Even as technology increases exponentially, with the ever-present goal to simplify our lives and ease our task load, it seems our lives just become more complicated and busy somehow. With all we have at our fingertips, life can feel very overwhelming at times. It becomes very important to take care of yourself amidst all the chaos life can present. Yet, how to do that and still take care of the things and people around us? Here are eight ways to try to manage that balancing act.
Practice good boundaries.
Just as good fences make good neighbors, good boundaries make good relationships. It is okay to say “no” to attending that event—you don’t even need to offer an excuse. Your life is yours to plan. Or not plan, if that’s what you decide you need. We often feel the need to have an “important enough” reason ready to turn down someone’s request, but if the other person is someone who values you and your relationship, and is respectful of your boundaries, a simple “wish I could” or “maybe next time” is really all you need. There are often folks in our lives who disregard boundaries such as these, and make demands on us, perhaps demanding to know the reason for our “slight” against them, so they can decide for themselves whether our reason is “good enough” to miss their event. In these cases it is even more important to hold firm to boundaries and to make it clear that you are in charge of deciding your agenda. With a person like this, holding firm boundaries can be difficult. They may use emotional blackmail by threatening to end the relationship or claim that you don’t care because of your actions. One way to respond might be, “I value our relationship, and I wish I could come. Let’s meet next week.” If this type of interaction seems very difficult or anxiety-provoking to you, you may wish to consider assertiveness skills training with a counselor.
Additionally, when it comes to work, there may be the threat of losing your position, which may lead to more pressure to take on undesired commitments. This is a factor that needs to be considered as well. I don’t recommend holding too firmly to a boundary with a boss who might fire you if your financial safety is on the line. In that case, you are just as much taking care of yourself as your boss. However, if it is a common occurrence that your boss is demanding to the point that you feel yourself overtaxed, it may be time to consider looking for new employment, if possible. Please note: every situation is different and I am not making employment recommendations for your specific situation. Please consider your situation carefully.
Mindful presence vs. multitasking
Once you are engaged in an activity, whether it is for yourself or for others, engage in it fully. Be there as fully as you can. If you are trying to “balance” being overcommitted by getting two or more things done at once, your productivity will diminish and you will increase your chances of making mistakes all around. Don’t believe me? Check out what the science says on it at http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx. So when you commit to volunteering for your child’s scout craft group, craft your heart out. When you’re taking the night off to laugh it up with friends, put away the phone and emails. And when you’re blogging, close that Facebook tab.
It cannot be emphasized enough: diet, exercise, and sleep can have a huge impact on your overall health and functioning. If you are not eating enough, or not eating healthy food, your body and brain can both become sluggish at best, or downright sick at worst. Visit https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/ for a handy infographic on healthy eating. Getting plenty of exercise is also helpful for reducing the stress we often feel when trying to balance commitments. You can find 10 minute exercise routines to mix and match and squeeze in moments of a busy day. Lastly, if you aren’t getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night, try some of these tips: https://www.sleepassociation.org/patients-general-public/insomnia/sleep-hygiene-tips/.
In addition to the very important triad of physical self-care, however, is the just-as-important area of mental self-care: Relaxation and relaxing. Learning some relaxation skills, such as deep breathing, meditation, autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, visualisation, tai chi, or yoga can help reduce stress. Equally important for self care is scheduling time to relax and have fun. Socializing with friends, engaging in personal hobbies, having impulsive adventures with your loved ones: with all the commitments we have, we need to remember to also have spontaneous fun from time to time.
I personally find this one most helpful when I start to feel overwhelmed by to-do’s and commitments. That’s when the calendar and post-its come out. Lists are made and re-made. Figure out what needs to get done first, what has deadlines, and what can wait. Big jobs can sometimes be broken down into smaller chunks, which can be then split up and done piecemeal. This last tip has taken some getting used to for me, personally, as I prefer to be able to finish a job once I start it, but when commitments start overlapping, and things seem overwhelming, it can be helpful to be able to at least get a foothold on a task that needs to get done when there isn’t enough time to do the whole thing. Once you’ve prioritized, it will help with tip #1 (boundary setting).
Realistic goal setting
Being realistic about what can get done will help you prioritize. Remember the KISS rule: Keep It Simple, Silly! Try to avoid over-committing. Know your limits, and stick to them. Schedule down time (see “self care”) so you can decompress and come at your next commitments feeling fresh.
Speaking of knowing your limits and being realistic, let’s talk about perfectionism. Those of us with a tendency toward perfectionistic attitudes have a higher risk of anxiety and depression. We have very high demands of ourselves, and those demands can be unrealistic. When we naturally can’t be perfect, we often beat ourselves up for not meeting these high standards. It’s a recipe for stress, unhappiness, and toxic self-shame. Additionally, when we shoot for perfect, we don’t delegate (see next tip) and we often work past the point of diminishing returns. This, in the end, means we spend more time on a task than is truly necessary.
Ask for help
Delegate when you can. Surround yourself with a strong, supportive network of friends, family, and coworkers who are happy to help you when you need it (and whom you are happy to help when you can). Maybe you’re a stay at home mom who befriends others and you watch each other’s kids once a week. Maybe you’re a fast food employee and you switch shifts with a coworker now and then. Maybe you work in an office and are able to trade tasks with a coworker to help each other out. Just remember, it is a two-way street, and asking for help will likely require giving back to balance the social scales.
The Big Picture
This one can really provide overarching guidance for setting priorities and boundaries, as well as ensuring that we are living the kind of life we desire: that we are not missing the forest for the trees. Think about what you value in life. Sit down and rate (that is, not “rank”—this is not a competition between the items) how much you value things like romantic partnership, family, parenting, work, socializing, spirituality, self-care, and hobbies. Then see how well your value rating matches up with how you’ve been doing in that area lately. For example, if romantic partnership is very important to you, but you have not been paying much attention to the relationship lately, that tells you that it’s an area of commitment to increase. Likewise, if work is of medium importance, yet you have been focusing most of your energy there, perhaps you can shift some things around.
Imagine holding your balance on top of a small boulder, or standing on one leg for any length of time. To hold your balance, you don’t attend to it for a brief moment in time and then forget about. You need to continually try to sense when your balance is being thrown off, and make corrections to keep yourself centered. And one last note: if you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you might’ve noticed that when you balance on one foot, if you pay attention to other people, that’s when you lose balance. Look forward; find your own focal point. Lose the comparisons. Don’t worry about how much better (or worse) others are doing at keeping it together. That may just throw your own balance off.