The Truth About Work-Life Balance                                                                                                          Why it isn’t working and how supporting three psychological qualities can boost Work-Life Wellbeing instead.


           Rob Reiher, Ph.D., founder of FutureWise and author of the upcoming book Mindstyle Matters: Wellbeing in the Age of Uncertainty

There was a time in my life when I thought that work-life balance was a good idea. I was young and naive about what it meant to have a “balanced” life, because my interpretation of balance was one that offered me a sustained sense of stability and comfort. And for me, stability was the relief I felt from the stress of uncertainty and change. But that was a long time ago, before the age of information overload and overwhelm. It was also at a time when I was thinking of those two terms as the same thing.

With the runaway technology train that roared through the past two decades, researchers and psychologists can now draw an important distinction between overload and overwhelm. Information overload refers to the state where an individual is consistently exposed to an excessive amount of information, making it difficult for them to process and make decisions. It's a cognitive phenomenon that occurs when the volume of information exceeds our brain's processing capacity. Information overload can impede our ability to concentrate, make decisions, and think clearly. With the constant flow of digital technology data from multiple sources with a high potential for misinformation (social media, news, emails, etc.), information overload has both increased and accelerated.

Information overwhelm, on the other hand, is the emotional response to information overload. It's the feeling of being overpowered by the sheer volume of information one is expected to comprehend or deal with. This emotional overwhelm is often associated with feelings of overpowering stress, anxiety, and helplessness. At the same time we feel we are losing control of our lives, over our own power to perform well at work, help our children stabilize their lives, or to nurture our personal needs. Information overwhelm taxes our emotional coping mechanisms, depletes our health, and pushes us farther away from wellbeing. It often manifests through feelings of anxiety, frustration, and helplessness, and frequently leads to regressive compensatory and coping behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, and “dead end” pleasure seeking immersion into entertainment and screen time distractions.

The distinction between these two phenomena, information overload and information overwhelm is critical, because they demand different solutions. Information overload is about filtering, managing, and organizing information in a way that makes it easier to process, understand, and receive its benefits. When you are filtering, managing, and organizing the onslaught of information we receive, you are using higher executive functions of your brain. On the other hand, when you are experiencing information overwhelm, you must depend upon managing emotional responses and developing coping strategies that handle the stress associated with too much information while the brain often shifts to lower mid-brain functioning. The skills needed for the regulation of information today are quite different from the past, but vital to our future success.

Awareness, Ability, and Control: Keys to Mental/Emotional Stability and Wellbeing.

The three psychological elements necessary to create a true state of well-being are awareness, ability, and control. Awareness refers to the conscious understanding of one's thoughts, emotions, and actions. It is the foundation upon which we build our ability and control. Through heightened awareness, we can identify our strengths and weaknesses, understand our motivations, and recognize the impact of our actions. Ability, on the other hand, represents our skills and competencies. It encapsulates the breadth and depth of our knowledge and experience. Effective integration of ability means identifying and honing our talents, continually seeking to improve and expand our skillset. It's about setting realistic goals, investing effort in skill development, and utilizing these skills to navigate life's challenges.

Control refers to our capacity to manage our actions and reactions. It's about resilience in the face of adversity, regulating emotions, managing distractions, and making decisions that align with our goals. It is the steering wheel that allows us to navigate the direction of our lives. The more control we exercise over our decisions and actions, the more we pave the way to success and fulfillment.

Unfortunately, in this new world of incremental information overload and overwhelm, the skills of awareness, ability, and control become more challenging. We must accept that our society operates in radically different ways than it did in the past, and that “finding balance” is only a temporary state of being. In today’s digital world of uncertainty, rapid change and instability, there is an accelerating flow of calculated information coming your way, designed to entice, addict, manipulate, and overwhelm the deeper and more productive parts of your unique individual makeup. On top of the overload of information, the mediums of communication continue to evolve (radio, tv, VCR, internet, smart phones, virtual reality, A.I.), each with the potential for captivation, enticement, manipulation, addiction, and immersion to increase.

us. We can learn to adapt ourselves to change, rather than chasing the illusions of consistent balance and stability. Today, it’s about learning how to create change in the middle of the chaos, not avoiding it.

Is Well-Being Possible for Kids and Teens Today?

This is no easy task, but if we ignore the well-being of our children, thinking that the way they spend their time or their school time “will all work out,” then both working parents and businesses will continue to suffer. Wellbeing today is contingent upon your regulation of the speed, the quantity, and the quality of your information processing. And as difficult as this is for adults, youth today are simply the overpowered, more vulnerable pawns of the “Big Tech” forces that understand information manipulation. Some of the new tools involved in enticing and activating the immature psychological systems of safety, pleasure, fear and self-protection are directly aligned with increasing levels of depression, anxiety, and suicide rates in young people. Rates of mental health issues like depression and anxiety have been rising among adolescents and If we are willing, however, to delve deeper into wellbeing, rather than “balance”and do the necessary work to understand our underlying MindStyle process (awareness, ability, and control), we will discover some important insights. These revelations can transform our previous work-life balance ideas into work-life wellbeing, a process more aligned with today’s shifting world of instability.

With MindStyle, we can better understand the triggers, trade-offs, and blind spots we possess, while accepting the realities of our current circles of influence that surround young adults in recent years. According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, the prevalence of major depressive episodes increased 52% between 2005 and 2017 among adolescents age 12-17. The rates of psychological distress also rose by 71% during that time period.(1) A 2020 study in JAMA Network Open found that suicidal ideation and suicide attempts by youth doubled between 2008-2019, with 25% of youth reporting depressive symptoms by age 18.(2)

How to Guide Your Child

As a parent, guiding your child toward future success depends upon understanding the dynamics of a child’s MindStyle at different developmental stages. Once you have a solid grasp of the developmental stages (ADD LINK) you can learn to provide the communication strategies necessary for navigating the immature developmental stages toward adult wellbeing.

Helping your child deal with the overload and overwhelm of their tech saturated world demands a new and clear understanding of our time triggers and our time tradeoffs. It's about acknowledging that we may not be able to do everything and recognizing that our energy is a finite resource that needs to be managed. Children and adolescents cannot regulate their time on their own, but with this knowledge, parents can learn to design and model our time by prioritizing the things that truly matter and eliminate the unnecessary distractions from our lives. Setting boundaries for ourselves and our families honors them, by understanding that saying "no" can sometimes be the most empowering thing we can do for our work-life wellbeing.

In a recent survey titled The Great Collide: The Impact of Childrens’ Mental Health on the Workforce, surveyed over 3,000 working parents. Between “30 and 50% of those parents said that their “thoughts are on their child’s mental health and well-being even while they are at work.”₃. Understanding that work-life wellbeing is not a static state that we achieve permanently, but rather an ongoing process that requires constant reassessment and adjustments allows us to take action ahead of the stress, rather than reacting to it when it happens.


1.Twenge et al. 2019.

Hill et al.