Many talk about work/life balance, but for me that conjures up an image of scales implying there should be an exact balance between “work” and "life;" yet for so many of us, our work blends into our life there isn’t always a separation. Finding balance to me means ensuring my energy levels stay balanced and am able to easily manage all the roles in my life. All of my deployments caused me to find balance. My first six-month deployment I learned what happens when you don't have balance. In my next year away in the desert I learned how to apply rules I learned to enable balance and in this recent six-month deployment I finally feel I understand what it means to feel balanced and incorporate healthy habits into my life.
In the deployed environment, we directly fill fewer roles because we are gone; yet being away from our friends and family and in a new environment can increase stress. At home, and especially away, we need to be vigilant in finding balance in our lives. It is sometimes easier to notice when you are out of balance than when in balance. Some common indicators or at least what seems most common is grumpiness, getting snappy, or zoning out. When you feel it coming on, simply observe yourself and ask what is happening to cause the lack of balance. Did you get enough sleep? Are you working too much? A number of things can cause that tightness, that stress in the shoulders, sometimes apparent in your voice. When that happens to me, I try to take a few deep breaths and just step away for a moment. Then I ensure I work out, send an email to a friend, and at least try to go to bed a little earlier.
Learning the Rules
What can you do for yourself to maintain your energy levels and cope in a positive manner? In my first long deployment to Iraq, I had just about every stressor in life happen to me at the same time. To top it off I was working around the clock and not getting much sleep; of course the morning rocket attack alarms didn't help...No other way to put it, I burnt myself out. When I got home, I was beyond exhausted and it took a long time for me to recover. One thing that really helped me heal was someone showing me the “Five Rules.” I don't always follow exactly, but I try to build my daily habits from these principles. I've learned through trial and many errors, that if I find myself out of balance it is likely because I am not following the rules:
1. Get an adequate amount of sleep.
When I was in college and starting out as an LT I took pride in surviving off of only four to five hours of sleep; looking back, I was on edge - a bundle of nerves and aggression. It wasn't until I started school at DLI and I had to sit still in class, something that would often put me to sleep. I started going to bed early and WOW, I learned sleep is awesome! It is so much better to get it throughout the week versus being comatose for a Saturday once a month. Definitely a light bulb moment for me, something I wish I learned sooner in life. There are so many benefits to getting the right amount of sleep; it rejuvenates your body and most importantly your mind. It helps you handle any of life's issues with ease and clarity. An iPhone application I have found very useful is Sleep Cycle, I am able to track the quality and quantity of sleep; it is always fun to see how I'm doing. Fit Bit is also a new gadget that monitors sleep. We improve what we track and technology can help in that endeavor.
2. Eat nourishing food.
Probably the most challenging to do in a deployed environment with a limited menu in the dining facility and plenty of junk food available. When friends ask me for care package ideas I always ask for healthy snacks; my husband just sent me freeze dried fruit, crazy delicious! With all the free water around, most definitely ensure you are drinking plenty of water.
3. Get some form of exercise each day.
This one could be the easiest in the deployed environment, but there are many distractions. Build it in your schedule. Work will be there but maintain that commitment to you, make the appointment on your schedule. A friend in her last deployment ensured she left work at the same time every day to go running, she maintained that commitment to herself. In addition she tracked how far she ran each time and over time she was rewarded with the increased mileage. Working out with a partner or in a group is also very useful. When we are building a habit, it is easier for us to break a commitment with ourselves, but with a commitment to someone else, you are more likely to show up. You can even have a remote workout partner. During this deployment, I wanted to develop the daily habit of doing a quick yoga workout routine called the Five Tibetans (they call it the fountain of youth), a friend and I committed to doing them for 21 days and one night when I realized I hadn't done them yet, I actually got out of bed to complete. We completed all 21 days and even completed a second round, now it is part of my morning routine and I feel much healthier for it. Even if I don't get another workout in, at least I know I did some exercise that day.
4. Read something positive/inspirational each day.
Read?! What?! Twitter feeds don't count either! Our mind is a muscle and if we don't challenge it, it atrophies just like our biceps if we don't work out. There is also something calming about reading and learning. It will help clear your mind with filling it with something positive each day. It can be a short time, start with 10 minutes a day, and perhaps expand to 20. There are many options, you can read the book of your faith, or anything else that makes you smile or learn something new. I must confess...I like to [try] to do two things at once and I have a work around! While on a remote to Kuwait I discovered a game changer...Audible.com. I LOVE to read and yet I am pretty busy, I can listen and get ready for the day, walk to work, etc. Audible books have been such an incredible addition to my life; they helped my time away speed by and I continued stateside, of course I listen while deployed here as well. Consider all of your options and find something that works for you.
5. Do something fun, nurturing, relaxing each day.
All work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy...I'm sure it does the same for Jane too. What makes you smile? Take care of yourself and form bonds with your coworkers. Out here they are your family and friends; no you did not choose to deploy with them, but we are in a tight space and we must figure out how to get along - might as well also enjoy a laugh. Talking to others at our location, great ideas for fun things included: Volleyball games, learning how addicting the game “corn hole” could be (and a goal of getting good at it), poker, movie nights, random dancing, group workouts, and playing cards with co-workers.
Balance Equals Belly Laughs
Following the Five Rules encourages a stable and likely positive mental and physical well-being. It will keep you sane in an environment of stressors and away from loved ones. When I feel out of balance I look at these rules and try to get back into following them. Had I followed these when I was in Iraq I would have had a much healthier outlook, but then again - maybe that was the lesson I needed to learn because even stateside I was working too much. I lived a stressed life and did not manage my energy well. Now, with balance, taking the time to invest in myself; life is better, easier, I am far more productive. I smile more and really, is there anything that feels better than a good belly laugh? Ensuring balance also opens up other options such as becoming creative; finding and following your passions. Not to mention, if you are less grouchy and irritable; others may enjoy your company more.
Home and Away
These rules are like the oxygen mask in a flight; if you notice you are drained, take the "me time" to renew, refresh, and rest. You must take care of yourself before you can take care of anything or anyone else. Take advantage of the simplicity of a deployment; this is a great opportunity to build healthy daily habits to ensure balance in your life. Implement the practices while deployed in order to blend them into your home life when you return and continue following the rules. Of course if you are not deployed, these Five Rules still apply anywhere at any point in your life and you don't need to be stubborn like me and learn the hard way. Finding balance in life amongst the personal and professional aspects is critical to a healthy lifestyle. Always look out for your signals that indicate imbalance and re-center yourself whenever necessary.
Please share your thoughts -
What do you do to find balance in your life?
What rules do you implement to ensure balance in your life?
Have you built any healthy habits during a deployment?