Occupational Balance – what is it?
Whilst studying occupational therapy I read a great deal about ‘occupational balance’ and how it can contribute to a healthy life, but until recently I had never really considered the implications of achieving occupational balance and what it is that makes it so important. Backman (2004, p 208) defines occupational balance as
“…a relative state, recognizable by a happy or pleasant integration of life activities and demands”
Backman (2004) is explaining that occupational balance is a way of being, rather than a specific activity or task, and achieved by taking part in daily activities that do not overwhelm, and result in feelings of positivity, satisfaction and achievement.
Although ‘occupational balance’ is not a term widely used outside of occupational therapy, I would like to suggest that it is however an idea that is considered and discussed regularly by us all. I would like you to think of occupational balance as the things we do every day and include our work/life balance; family life; leisure time; relaxation and the balance of each area that a person fits into their daily life.
Occupational Balance & Dementia
Maintaining occupational balance is important for both people with dementia and their family carers. Phinney et al (2007) explain that participation in a variety of activities is essential for the well-being of people with dementia and offers opportunities for social interaction as well as feelings of purpose and enjoyment.
As health professionals, it is our responsibility to ensure that the people we are working with are able to maintain their activities of daily living by adapting and altering the way this is done in line with the progression of their dementia. It could also be argued that it is equally important for us to work just as hard to ensure a person with dementia is still able to take part in ALL activities that are meaningful to them.
Another barrier to achieving occupational balance is time, a difficulty that can be faced by family carers of people with dementia. The National Strategy for Carers (Department of Health 2010) states that there is a growing need for health professionals to work with carers to ensure that their own physical and psychological health is maintained. Hall and Skelton (2012) reiterate the importance of this in their observation that a family carer can easily burn out and become unable to continue caring for their loved one or family member as a result of this. It is essential that family carers for people with dementia are supported to maintain occupational balance, whether that be achieved through access to respite, carer groups or support in fitting their own activities into their day-to-day lives.
My Own Reflections on Occupational Balance
As mentioned previously, I had not considered occupational balance in great detail up until recently. As an occupational therapy intern with Alzheimer Scotland and Queen Margaret University, I was asked to spend some time photographing my day as part of a bigger project that this year’s team of interns and volunteer are working on together.
I decided to theme by photographs around ‘occupational balance’. Taking these photographs required me to step back and think about if and how I was managing to achieve occupational balance in my life. As a mum of a one year old and also working three days per week in a hospital and two days with Alzheimer Scotland, I think it is fair to say that I am quite a busy person at the moment, a factor that I hadn’t appreciated before taking my photos! I realized however that I don’t feel stretched or that I am doing too much, and that I achieve this by making sure I have small parts of each day to take part in activities that are important to me, for example arriving at work early to put my makeup on and have a coffee, enjoying bath and story time with my little boy, and ensuring that I have time to relax in the evenings.
My main take-home message from my day spent taking photographs is that occupational balance really isn’t something that most of us do consciously until we step back and think about it. Having the time, ability and opportunity to take part in a range of different activities is so important for health and well-being, and is something that each and every person has the right to.
1. Are you achieving occupational balance in your day today? If not, what could you do to change this
2. If you are a healthcare professional, is there more that you could do to encourage and enable occupational balance for the people you work with?
By Lynsey Robertson-Flannigan
Occupational Therapy Intern 2017
BACKMAN,C.L., 2004. Occupational Balance: Exploring the Relationships among Daily Occupations and Their Influence on Well-Being. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy [online]. Vol. 71, pp. 202-209. [viewed 01 August 2017]. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8140875_Occupational_Balance_Exploring_the_Relationships_among_Daily_Occupations_and_Their_Influence_on_Well-Being
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH., 2010. Recognised, valued and supported: next steps for the carers strategy [online]. [viewed 07 August 2017]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/recognised-valued-and-supported-next-steps-for-the-carers-strategy
HALL, L. AND SKELTON, D.A., 2012. Occupational therapy for caregivers of people with dementia: a review of the united kingdom literature. British Journal of Occupational Therapy [online]. Vol. 75, no. 6, pp. 281-288. [viewed 07 August 2017]. Available from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.4276/030802212X13383757345184
PHINNEY, A., CHAUDREY,. H. AND O’CONNOR, D. L., 2007. Doing as much as I can do: the meaning of activity for people with dementia. Aging and Mental Health [online]. Vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 284-293. [viewed 07 August 2017]. Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13607860601086470