How to Balance Work and Life?
By Dr. Prabhakar Kamath & Panchajanya Paul


People everywhere find the grass greener on the other side. American is a land of opportunity and Americans have the choice of exploring that grass. But this freedom also comes at a great price. The socially mobile society incentivizes people to chase their dreams wherever it takes them, but in the process relationships suffer. People move frequently from one city to the other as they climb the ladder of their jobs. But in the mean time they become further apart both geographically and emotionally from their extended families and friends. As they move ahead, so their responsibilities and hours at work increase. More money brings less time for doing the things they enjoy. Thus, many successful people become a victim of their success. Their fortune instead of bringing more joy and happiness becomes a source of stress.

How did this happen? Around the turn of the last century, most Americans equated raising their standard of living with raising their quality of life. Basic amenities, such as an indoor bathroom, a three-bedroom home, running water, etc. became the dream of every householder. By the mid-twentieth century, a car, an attached garage, a refrigerator, and a washing machine were considered essential for decent living. In the second half of the century, raising the standard of living became an obsession with most Americans. Just about everyone wanted to keep improving his lot by owning more and more material things in the mistaken belief that his quality of life would thus improve. More and more people began to make a list of "must-haves." Keeping up with the Joneses became a national trend. Everyone equated possession of material things with quality of life. In fact, the opposite began to be true: somewhere along the way, the quality of life began to part ways with the standard of living. There came a time when, for most people, raising their standard of living invariably caused the lowering of their quality of life.

Well, the standard of living has to do with money: money for a house, cars, gadgets, vacations, etc. The quality of life has to do with time: time for fun, relaxation, hobbies, family, etc. To make more money to buy all the things we feel we must have, we have to borrow the time that was once designated for the family. We have to work longer hours, take a second or third job, and sometimes even resort to fraud. The result is that fewer breadwinners have time for their families. As the preoccupation with raising our standard of living increased, more women joined the workforce so their families could continue to afford things that were not essential, but were thought necessary to improve the quality of life. When both parents work, children are left with strangers to care for them. Many children have grown up emotionally deprived of the love of their parents who are too busy with work. Parenting has become hard, expensive, and demanding. Childhood deprivations and traumas can lead to behavioral problems in school and psychiatric illness in later life. Many parents to make up for this, work different shifts, so that at least one of them can be with the children. But this leads to other issues. Parents then get too busy to spend time together, renew the bonds between them and make joint decisions regarding household issues and children. Many parents grow apart, separate and divorce, resulting in personal trauma for them and their children. These traumatized children grow up into adults who repeat in their own lives what they have learned from their parents. This cycle has snowballed and continued unabated. To find a balance between one's standard of living and quality of life, one should set the right priorities. Unless, one makes work-life balance a priority, this is not going to happen automatically. The key is to manage your time, money and relationships in way that eliminates stress and brings happiness. Let us see how this can be done.

Money Management:
Money problems are a major source of stressors for many. Every year thousands file for bankruptcy. Many live from pay check to pay check with the constant fear of the future. We have more control on how much we spend than how much we can make. Learn to live within your means. This is the most important rule of managing money. Don't buy things to impress friends or relatives. Don't try to shore yourself up against your insecurities by buying big items. Do not get into the trap of comparing your wealth with that of others and competing with them. Buy only the things that you genuinely want for your sake. Make it a habit to save money regularly whatever small amount you can accrue. Saving money gives you a cushion during hard times. It also gives you the ability to walk away from your job without feeling trapped in it, and the means to solve difficult life problems. Money in the bank gives you peace of mind and self-confidence. Having adequate savings is one of the best medicines against stress.
Owning a house is a part of the American dream and a necessity of life. House is the biggest expense for most people. America gets money from all over the world as the rich and powerful across the globe store a chunk of their savings in dollar. This makes credit readily available, and sometimes at a very low interest. Thus, people have access to much more credit that they can afford. Keep this in mind. Buy a house within your budget, not what the bank is willing to lend. Choose a house that's just the right size for you. Don't buy a house that costs more than two and half times your annual income. If you do, you will find yourself strapped for cash all the time--and that is stress. A common mistake people make is to buy a big house that leaves little spare money for anything else. Remember, in addition to the mortgage, you will have to pay real estate taxes and pay for repairs and maintenance, heating and cooling, etc. Let the house be near your workplace, so you don't waste time and gas driving back and forth from work. Besides saving money on gas, you can spend that precious time with your family. After house, car is the other big expense. Buy a car within your budget, and maintain it well. Do your research and choose a car that has a track record for reliability. An unreliable car is a big source of financial headaches for millions of families. If you buy a car because of your blind loyalty to a brand or dealership, be prepared to waste a lot of money over the years. Have it serviced regularly.

You will incur debt while buying a house or a car. That is Ok, and advantageous as you build equity over time. However, avoid all other kinds of debts. Have no more than two credit cards. Pay the bills at the earliest possible time. Before you buy anything on credit, do make sure that you have enough savings in the bank to pay the bill at the end of the month. People who pile up unpaid credit card bills will soon feel stressed out. Avoid the so-called "payday" check-cashing outlets. If you do, be ready to lose money in high interests. The best way to escape the credit card debt is to prioritize your spending. This means that you should buy things according to their importance to you. I have lost count of the stressed-out people who have money for luxury items but not for essentials. We have only so much money, and but our wants and needs are infinite. The solution is to prioritize. Different people have different priorities. For example, some people might think that owning an expensive boat is more important than paying for their children's college educations. Others might think that spending money on flashy clothes is more important than paying their electricity bills. Setting the priorities in life right can mitigate many stressors.

Time Management
Most stressed people cannot manage time, and time crisis further causes stress. Many people complain "I wish if I could have more than 24 hours in a day". All successful people like Einstein, Gandhi, Lincoln, Edison, and Shakespeare did their world changing work using the same 24 hours a day that we all have. Wealth can be recovered, health can be restored, relationship can be repaired, but lost time is gone forever.
You have only twenty-four hours in a day. The question is how you slice it up so that you have enough time for the important aspects of your life. The more time you spend on unnecessary things, the less you have for important things. For example, if you spend two hours a day commuting to and from work, you have lost that much time that you could have spent with your family. You need at least 11 hours a day for sleep, cleaning up, eating and meeting basic bodily needs. You are at work for at least eight hours. That leaves 5ix hours a day. You need to distribute this time to meet all your other needs: having fun, entertaining guests, watching television or movies, reading and other hobbies and being with your children, spouse and what have you. Keep a checklist with you. List all the things that need to be done for the day. Then arrange the work in order of importance and proceed from the most important task to the lease. Set reminders in your phone, or use whatever clues you need to keep you on track with time.
Avoid overwork. Your brain can tolerate only so much work. If you overwork, you will stop enjoying what you do and find yourself being cranky with your family and friends. People will avoid you. You will get burnt out! Avoid working at night or swing shifts if possible. Excessive work in long run causes marital, family and health problems. Your bonds with your spouse will break down, especially if he or she also works. Your kids will grow up not knowing you. You will have few friends. Your social life will dwindle. Your sleep debt will rise, and you might get into auto accidents. You will soon find yourself having little energy, patience or ability to focus. Make a priority to find time to have fun with your family. Weekend outings, picnics, vacations, hiking, boating, etc. are activities that help families bond closely. We are happier when we invest our time and money on experiences than on material things. Keep that in mind when you plan to add a new gadget in your life. Don't buy what you don't need. Study the manual and use your gadget. Always remember that machines and gadgets are tools to make our work easier and quicker. Don't hesitate to get rid of them once they served their purpose.

Relationship Management:
Relationship with our friends and family are our source of support. They help us relax and deal with the stress at work. Problems happen when relationships become a source of stressor. Then we have nowhere to run for solace. We have to be careful when we deal with our loved ones. Here are a few simple principles for minimizing stress in our relationships with those we love.

1. Do not be a control freak. In your relationships with family members and friends, avoid telling them what to do unless they ask for your opinion. If they choose not to follow your advice, you have the option to ignore their decision or respect it and not give them any more advice. Unsolicited advice rarely works. If someone indulges in outrageous behavior, just register your true feelings and refuse to be a party to it. Let people make their own mistakes and learn from them. Remember, all love is conditional. Only dogs are capable of unconditional love.

1. Give up abusive relationships, regardless of whom they are with. Let go of relationships that you consider detrimental to your mental, physical or financial health. Remember that all relationships end sooner or later--because of death, breakup or a move. As you have read in a previous chapter, if a relationship gives you more heartache than pleasure, cut it loose and move on. This applies to all relationships.

2. Let go your grown-up children. When it comes to your relationship with your children, there are only four good things you can give them: good food for the body, good education for the mind, good values for the soul, and a goodbye for their happiness. Once they turn eighteen, treat them like adult. Offer help when they ask, but don't impose. Allow them to follow their life course like you have yours.

3. Develop an attitude of equality and equanimity in your relationships. We are all equals. If you want to be my friend, fine; if you don't want to be my friend, that's fine, too. If you like me, fine; if you don't like me, that's fine, too. If you invite me for a party, fine; if you don't invite me, that's fine, too. And so on and so forth.

4. Learn to say no. Don't get involved in an activity just because someone you know urges or forces you to. You must have your priorities clear: your family comes first; your job is next, and then come other activities. It is not hard to say, "I'm sorry, I have other commitments. Maybe some other time"; or "I'm sorry, I cannot contribute to this cause this year. Maybe some time in the future." If they still hassle you, you should not hesitate to say, "Thanks for the call. I must let you go now. Bye!"

5. Be assertive but not aggressive. Don't let anyone abuse you, whether at work or in social circles. If anyone attacks you personally, say, "Why don't you just tell me what your problem is, so I can work on it, instead of indulging in personal attacks against me?" Most people who indulge in personal attacks against others are bullies who are insecure within themselves. Their way of shoring themselves up against their insecurity is to cut others down. If you call their bluff, they back off.

6. Build a social support system. Have at least one person in your life in whom you can confide. Ideally, your spouse should be that person. If possible, go for long walks with that person two or three times a week, and talk out your concerns and feelings. Have a circle of friends and relatives to socialize with. They will form the core of your support system. Your co-workers, neighbors, doctors, pharmacist, dentist, accountant, etc. are also part of your support system.

7. Forgive and move on. In our relationships with others, we are often hurt by their actions. We must cultivate an attitude of forgiveness for their indiscretions, even if they do not ask for it, so that we can move on with our lives. Instead, a lot of people stay angry, bitter, hateful and vengeful. These toxic emotions will slowly kill them from within.

In the end, always remember that life is a journey. At all stages, there will people ahead of you in term of status, money, health, youth, look, intelligence and more. But there will also be people behind you in all these aspects. Everyone irrespective of their position, has the same destination. Stay in the present, enjoy each moment, and count your blessings. Be grateful to all those who has helped and nurtured you. Remain kind and helpful to others. In the game of life, it is not about who wins or loose, but how you played the game.


Dr. Panchajanya Paul, MD, ABIHM, ABPN, is an American Board certified - Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine. He holds adjunct faculty position at Emory University School of Medicine; University of Georgia & Georgia Regents University, and University of Central Florida School of Medicine. He is a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He is a freelance writer who lives in Atlanta.


Prabhakar 'Bob' Kamath, MD has practiced psychiatry for around 40 years and treated thousands of patients. He is also the author of five books called Accidental Psychiatrist, Owner's Manual for the Stressed Mind, Untold Story of Bhagvad Gita, Servants and Not masters, and Ashoka's Song in Bhagvad Gita. He retired from psychiatric practice in 2010, and lives in Cape Girardeau, MO.