Work & Life Balance

Work and life balance is a struggle for most professionals, but for students and interns, this can be an especially difficult time as we try to grow in a short period of time and meet the expectations of others. It can be easy to let work define who you are and how you spend your time. To combat this, I relied on my supervisors’ encouragement, as well as creating a self-modification project in order to clearly leave work at work. This took a similar form to the process we use with our clients to modify behaviors inside and outside of the music therapy setting. This balance, or lack thereof, infiltrated three domains for me: physical, emotional, and social.

The Physical Domain:

Before the plan…       

6 women wearing yoga attire demonstrating 6 different yoga moves. Moves being shown are camel, bridge, rabbit, downward dog, pigeon, and bow.

When I was active during the day in my sessions, I often exhausted myself and used this as an excuse to skip my workout or eat out of the vending machine. During the second month of my internship, I would forget to pack healthy snacks and drink water. By the end of the day, I had minimal energy to work out. I would come home and continue to work on projects, papers, and practicing guitar rather than recover through self-care, a healthy dinner, or attending an exercise class. While I made sure to get to bed on time, I worried that I was unprepared for sessions or thought about the previous day while trying to fall asleep. Needless to say, this was ineffective, and it certainly did not make me a better music therapist.

After the plan…

  • I worked out only 3-4 times a week, rather than 7, putting less pressure on myself to maintain a crazy schedule.
  • I chose a form of exercise which didn’t inundate me with more loud music and yelling. I chose yoga and running.
  • I planned for meals three weeks in advance, rather than one, and accepted eating junk food sometimes, as long as I got in 3-5 fruits and vegetables a day.
  • I found a form of physical self-care through walking and going to sleep early.
  • I stopped bringing so much work home.

The Emotional Domain:

Before the plan…

I allowed myself to become stressed and tired during the third and fourth month of my internship, working harder and harder to maintain the quality of work I was providing, as well as take care of myself. It was a candle lit at both ends. The more people told me to take care of myself, the harder it became. Through this time, I came to discover who I was in the difficult moments and the daily struggles. Through trial and error, I learned how I best managed stress.

After the plan…

A girl sitting by a window at a table writing in her journal.
  • I started to journal just once a week, (typing worked best for me,) to record some of my experiences.
  • I listened to what my thoughts might be telling me.  If the feeling did not match the reality, I could accept and move on from the feeling.
  • My parents and friends were a support to me when I had good and bad days. It taught me to open up to those who wished to be there for me.
  • I removed thoughts of work from my home. Once I left the parking lot, I no longer needed to think about it.

The Social Domain:

            Before the plan…

3 women sitting around a table with food and drinks socializing.

The social domain was my biggest struggle. Introversion naturally taught me to deal with stress alone. I pictured self-care as typically taking place alone. I made it my project to engage socially, with new friends and old friends, as often as possible to combat this ideal. It was not enough for me to wish social engagements into existence.  I had to change my actions. This included keeping an actual list of people I spoke to and visited with every week, as well as a list of social events I attended.

            After the plan…

  • I practiced vulnerability and going to others for help and support.
  • I reached out to local churches and organizations to develop friendships.
  • I became okay with sitting alone at a restaurant if necessary without sitting on my phone.
  • I volunteered my time outside of work to develop relationships that were not related to music therapy.
A girl sitting on the top of a mountain taking in the view of the other mountain with the sun beaming in.

These plans were modified throughout my internship as different obstacles appeared. I think we look to the future to make life easier. Life will always fluctuate, but we control how we react, and it does not have to be picture perfect. The more we take care of ourselves, the more value we can bring to both our work and home lives.

How do you leave work at work? Please comment below.

About the Author : Erica Cyrul

NOTE: This person is a past employee or intern of the STAR Center. Their name and authorship is preserved for posterity. Erica Cyrul is originally from Chattanooga, TN, although her family has recently moved to Michigan. She is a student at The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. She has completed practicum work with several populations, including children and teenagers with emotional-behavioral disorders, older adults in assisted living or with dementia, adults with cerebral palsy, and infants in the NICU. She started as a music therapy intern at the STAR Center in August and admires the servant leadership embodied in the employees at the STAR Center, especially when working with clients. Erica loves working with a variety of populations, but she has found a unique joy in working with clients with autism spectrum disorder. Erica spends her free time sailing, playing the piano, hiking, journaling, and spending time with family and friends.

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