Clients often want to talk about work life balance. It sounds such a benign phrase, doesn't it? But for some it's acute. Many of us simply can't stop thinking about work, its deadlines, the unfinished tasks, worrying about a tricky meeting, or going over and over again what we've heard, said or read in an email. We chew and chew on it all: rumination is the word for it.
There's been plenty of research about the need to detach psychologically in order to replenish the resources we expend at work. We also know that reduced heart rate variation (the regularity of heartbeat intervals) is an indicator of cardiovascular disease risk.
Now a new study investigates the association between rumination about work and heart rate variation (HRV.)
From my work as a coach, I'd say it's not work itself that is the biggest problem but emotional thoughts about work after work. And for many people, there is no clear 'after' work. Supporting people to set a cut off time for checking and replying to e-mails. Developing new habits and focusing on activities - anything - to reduce the rumination, 20 minutes' brisk walk or two chapters of a novel, all this will help. But exploring what lies underneath - what is driving us really - is what finally convinces us to make changes. I call it 'feeding the volcano,' something from a film I saw decades ago in which the inhabitants of a volcanic island threw a constant stream of fruit, vegetables and the occasional live sacrifice into the furnace, to stop it from erupting!
Back to this study - it does suggest the value of breathing to reduce stress and is very open to heart rhythm feedback and training, including bio-feedback technology. This is not something I'd previously considered but I might have a go, to see if it is something which I'd then recommend to clients.