I recently ran into a colleague at work in the hallway who was rushing off to a meeting looking harried and stressed. When asked where she was headed, she said “I'm late for a meeting because I accidentally double booked myself for my son’s school event and my work presentation and had to do some rescheduling.” I asked her what she was presenting on and she replied, “It’s a presentation on finding work-life balance!” We had a good laugh about the irony of her situation, but it led me to think about how difficult it can be to find balance in our lives.
Often, we feel pulled in multiple directions. Competing priorities of work, family, kids, marriage, friendship and health are constantly jockeying for our attention and energy. And it’s not just women who feel off-balance, often men feel pressure to succeed at their job while managing their desire for time with family and to pursue personal activities. Social media adds to this picture as daily were bombarded with unrealistic images of perfection. How can we possibly live up to these high expectations while maintaining balance in our lives?
1. Remember it’s a process.
Finding and maintaining balance in life doesn’t have an “end goal” but rather is a process we revisit each and every day throughout our life. There is no such thing as feeling calm, relaxed and in control all of the time but rather a process of noticing when things are off-kilter. Our bodies are masterful at sending signals when equilibrium is off. This feeling may creep in in different ways and with subtle signs…perhaps not sleeping well at night, muscle tension or the dull headache that won’t go away. It can show up in relationships through impatience and irritability with a spouse, our kids, or colleagues because our plate is too full. Often our physical body sends a whisper that things are off balance and we need to do something to course-correct. A few years ago, I had a good friend who experienced a loud “shout” rather than a whisper when she became suddenly ill and had to be hospitalized. Her body was speaking loud and clear that life was off balance and something had to change. Since that time, she shifted her priorities to include more time for herself through yoga, reading and participating in her faith community which has led her to feel more balance and happy in her life.
2. Prioritize and learn to say “no”.
Getting ahead at work, focusing on children and family, nurturing friendships, finding time for ourselves…it’s hard to figure out what to prioritize when everything feels important! Feeling off balance can mean we’re saying “yes” to too many things. I find it helpful to reflect on the things I said “yes” to but later regretted. Understanding the underlying reason, I said “yes” in the first place is important. Is it because I was afraid of being judged…? Perhaps by co-workers or by other moms? Was I afraid of missing out on some future opportunity? Being specific about what our core values are helps to prioritize saying “yes” to only those things that align. Recognize that these shift at different times in our life depending on our age, stages of our children, and the path of our career. We can’t do it all at once!
3. Find time to recharge your batteries.
One of my favorite self-care quotes is this: “It is not a luxury to refill your cup so that you can pour into others - it is essential!” I used to have a nagging voice in my head that told me time spent in relaxation and self-care was somehow selfish or lazy. After all there was always so much to be done or someone who needed me. However, the older I get the more I understand the importance of “filling my own cup”. And as mentioned above, finding the sweet spot is a daily process and changes with what’s going on in our lives. We need ways to recharge to maintain daily balance in small and subtle ways such as taking a break from work or household chores by sitting in peace and quiet for a few minutes, reading a book, taking a walk or enjoying a small treat (chocolate and coffee anyone?), and sometimes finding balance means taking a break from daily life in larger ways such as a vacation or weekend away. Having a day to unplug from technology can do wonders for re-charging our batteries.
4. Find time to connect each day.
How do we know when our relationships are unbalanced? Our children often don’t articulate this in words but rather in behavior. Kids want to connect with parents and will make bids for this connection in many ways. If their “emotional piggy bank” is not full children will show this imbalance by behaving in negative ways we don’t like - not listening, whining, physically acting out or clinginess for example. After all, children want attention from parents and if using these negative strategies works successfully to rope their parent in, the behaviors will likely continue. As the saying goes “negative attention is better than no attention at all”. If you notice your child using negative behaviors more frequently it can be a sign that that relationships are off-kilter and need a course correction. In Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, parents are given “homework” of having 5 minutes of Special Play Time with their child every day where the child gets to choose an activity and parents follow their lead in play. Just 5 minutes a day of this focused play can help kids feel connected positively to their parent. It’s like their “daily dose” of medicine for better behavior! When kids feel connected, they are more likely to want to please their parent by listening, following directions, sharing with siblings, etc. This strategy works with teenagers too and connecting for a few minutes a day with a spouse, partner or friend can work wonders for keeping those relationships in balance.
Our lives are in a constant state of transition and change and we will never feel balance 100% of the time. Remember the goal is to notice what our body and soul are whispering to us and make small changes to re-establish equilibrium in our lives. It’s a process, learning to say “no”, good self-care and connecting in our relationships each day are a few things that can help us to find balance in the areas of life we value the most.