Work-life balance. It's an oft-thrown-around phrase, and its meaning is open to interpretation. But for the most part, it refers to some semblance of being able to separate work life from one's personal life and carving out a reasonable amount of time for the latter.

Many people struggle with work-life balance, in general. But the COVID-19 crisis could be making an existing problem even worse.

Man at home office with his hand over his forehead while clutching his daughter in his other arm.

Image source: Getty Images.

Are you working nonstop these days?

With Americans being told to socially distance themselves in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, many companies have shifted employees to remote work arrangements. At first glance, that seems like a good thing. Workers can continue doing their jobs and getting paid without dealing with the hassle of commuting. And with all the time saved not sitting in traffic or riding a bus, it stands to reason that working folks should have more time on their hands for household maintenance, exercise, and hobbies.

But many Americans are working longer hours now than ever before. The reason? There's no excuse not to.

Prior to COVID-19, it was easier to pack up and unplug at the end of a long workday. Back then, people had dinner plans, appointments, or other obligations.

Now, there are no plans to be made or kept and nowhere to go other than the supermarket for an occasional stock up. There's nothing compelling workers to shut down their laptops and walk away from their desks because they're not running to beat traffic or make the next bus. So a lot of people are instead working longer and harder -- and are teetering on the edge of burnout because of it.

Of course, with talks that COVID-19 could spur a full-blown economic recession, many workers are putting in longer hours as a matter of strategy. The logic may be that if widespread layoffs occur, they're less likely to land on the chopping block if they knock deadlines out of the park and answer email at all hours. But this willingness to please, coupled with a sheer obligation to always be available since there's no excuse not to be, may be hurting Americans from a mental- and physical-health perspective.

Reclaim your right to work-life balance

Maybe you feel that since you're being given the flexibility to work from home and you're not spending hours commuting, you should make up for it by working longer hours and being perpetually available. But actually, that's a lot of pressure to put on yourself, especially at a time when COVID-19 worries may be occupying more of your brain space than you'd like. While work may be, to some extent, a nice distraction, you shouldn't be pushing yourself to work so much that there's little-to-no time to catch up with friends and family by phone, bust out a good book, or binge-watch a TV series that brings you joy.

Chances are, at least some of that pressure to succeed on the job is coming from you, not your employer, so recognize that and get your own potentially unreasonable expectations in check. Now's a time to function in survival mode, and there's nothing wrong with not going beyond, so if your work-life balance has been nonexistent since this whole crisis began, set some boundaries and stick to them. Right now, more so than ever, we all deserve a break.