Work-life balance is something we all crave—yet, very few of us are good at it.
We say we’re going to make time for ourselves, but that to-do list piles up and we never get to it. It’s no wonder we’re all running around stressed out of our minds half the time.
With WHO marking stress as the 21st-century health epidemic, maybe it’s time we take a step back. Maybe we need to look closer at what’s working around the world and what’s not.
How do other cultures emphasize work-life balance?
What can we learn to prioritize our mental health better?
In 2015, I went on a backpacking trip through Europe with my sister. Our 5-week adventure ended in Santorini, Greece. And there was something we were noticing…
People in Europe took lunch ultra-seriously—as in, they went home for hours at a time in the middle of the day. In some places, lunch was a bigger deal than dinner or breakfast.
The big shocker happened when we went to go to the bank around two in the afternoon. As a Canadian, this seemed like a regular time of day when the bank would be open. In Greece, the bank was closed from 2 pm to 5 pm, much to our surprise.
So, I got Googling (as you do).
Closing a place of business for lunch (unless it was a restaurant!) was pretty much the norm. While in Canada and the United States, we think it’s lucky if we get away with a couple of minutes more than our regular ol’ 30-minute lunch break, here were the Greeks, basking in hours of lunch breaks.
My 20-something-year-old mind was blown.
Fast forward to today, I’m currently living life in Spain, and lo-and-behold, they’ve got similar customs here. In fact, Reader’s Digest claims the Spanish take an average of 3 hours for lunch.
And surprisingly, they have a really good reason for it: During these lunchtime hours, it’s way too hot to work for half of the year.
Thus, productivity tanked anyway and people got tired and hungry (so hangry). Thus, why not take a break?
And this actually leads into…
So, maybe you’ve heard some rumors or witnessed it yourself. In the Mediterranean, it’s also ultra-common for people to take naps (a “siesta” if you will) in the middle of the day, typically during that lunchtime break.
These siestas are thought to improve cognitive performance and alertness. Furthermore, studies show how it may also reduce heart disease.
Now, this is totally something I could get on board with. A long lunch and a nap? Um, yes, please.
But let’s dig a little deeper.
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Alright, so this actually all makes so much sense.
Breaks lower stress. And stress, inevitably, improves mental and physical health, giving way to tons of benefits here. No wonder siestas are linked with a lower risk of heart disease!
And in turn, yes, you might be more productive! When you get a “proper” break, you can come back to work refreshed and cognitively “on” as opposed to simply slowly fizzling out as the day goes on.
So, let’s summarize this real quick:
A few pros to the European lifestyle:
What about a few cons?
Inevitably, the pros are bit stronger than the cons here. So, then the big question: How can we incorporate bits of this into North American culture?
While we might not be able to choose to extend our lunch break, there are a few entities here within our control.
If you’re wanting to get more work-life balance in your life, try this:
And maybe, the above doesn’t really work for you. Well, there are a few ways you can up your work-life balance, such as:
It’s tough… but it’s entirely possible to do (even in the confines of your work hours).
And perhaps finding yours is the answer to your stress and feelings of overwhelm. Dig deep.
What is in your control to re-adjust your work-life balance?
What can you start doing today to tip that scale and truly live your best life?