put someone’s name forward for any office awards or acknowledgment programs, especially if they’ve recently completely a successful project that’s made a positive impact.
Social media can also be used to show some kindness. It’s more common to hear the negative feedback online sometimes, so posting positive comments can go a long way. It’s also nice to acknowledge when a partner company or supplier has good service or a great product. Give them some feedback publicly on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook or review sites, and let them know they are doing a fantastic job.
On the way to work or home from the office, let someone merge ahead of you (I started making a point of doing this and it immediately reduced my own road-stress). Try smiling and making eye contact with other people in line at the grocery store, make small talk with the cashier, let someone go ahead of you in line, or give your waiter a fantastic review (and a big tip) for a job well done.
There are lots of small ways you can build kindness into your everyday. Flip the switch – compliment before you complain.
5. Butt. Out.
I cannot stress this enough – quitting smoking is the best thing you can do to improve your health. And I’ve been there myself. There are many resources available and you can access information specific to your province through the Government of Canada.
As for apps, there are many you can download to help you track your progress, provide useful tips on quitting and also send you reminders. As a former smoker, I know how hard it is to quit. I tried a few times, with a few methods. What ended up working for me was playing games on my smartphone, which was the perfect subconscious distraction.
I read that any craving your body has usually lasts 2-3 minutes, so anytime I had the urge to smoke I would do something different. At the office, it could be immersing myself in a completely different task or project.
It may sound basic, but at home I played Candy Crush or other mobile app games, and it worked. My goal was a distraction from the craving, so I played through my urges to smoke. I found that diverting my attention to my phone or computer helped me get through the cravings and stop smoking. (Of course, now I am addicted to puzzle games).
But if you’re looking for a dedicated app to help you quit smoking, check out this article for some guidance and advice.
6. Get your Zzzzzzs
Most of us need 7 – 9 hours of sleep to keep our minds and bodies healthy. Getting enough sleep can help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce your stress and improve your mood throughout the day. You will also take less sick days and lower your risk of serious health problems like heart disease and diabetes.
If you find you are having trouble getting enough sleep, try changing up your routine during the work day. Exercise in the morning instead of at night and avoid eating certain foods before bedtime, like deli meats, spicy food, tomato sauce and chocolate.
It’s important to create a good sleep environment as well, which means making sure your bedroom is dark and quiet. And stick to the same routine — go to bed at the same time every night.
Your smartphone can help you set your bedtime routine. The iPhone has a “Bedtime” feature on the Clock app and if you find alerts and reminders helpful, then this app should work well for you. Some fitness trackers can also track your sleep quality, to give you insight and feedback into how to improve your sleep habits.
7. Commit to a committee
If you are a fan of The Office, you’re probably familiar with the infamous “Party Planning Committee.” Imagine if every office committee was as adventurous as that one? Really though, workplace committees are a cost-effective way to increase staff engagement, foster better communication and improve overall workplace satisfaction.
In many companies, committees are involved in important corporate strategies. They can deal with issues like diversity, employee benefits, environmental impact and recruitment. By serving on a committee, you have the opportunity to influence decisions that could impact the workplace — and it can also provide you with renewed creativity, motivation and vision that can carry over into your personal life.
Once you’re on a committee, it can be helpful to keep your tasks and to-dos in order. Check out Any.do as a starting point that let’s you organize all your items in one place. Create categories based on the project (daily work tasks, committee related items and home to-dos), and then cross them off once complete with the click of a button. Add any.do to your smartphone or tablet, and the app will sync across all your devices.
Committees can cover many topics of interest including health and wellness, corporate social responsibility, local charities and company events, so there’s likely something of interest for anyone at the office. Check out these other five examples of workplace committees to form or join, and their benefits.
8. Zen out
There’s a lot of information and advice out there recommending the power of “zen-ing” out. We all want a no-nonsense introduction to meditation and staying stress-free at the office, yet with all the information available it’s hard to know where to start.
First, it’s important to think about meditation in simple terms; you don’t have to sit cross-legged, and you don’t need to stop having thoughts. Meditation can be all about focusing on your breathing. And it’s something you can do at your desk or in a quiet break room in just a few minutes.
Start with one big, deep, cleansing breath. Go slow. Breathe in your nose and then out your mouth. Pull your stomach in and expand your chest on the breath in, and then concentrate on the exhale. Meaning, as you push the air out try and expel all the tension in your body. You can make a noise if you want to, like an audible sigh (but maybe close your office door first).
Pay attention to your breath. Focus on the air as it passes through your nose and flows into your lungs and your stomach. Then follow it back out again as it escapes. If you notice that thoughts about your work day are taking over, don’t stress. It’s perfectly normal to be distracted when you’re trying to concentrate. Just bring your attention back to your breath as it goes in and out.
The more you practice breathing, the better you will get at it and the more it will benefit you. Every time I have a speech or presentation to deliver and my nerves are all over the place, I take a few minutes to focus on my breathing. It has yet to fail me.
9. Clear your work clutter
Anyone who’s ever worked with me knows that I never leave a mess on my desk at the end of the day. Papers are put away, folders are lined up and the to-do list is re-written for the next morning. Even if I haven’t wrapped up a project yet or hit my deadline, I never return to a messy desk. I like a fresh start at the beginning of the day, so I aim to organize my work as best I can to make sure that happens.
There are some sure-fire ways to keep your workload organized and on track. Here’s one of mine; keep a master schedule. Setting up your calendar in advance keeps you on top of looming deadlines. I like to use Google Calendar to keep track of all my projects, both personal and professional. Google Calendar helps me sync both so I can prioritize my time in advance.
Along the same vein, I am also a fan of Google Drive. It’s fantastic for collaboration and allows more than one person to work on a document in real-time. I work on Google Drive for all of my board, committee and volunteer projects. It also works when you want to share information with your significant other.
Keeping my to-do list organized and my workspace tidy helps me start each day with renewed energy. I’m not overwhelmed by my workload as soon as I walk into work. I feel less stress, and I am able to focus on my work and be creative and clear-headed.
For more tips, check out this list of productivity tools to keep you clutter free.
10. Have you volunteered lately?
One of the best things you can do for yourself and your community is to volunteer. Not sure what role you would take on? No problem — here are some starter ideas. And a big trend in the corporate world is employee supported volunteering, so it’s worth checking with your HR department if there are opportunities for you to engage in such a program.
I’ve worked in volunteering and non-profit organizations much of my career, and there are many benefits to both your mental and physical health when you volunteer. Giving back to your community and helping other people can provide a healthy boost to your self-confidence, self-esteem and overall satisfaction of life. Your role as a volunteer can give you a sense of pride and accomplishment, and the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and your goals.
Volunteering can also help fight depression, as one of the risk factors is social isolation. Becoming a volunteer keeps you in regular contact with others and helps you develop a solid support system. This will help you deal with stress and depression when you are going through challenging times.
Finally, volunteering also improves access to social and psychological resources that are available in the community. Many volunteers tend to be more engaged and involved in taking care of their mental and physical health because they are exposed to these resources.
To find out more about volunteering in your community, search the Volunteer Canada directory to find a your local volunteer centre. You can get in touch with those local organizations to find the right opportunity that matches your time available and area of interest.
Mental Health Week is an initiative by the Canadian Mental Health Association. For more ways to support mental health initiatives throughout the year, visit the Bell Let’s Talk page, for resources, ways to help and “5 simple ways to end stigma and start a conversation.”