When I say finding balance, I’m not necessarily talking about work/life balance, but balance in life in general. Balance between taking time for yourself, and the responsibilities that we place priority on as part of our daily lives. That could be work, it could be looking after the children, it could be caring for a relative.
Part of balancing all of the priorities that we have in our lives and making sure that we find time for ourselves can be tricky. We’ve all had days where the list of things we need to do is longer than our arm, and we’re blustering about the place trying to get everything done, only to end the day feeling like we haven’t really achieved anything.
A lot of the time, we may find ourselves with a heavy mental load. Mental Load is the great burden of remembering.
At home, it often consists of planning meals, organising the various after school clubs that the children have to go to, making sure the laundry is done, remembering to pick up the cat’s medicine on the way home, and paying the credit card bill on time.
At work, it could be that you’re checking in on other members of your team to make sure they’re doing things properly, organising birthday cards, making sure that the report that’s going out is formatted correctly because no one else seems to care about formatting, and cleaning up the kitchen area thanks to that one person who always leaves the sink looking like someone set off a coffee grenade in it.
It’s exhausting. All this invisible work.
What do you think happens if all of our time is taken up with these invisible jobs, and none is spent on things that we actually enjoy? Do you feel that you’re going to be particularly content, or do you think you might start to resent all of the things that you have to do because you’ve got no time to do the things you love to do?
Not taking time to do things for ourselves, to find balance, can be damaging to our sense of wellbeing.
It can adversely impact our relationships with others, it can make it difficult to concentrate, and it can affect our confidence because, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t fit everything into the day that we want to.
In the worse case scenario, if we’re feeling massively overwhelmed, then it can negatively affect the way that we act - leading us to lash out at others, use various crutches such as alcohol to cope, or shut down from the stress entirely.
So finding balance is important. What should it look like?
When we have balance in our lives, we don’t feel guilty for doing the things that we enjoy doing. We recognise and respect our own boundaries, and we effectively prioritise what we need to do alongside what we want to do.
Remember that meeting your own wellbeing needs is not selfish or indulgent. You have to be responsible for it, because you are ultimately in charge of yourself. Make time to do what you enjoy - getting down the gym, going for a walk, meditating, going to a yoga class, spending some time on being creative.
What are the signs that we’ve found balance in our lives, then? Ask yourself these two questions:
- Can I spend time on doing things that I enjoy without feeling guilty, or pressure that there are other things that I should be doing?
- When I’ve done all of the things that I need to do, do I have the energy to engage in the things that I want to do?
If the answer to both those questions is yes, I’d say that you’re on the right path to having balance in your life.
If it's no, then it's time to think about how you can go about prioritising your own wellbeing amongst this sea of other tasks that need to get done as well.
Are you able to acknowledge that you cannot do everything? What pressures are you putting on yourself to get everything done at the expense of yourself, and where does that expectation come from?
We have to recognise that there is only so much time in the day and only so much emotional energy within us. We are not super-people. Are there some tasks that can be shuffled down the priority list, or disregarded for another day?
What about your personal boundaries? Are you saying "yes" to everyone that asks you for something, or are you able to refuse? Being able to say no to others is a critical part of being able to manage our own priorities, and it's also important that we are able to recognise and set boundaries for ourselves. If you feel obligated to say yes to everything, then ask yourself why you're doing that. Are you fearful of what would happen if you said no? Are you out there trying to please everyone?
I'd also recommend that you schedule some time in for yourself. That half hour yoga session, or a bit of time watching an episode of your favourite show on Netflix, or getting out for a few miles on the bike. It all matters, and you have to give the time for yourself as much priority and importance as you would when scheduling tasks in for others.
Remember that your needs matter just as much as everybody else's do.