The rule of eight

My dad likes to talk about living in eights. “Eight hours work, eight hours play, eight hours sleep,” he says. I  think this is a great guideline to live by.

I write a lot about stress and how to handle it because I see so much of it in my patients. So often, someone will come into my office complaining of back pain, only to share with me that they’re overworked or not getting enough sleep. Unless it’s the result of an accident, pain in the body is almost always linked to something deeper. 

Following my dad’s rule of eight is one way you can help manage and lower your stress. 

Many people in our culture place a great deal of emphasis on work. I sometimes hear friends talk about the long hours they work with a certain sense of pride — almost like it’s a competition. Whether you think this is a healthy attitude or not, it’s undeniable that devoting ten or twelve hours a day to work puts extra stress on your body and mind. Over time, it takes a toll, the results of which I see in my office. 

My dad believes life is too short to live like that. He cares about his work, but he also cares about spending time with his family and having fun — indeed, he thinks that both are essential to a good life. He doesn’t give short shrift to the importance of sleep either, believing it to be the glue that holds everything else together.

My dad taught me that rather than making any one thing the focus of life, be it work or play, one should aim for balance.

If you’ve already got a well balanced life — congratulations! If you’re struggling a little on that front, take a nice slow breath — that’s okay! Creating balance in our lives isn’t usually something we do overnight. Indeed, more often than not, it’s a practice, something to be worked at every day and slowly perfected over the course of a lifetime. 

Like many things, bringing balance to our lives is a matter of willingness, attention and then action. If we feel out of whack and too heavily focused on one area, we can start by paying attention to that feeling, rather than pushing it away. How many of us have spent years working a job that we knew caused us too much stress, just because we found it easier to ignore that knowledge than to act on it? If we’re willing to pay attention sooner, we can save ourselves a lot of suffering!

If we find ourselves out of balance, a good next step can be to ask ourselves or a trusted friend how we can get back into harmony — to think or talk things through a little. We don’t necessarily need to take any dramatic action, just a small step here and a small step there. We can commit to going to bed earlier, for example, or choose not to take on that extra project at work. It starts to add up!

Make a point to check in with yourself regularly and ask if one part of your life feels too heavy. You deserve to have balance! :)