The secular way to look at work-life balance is the balance in our lives of family, work, self and friends. The Rule of St. Benedict offers a monastic rule, one that is helpful for all Catholics.
The secular way to look at work-life balance is the balance in our lives of family, work, self and friends. The Rule of St. Benedict offers a monastic rule, one that is helpful for all Catholics.

Patricia Mackie, a member of Resurrection Parish in Tualatin and a family counselor, knows from personal experience how hard it is to juggle work, kids, marriage and faith. “My husband and I are constantly talking about this,” she says.

Although she’s self-employed, her husband works for a large company. “They would have his life if he would give it to them,” she says.

Ryan Dix, a psychologist with Providence, sees a cultural dysfunction with regard to a work- life balance, citing studies that show burnout, an increased risk of depression, substance abuse, absenteeism and presenteeism, that is, someone present at work physically but not really there. “It’s the person at their desk but thinking about their son who is in trouble at school,” he says.

Dix hears patients wonder how others can work 60 hours a week and also take their kids to practices. “They have the perception that they’re the only ones feeling overwhelmed,” he said.

Earlier this year the World Health Organization weighed in, declaring burnout a legitimate medical diagnosis.

Burnout, which is associated with stress and overwork, is the opposite of seeing our work as an expression of our spiritual life.

“God gave me gifts to use to make the world a better place,” explains Mackie. “But if everything has become a chore, that’s not a good place.”

Brigid Schulte, author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” warns that being overwhelmed is similar to an infectious disease. “If you’ve got those elevated levels of cortisol, your family’s cortisol levels will rise too,” she warns.

Elevated levels of the stress hormone interfere with learning, and are associated with increased weight gain, higher cholesterol levels and blood pressure, memory damage, lower bone density, weakened immune system, and heart disease.

At work, overworked employees make more mistakes and aren’t as creative or productive.

Schulte, a graduate of St. Mary’s Academy and the University of Portland who went on to a career as a journalist for the Washington Post, cites a recent study showing that work is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. “We are suffering, physically and mentally,” Schulte said. “So many people feel overwhelmed and stressed, suffering from time famine. It’s contaminated time; you’re everywhere and nowhere.”

Schulte sees the disorder as the inevitable result of our economy’s relentless focus on profits, shareholder value and CEO salaries.

“Right now there’s an idea that the ideal worker is someone who works all the time and has no caregiving responsibilities,” she says. “That’s not investing in the future.”

Schulte calls out inadequate public and economic policies, but she is also concerned about people’s spiritual and emotional well-being. “When you feel that you have no time, it’s difficult to create a space for reflection, for finding meaning, for prayer or purpose.”

Solutions

Mass is crucial. “For Catholics, having that sense of Sabbath, that time for connection with God is important,” says Schulte.

Faith offers a lifeline, agrees Mackie. “We made a point in grounding ourselves in the Benedictine rule,” she says of herself and her husband. “There is a time for everything in my life — that’s not to say those things won’t be interrupted. But looking at it that way means I won’t be as harried and crazy, needing to be doing everything at every minute.”

Mackie admitted she sometimes returns home from work needing to tell her children she needs alone time. If that’s not possible, she gives herself a break in other ways, curling up with the kids to watch a movie with popcorn instead of the balanced dinner at the table that she aims for. “This way, they’re getting the best of me instead of taking my leftovers,” she says.

Mackie tries to have a time for various demands. If it’s time to attend to the children, then that’s not the time to check emails from work. But if it’s time to check the emails from work and a child wants her attention, she’ll tell the child, “Now is not the time.”

There’s also a time for mom to breathe and pray and have 10 minutes of silence.

“When we’re attentive to our spiritual life, some of the other pieces fall into place,” says Ruth Hays-Barba, another Portland area counselor and an affiliate of the Franciscan Sisters in Bridal Veil. “We have to come back to boundaries and getting our priorities right. We can’t say yes to something if we can’t say no.”

“If we’re always responding, doing for others, then we’re not really living our lives,” Mackie agrees. “We’re just reacting to how everyone else wants us to be.”

Schulte offers practical advice as well. “If you’ve had a busy, crazy day, stop and take three deep breaths,” she says. “Come back to the present moment and think about how you want to connect and be present with your family.”

Hays-Barba urges people to understand that their work is sacramental, even unfulfilling work.

“Being a stay-at-home mom, doing the laundry, that’s also sacramental.”

Dix helps patients set boundaries and goals, doing so incrementally. “It’s not a huge shift; that’s where people get tripped up,” he says. “What’s one thing you want to change between now and the next time we see each other?”

It might be going out with relatives or walking in the morning, or actually taking a lunch break and walking then. He also tells patients to talk with their bosses about their workload.

Dix adds that when work piles up it’s also natural to think we need to stay at work and finish. But, he says, that’s when boundary setting needs to come into the picture. “Because it can continue to pile on.”

On the economic and cultural front, Schulte sees evidence for hope. People are talking about public policies that would help — paid family and medical leave and subsidies for child care, for instance. “There’s a recognition that we haven’t been helping workers and families, that we need to reinvest in families and well-being,” she says. “It’s possible to do. Certain companies — and countries — have figured this out.”



Burnout help

• Talk with your boss

• Take care of yourself with a good diet and enough exercise and sleep

• Make time to pray

Patricia Mackie offers frequent workshops and webinars, in addition to her counseling services. Learn more at everydaycounselingpdx.com/

Brigid Schulte’s book, “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time,” is available at Amazon. She’s director of the Better Life Lab at New America: newamerica.org/better-life-lab.