How To Maintain A Work-Life Balance When Something Personal Happens, According To Experts

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Maintaining a work-life balance can be really challenging, especially in the stressful, modern, technology-obsessed world. We tend to constantly be multitasking, trying to balance work with side hustles and socializing and remembering to eat a damn vegetable once in a while.

"People often report feeling 'overwhelmed,' Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler, a practicing psychiatrist at the Asher Center for the Study and Treatment of Depressive Disorders, and assistant professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, tells Bustle. "They are trying to balance multiple tasks, and experience an immense amount of pressure trying to 'do it all.'"

And while it may always be difficult to maintain this balance, when something sudden happens it can feel totally impossible. If your work-life balance barely exists, it can be a struggle to cope when a big personal issues arises — like an illness, death, a mental health problem, or even a bad breakup. Suddenly, that careful equilibrium can feel impossible to maintain. But you can get through it, if you can approach the situation mindfully and, crucially, be willing to ask for help when you need it.

If you feel like something personal has come up that makes your work-life balance especially difficult to maintain, here's what experts advise.

1. Evaluate the Severity

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"[The] first step is to evaluate the personal issue," Laura MacLeod, an HR expert at From The Inside Out Project, tells Bustle. "Meaning: How serious is it? Your physical and emotional responses — essentially how you feel. You may be angry, sad, frustrated, confused, shamed — lots of possibilities."

This isn't just to figure out your feelings, it's also to assess the impact on other areas of your life, like work. "The goal here is to determine specifically how these feelings are affecting you. Are you able to manage your feelings (vent, reflect, compartmentalize) or are you devastated (trouble getting out of bed, can't focus, crying, raging at others — misdirected anger). Take stock here to determine next steps." When you have a sense of how big of an impact it's having, you'll know how to go forward.

2. Take Time Off If You Need It

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If this is a personal issue you're having trouble coming back from, your office should recognize that and give you time off. "If you are devastated, you will need to take some time off from work," MacLeod says. "Make an appointment to speak to your boss and/or HR to get the time you need."

You don't have to give every specific detail, but you can ask for some personal time, sick time, or even a sabbatical if that's appropriate. Ultimately, taking time off when you need it will help you bounce back more quickly.

3. Take Steps To Manage Your Absence

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If you're worried about asking for time off, you can show your bosses and HR that you've thought about how your absence can be handled. "Be clear and to the point — have a sense of how much time you'll need, if you can do any work or followup while out, plan for handling your workload," MacLeod says.

4. Be Extra Careful With Work

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When you're ready to come back to work — or if you've been able to stay in work all along — you may want to work more slowly and methodically. "When something personal is going on, it can be harder to stay focused on our work," Erica McCurdy, MCC, CEO of TugWaa, Inc and McCurdy Life Coach, Inc, tells Bustle. "Help yourself stay on task by making lists and implementing processes that keep the mind on task."

It will help keep you from making the little mistakes that can happen when you're stressed or overtired.

5. Prioritize Me Time

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You need to focus on the "life" part of the work-life balance, too — and that means prioritizing what you need. "If you're not devastated — just upset but able to work, be sure to take time outside work to share/vent, get a massage, read a book, eat well, rest," MacLeod says. "Do what you like to do — find quality 'me' time to get yourself back on track. If you find yourself slipping into devastation, ask for time off. "

McCurdy agrees. "Take care of yourself and make sure you get enough sleep and exercise," McCurdy says. "When something personal happens, we can get in a dangerous downward spiral of negativity. Making sure to sleep and exercise helps our body produce the natural chemicals that helps us have energy and feelings of feel being that keep us balanced."

6. Be Open To What Your Brain Is Telling You

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Sometimes, when we're struggling, we'll go through good moments and bad moments, times where we feel like ourselves and times when everything is impossible. But don't be afraid to be a little unorthodox with your schedule. "When something personal happens, we often have to take work time for our personal life," McCurdy says. "In those cases, don’t be afraid of getting some work done when your mind is ready to think about work — even if that time is earlier or later than you normally work. Send those emails at 5 a.m. or at 10 p.m.. This is the time to give yourself a little leeway. This also helps reassure those you work with that you are still committed to the team."

If you're slow in the morning but have amazing focus at 6 p.m., take advantage of that.

7. Get Help When You Need It

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It's important to seek help where you need it, "Whatever you do, when you feel unable to go on — at work or elsewhere — get time off and get help," MacLeod says. "Help may be professional or trusted friend or family member." Reaching out is crucial — and the people who care about you will want to be there to support you.

If your work-life balance is already a bit precarious, it can feel like a personal issue will totally throw off that balance. Talk to your employer, pace yourself, and get help if you need it. It's time to put yourself first.