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This week has been incredibly busy with final preparations for our World Continence Awareness Week forum The 4 Authors: The Perfect Ingredients to Improve Your Bottom Line to be held on Thursday 28th June,2012. Between reading and sending about 721 emails, treating patients, proofreading my second book and preparing a lecture for an International Conference in September there has certainly been little evidence of any real work-life balance in my life. To improve my own work life balance I decided to ask my friend Dr Anne Poulsen to be a guest blogger on this vital issue and also that way I get the week off from writing…..But honestly, the information in Anne’s blog is fantastic and should be basic reading for all of us professionals.

Dr Anne Poulsen (left) who is an OT whose special interest is burnout in health professionals (with my other life-long friend Vonny Castrisos who is also an OT). 
Work-Life Balance – a term that has been bandied around for some time. What does it mean? Increasing research into resilience has highlighted the importance of not letting work-life creep into home-life and vice verse. Trying to get a balance means more about the feeling of being in control so that work duties and thoughts don’t take over in the time when family, friends and leisure activities occur. It is more about how you separate the two domains so that the pressures of work don’t influence your “time out” during the after-work hours, and so the worries and cares associated with your personal life don’t interrupt your work time.
How do you achieve this separation? One thing is clear; it’s not just about the amount of time spent at work or at home. Rather, it is how you can control your activities and thoughts so that you are totally engaged in work, during the work hours, and totally absorbed in lifestyle activities during the out of work hours. This is where the concept of mindfulness comes in – being fully present in the moment.
Mindfulness is a term that is also very popular right now, and for good reasons. There is a growing body of research suggesting that mindfulness has huge benefits for the tired and stressed workers, as well as for students who wish to focus on studying harder, for couples learning how to connect and re-connect, for individuals with health issues who wish to learn ways to cope with intrusive, unhealthy thoughts, and on it goes. The neuro-physiological and health benefits are well documented and include reducing the cognitive decline associated with normal ageing processes, decreased stress levels, improved immunity, reduced chronic pain and improved sleep. The cortical areas that are thicker in people who engage in focused attention practices include the insular and prefrontal lobes. These are associated with attention, self-awareness and sensory regulation.
Jon Kabat Zinn who pioneered the therapeutic application of mindfulness summed up mindfulness as being aware of what is happening in the present on a moment by moment basis, while not making judgements about whether we like or don’t like what we find. So, to increase our mindfulness practices we can attend classes, or go to yoga, or just practice purposeful attention. That means being in the present moment and practising being in the moment; for example by just listening without judgement or offering advice. One mindful practice that can be adopted whenever you converse with your partner, your workmate, friend or child, means mindfully listening rather than questioning for the first few minutes. I always remember my Dad’s advice at this point; You have two ears, two eyes and one mouth – use them in that order.”
There are so many mindful practices – including mindful eating (spend a few moments at every mealtime without talking to enjoy tasting the food), mindful walking (listen to the rhythm of your foot steps), mindful watching (soak up the sights) etc. One of my friends incorporates a mindful listening exercise into her morning walking exercise by simply allocating 5 minutes of the walk to listening without talking to her walking companion.  Savour the moments and experiences and practice “time out” for yourself and your busy brain.
Incorporating mindfulness into daily routines is one easy way to adopt a “recovery” practice that can help work-life separation processes. There are heaps more strategies to help slow down and separate work/life stresses. For some people physical activity is the quickest and most effective way to enhance mood and do something that can block out intrusive work/life thoughts. For others, going to the movies or reading a book can achieve the same aim.  The number of studies into effective practices to improve work life balance is burgeoning. But tried and true practices, such as leaving work on time to go and walk the dog, taking a regular vacation or mini-break, getting out of the office during lunchtime and smelling the roses, are not ground breaking interventions.
Advice about how to lead a balanced life is really quite readily accessible. It is up to the individual whether finding ways to incorporate these strategies into everyday life becomes a priority.
Dr Anne Poulsen
Thank you Anne for this – I am going to definitely put many of these ideas into practise. I particularly like the advice about having mini-breaks!