Finding your work-life balance

A woman walking on a beach

Our off-duty hours are incredibly valuable to our health and happiness. We ask two high-profile women to share their favourite relaxation activities and speak to the experts about the importance of downtime.

Madison Brown headshot 

Maddison Brown: When work suddenly stops

Australian actress Maddison Brown had her first on-screen role at the age of six and moved to New York when she was 16, appearing in the film Strangerland with Nicole Kidman. For the past two years, she’s starred in the popular remake of TV series Dynasty, which is filmed in Los Angeles. She’s also recently become an ambassador for Pantene hair care.  

When filming for Dynasty was shut down unexpectedly by COVID-19, Maddison found herself stranded in her adopted city with a lot more time on her hands. Having worked since she was a child, the idea of staying home was initially challenging. 

“I think I’ve come to appreciate the simple things much more, and that I can still be happy without needing to constantly be busy,” she says. “I’m just taking each day as it comes, and not being hard on myself if I don’t feel like I’ve been productive.” Like a lot of us, Maddison says her cooking skills have definitely improved.

While this period of enforced downtime might be longer than she’d usually like, Maddison says that having balance in her week is always a top priority and helps her feel and perform at her best.

“I always seek balance, especially when I’m at my busiest,” she says. “When I’m putting in long hours on-set during the week, I make sure I keep my weekends completely free to rest and relax. Anything that helps me slow down and connect to things that make me happy helps me connect to myself and fuels my creativity.” 

Spending time with friends, taking impromptu weekend trips and joining Pilates and meditation classes all help her to unwind in normal times; for now, she’s enjoying more at-home beauty treatments. “I like to do a full skincare routine every morning, including SPF,” she says. “I also love using the new Pantene Pro-V Daily Moisture Renewal Shampoo and Conditioner. Now that I’ve got time up my sleeve, I sometimes indulge and leave the conditioner on my hair a little longer, similar to a hair mask. It leaves my hair feeling nourished, hydrated and super smooth.”

When life slowly starts to return to normal, Maddison says she’s looking forward to catching up with friends and travelling once again. One thing that won’t change: “I’ll definitely continue to cook a lot,” she says.

Stephanie Rice headshot 

Stephanie Rice: Finding gratitude every day

Stephanie Rice is a former Olympic swimmer turned entrepreneur who consults on fitness and wellbeing to organisations around the world. With her travel commitments now on hold, Stephanie says she’s been trying to find more ways to relax and find gratitude in her day. “If you’ve been privileged enough to have this time for solitude and you haven’t been sick or really affected career-wise, then it can be a blessing,” she says. 

When she’s not travelling, Stephanie works from home and has established some very clear routines to make sure she gets the downtime she needs. For starters, she’s a great believer in ‘bookending’ her day with activities she enjoys (find out more about this technique over the page).

“I try to start the day and end the day exactly the same way, no matter where I am in the world,” she says. “When I wake up in the morning, I meditate, I often do some form of journalling and usually have coffee and lemon water. I try to exercise, but that doesn’t always fit into the schedule. This 30 minutes of daily prep sets me up for the day. 

“With the back end of the day, it’s some form of relaxation – I’ll usually watch TV for 30 minutes to an hour, then I have a shower, moisturise and read before bed. No matter the craziness or uncertainty that happens during the day, I have those things to keep me grounded.”

Choosing activities that bring her joy means her downtime doesn’t feel like an extension of her to-do list. What she enjoys most of all is having an opportunity to reflect and connect with her energy and spirituality by journalling, reflective thinking and listening to inspiring podcasts from Oprah, Louise Hay or Jim Kwik.  

“That’s what lights me up the most,” says Stephanie. “If I was to pass on any kind of advice during this time, it would be about spending more time really understanding what your blueprint is. I think the most important thing is that you are happy and you’re passionate about what you’re doing and that you feel fulfilled in some way. Often, that’s the number-three priority for people and I really do believe it’s got to be number one.” 

Now it’s your turn...

No matter how well-organised your daily routine is, chances are it’s experienced some major changes in 2020. Thanks to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, very few of us are living quite the same lives as we once were. Some of us have a lot more time on our hands now; others have started working from home, or are juggling multiple responsibilities under the one roof. It can be easy to feel like the days and weeks are merging into one, with no clear boundaries between work and play. 

Yet setting aside time to simply relax is even more important now, say Lyndall Mitchell and Shannah Kennedy, the authors of Ignite ($22.99, Penguin Random House Australia) and co-founders of The Essentialists, a platform that teaches the skills to avoid burnout. 

“Having downtime is vital to reduce our stress levels and keep our immune system strong,” says Lyndall.

Shannah agrees: “Athletes need to recover from training and from racing, and so do we. We also need to remember we are human beings, not human doings, and honour that we will be happier, healthier and more motivated when we take the time to recover.”

Getting clear about how to spend it

With many of us now spending far more time at home, it can help to create some simple structures around the day, to make sure that we’re truly able to unwind, says Shannah.

“Humans work best with structure, routine and rituals and the brain needs a road map to feel safe,” she explains. “Creating some routines and boundaries when you’re in this position is the most supportive action you can take for yourself.” These techniques will also work when the old patterns of our lives start to return.

Lyndall suggests committing to two or three activities that can act as ‘bookends’ for your day. “Pick three morning rituals that you know give you the most energy and vitality, then pick three evening rituals that help you switch off and relax. These will go a long way to helping you manage your stress more effectively and you can also continue them when you get back to the workplace.”

For example, Lyndall suggests starting the day with deep breathing and some form of movement, and ending it by lighting a candle, writing in a journal or meditating.

This isn’t about adding to your to-do list or trying to squeeze productivity into every last minute of the day. Rather, the activities you choose should be ones that you genuinely enjoy doing, so you start and end your day on a high note.

Plan it and look forward to it

Another way to make sure you’re getting the most out of your time off is to keep a list of all the things you want to do, so you can really look forward to them. Shannah recommends planning out the activities that you’d like to do in your breaks, whether it’s going for a walk, meeting a friend for a coffee, reading for half an hour, or doing a guided meditation.

For longer blocks of time, such as the weekend or days off, you could plan to try a new recipe, or save up a few episodes of your favourite TV series to watch in a block. The trick is to really anticipate the event – this helps to build excitement for it, which studies have shown can boost our wellbeing and mental health. 

“Designated downtime pockets are little mini resets to look forward to, so we have longevity in our careers and have enough energy to continue to enjoy our personal lives,” says Shannah. “They give the brain and body a physical and mental pit stop to enjoy this journey of life.”

As Lyndall Mitchell says: “I like to think of downtime as like putting petrol in my car. We need to pull over regularly to put fuel in our car. Our bodies are no different – we are at our best when we regularly refuel our tank. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity to avoid exhaustion and burnout.”

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