It’s the beginning of the day. Everything looks fine and with a smile, you sip your first coffee. Today’s workload is manageable. The lunch break is scheduled at your favorite Italian restaurant, and after work a cozy film evening at your best friend’s place awaits you. Then the first meeting and a last-minute, urgent request ends up on your table. A feeling of stress spreads through you and the first to-dos are crossed from your list. Lunchtime is approaching. For the sake of the punctual end of the day, the Pizza à la Pedro will have to be canceled for today – after all, your best friend is waiting for you. The hour hand races from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. – It’s too late for the movie night now and with a feeling of frustration you cancel your date with your best friend.

You know days like this? You seem to voluntarily make one little compromise after the other to keep up with your work. Many individual decisions make up whole the picture of your life. Unfortunately, these seemingly small compromises lead to you depriving yourself of those activities that contribute to your well-being and keep you in balance.

A scientific model explains why we act like this.

The burnout expert Prof. Marie Åsberg investigated this phenomenon and developed the model of the “Exhaustion Funnel” as an explanatory approach. This describes the downward spiral that occurs when we continue to limit our activities until only those activities remain that seem crucial to us. Priority is given to basic needs that contribute to sustain life.

Before we slip down the spiral, we lead a balanced life. If you were to capture this feeling of life in snapshots, your photo album would be filled with photos from your everyday work, chores such as cleaning and shopping, from moments of relaxation such as listening to your favorite music on the blanket in the park on Sundays, and regular meetings with friends. If your body increasingly perceives stress signals, we are tempted to limit ourselves to life’s essentials. Relaxation and social gatherings are quickly postponed or no longer find a place in the calendar.

The lack of elements of positive balance has a negative effect on our energy level and psyche, so we decide to make further cuts. After all, the house cleaning is enough every three weeks and why not order food? At the bottom of the spiral we focus our energy on our working day. Eventually this becomes impossible – Burnout. And yet it only started with small compromises.

How can you recognize early signs of this downward spiral?

Here are some questions that will help you evaluate whether you may be making more compromises than are good for yourself and your well-being.

  • How many days a week do you take time for a relaxing lunch break?
  • Can you list at least three activities for your last week that brought you joy, fun and/or relaxation?
  • Do you regularly tend to push back your closing time (more than 3 times a week)?
  • Do appointments with people important to you still have space in your calendar?
  • Do you feel too exhausted to hold on to helpful habits such as sports or meditation?

Your work-life balance is not a luxury, it is a must.

The model of the “Exhaustion Funnel” teaches us that every day we need to actively prioritize our well-being. We recharge our mental and physical batteries through positive impressions and activities as well as sufficient rest. So your work-life balance is not a luxury, but a must.