How group fitness helped my work life balance

I’ve been around the block a few times now, changed jobs, found new career paths, been promoted (pretty sure it was technically a demotion actually, I think more hours and bigger stress load can be classified as a negative) and tried different industries. I’ve learned a lot about my professional self over the past few years in particular and I’m getting better at spotting my own behavioural patterns. Apart from my questionable dress sense (yes I wear cat shirts to work, so what) and that fact I drink WAYYY too much coffee, one of my biggest repeat behaviours in any job is that I burn out too easily.

You're doing WHAT in the carpark?

No not the kind of burnouts I may or may not have done as a 17-year-old using Maccas trays under the wheels (handy hint right there if you own a front wheel drive kids), but that dragging feeling on your shoulders that comes from working TOO MUCH!

I’m naturally a very inquisitive person, I like to know how things work and I like to solve problems too. I can recall at least two jobs that I absolutely loved doing, but my curiosity and the drive to affect change saw me burn myself into the ground until one day I opened my eyes and dreaded the thought of dragging myself into the office that I once gleefully bounded into.

“Where’s my mojo gone?” I asked myself. Truth is it was all my own fault. I was so engaged and excited by the work that I was doing that it would go something like this:

  • 8am – 6pm (got in early because I was so excited, stayed late because I was in the middle of something awesome)
  • 6.15pm (other half calls and says “Where are you”. Actually am still at work, but leaving now)
  • 6.45pm (actually leave office, mind buzzing with thoughts)
  • 7pm (get home, have dinner with significant other, watch some TV and talk)
  • 8pm (had sudden thought about that thing I’m working on, maybe I’ll just write it down)
  • 8pm – 10pm (doing work so it’s out of the way for tomorrow)
  • 10pm (other half asks “Are you coming to bed”, I’ll be there in 10 minutes OK just wrapping up)
  • 11.45pm – (oops should probably stop doing work now and go to bed, after all I have to get up to go to work soon)
  • 12am – (mind buzzing, finally gets to bed)
  • Next morning 8am – DO IT ALL AGAIN!

So I felt super productive and awesome about my work for about 6-8 weeks once I started this vicious cycle of going to work, going home (to do more work) then back to work again. However it soon left me mentally drained and with nothing left to give. The overload on my little grey matter meant that I could no longer focus on work as I was so overwhelmed from working. A self-fulfilling prophecy if you will. It wasn’t too long before I said ENOUGH! and had to get my ass out of there and find somewhere that my brain could breathe again.

How group fitness helped me find balance in my life

It was during one of these burnout periods when I actually turned to group fitness as a coping mechanism. My boss knew that I was suffering but they really wanted me to stay, so as a compromise I said, “On Wednesdays I’m coming in an hour late so I can go participate in class” (I wasn’t an instructor as this point). For about 6 months I went every Wednesday and it was MY time to just chill and enjoy working out and occupy my mind with other things that didn’t involve work. I went to work a little less stressed as a result. A few months after I began instructing which opened a whole new world, but didn’t last much longer at my stressful day job.

When I was interviewed for my current job (nearly 3 years with no burn out thank you very much) I made it very clear that I also taught group fitness and that I would very much love to be able to keep teaching these classes. I was taken back when my now boss said “Sure we’re pretty flexible, start early and you can leave early”. I was totally cool with this idea. If starting an hour early meant I could still teach my evening classes then I was up for it.

I'm treated like an actual adult at work, which helps

I’ve worked in a few places that seem to overlook that the fact that the average age of their workforce is 40 and instead treat them like a bunch of 12-year-olds. Ever been called into the HR manager’s office for a discussion on why you left work 23 minutes early to take your dying cat to the vet? (Was it really necessary, surely mittens is capable of dealing with that itself?) How about the icy stare from the accountant as you plonk your coffee cup down on your desk at 9.03am (she’s mentally adding you to the profit and loss statement as owing those 180 seconds).

The reality is that LIFE HAPPENS! People get sick, family emergencies come up and sometimes you just need to do what you gotta’ do.

I’m super lucky to now work with a group of people that understand that life isn’t always smooth sailing and that things come up. They also understand the importance of work-life balance. Working late isn’t something that is revered in my office but just something that needs to happen once in a while if we have a tough project on. Instead we focus hard on smashing through as much as we can during the day and when we walk out the door we can all focus on family, hobbies and home life. This doesn’t mean I’m a clock watcher though, (nothing worse in my mind) as a company most of us do 4 or 5 hours more than we need to just to make sure we achieve the goals we are aiming for.

Classes help me mentally relax

That sounds counter-intuitive right, what’s more mentally draining that trying to remember choreography, coaching points and actively teaching based on what your class is doing (exacerbated exponentially by each additional program you teach)? I think of it kind of like being on a bike, I might be peddling along, really going for it during the day and come 4.30pm I can start back-peddling, I’m still spinning my legs but just in a different direction and engaging a different part of my brain.

When I’m at work my primary focus is on what’s in front of me and as soon as I head out the door to teach a class, any sort of stress or problem that I had at work leaves my head. I need to be mentally free so that I can be present for my participants and deliver the best workout that I can.

Class times are a fixed point in time (you cannot alter the time vortex, trust me), so you CANNOT be late. This forces me to drop everything three times a week and just leave work. Of course I schedule meetings so they aren’t in the afternoon and I wrap things up before I leave, but going to teach a class means I can’t tempt myself into staying late or mentally draining myself. Instead I get to sweat it our with my members and come back the next morning feeling mentally fresh and ready to tackle another day of work.

For a lot of people, I understand this just isn’t possible but I wanted to share my coping mechanisms. Maybe for some people you can find mental relief by committing to that yoga class on the weekend or even just heading out for a run or bike ride at a specific time no matter what. We give our bodies time to rest, we need to do the same for our brains.

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