Many people talk about maintaining balance in life. But what does that actually mean? There are many types of balance: the famous work/life balance, productivity/relaxation, social relationships/“me time,” and on and on. These few examples may apply to you, but the balancing act of time really depends on the person. For example, a balanced life will look drastically different when comparing the life of a single, college-aged woman to that of a married mother of three kids.
While it may seem overrated or impossible, maintaining balance throughout our lives is a cornerstone of overall well-being. Balance prevents stress, and we all know stress causes adverse health effects and leads to 75-90 percent of all physician visits.
Common excuses for living an unbalanced lifestyle like “I’m too busy” or “There’s never enough time to do everything” may be true, but it’s ultimately up to you how you spend your time. Saying “I don’t have time” for something is equivalent to saying: “That’s not a priority for me.” And that’s okay. As long as you actually acknowledge what are and aren’t your priorities. In fact, setting priorities is the most important rule to maintaining balance.
There are 168 hours in a week. Assuming you sleep an average of eight hours a night, you spend 112 of those hours awake. So, the first step towards balance is to figure out what should take precedence for those precious hours. The best way to work out your priorities is to make a list of them. What are the most important things you should be spending your time on? What are you spending time on that isn’t important? Look for places where you can make adjustments.
One of the most important skills to maintaining balance is learning to say no to things that don’t fit your newfound priorities. This can be a challenge, but it can be managed gracefully. For example: Your boss asks you to take on a project this week. You know if you say yes, you’ll likely stay at the office an extra five to ten hours this week—offsetting your balance—but you don’t want to make a poor impression. So rather than just say yes, you say, “With the amount of work I have on my plate, I don’t believe I can take this on without pushing something else off until next week. How should I prioritize my work?” Then it’s up to your boss how you should be spending your time at work, rather than just adding on more time.
Some activities, like watching TV, can be used for relaxation if managed properly. But people will often watch TV past the point of relaxation, and it becomes a way to fill free time. This is similar to how people scroll through social media when they have a few free minutes.
Stop these habits and instead use your free time to work towards your goal of balance. Do something relaxing or try to learn something new—even if it’s just for a few minutes. Deep breathing exercises, practicing a new language on a smartphone app, reading or listening to a book, or doing a quick cardio routine can all be accomplished within a few minutes of free time.
Having a set schedule can help you accomplish what you set out to do and waste less time. It’s common to make plans for accomplishing tasks at work, but you can also plan other aspects of your time—like “me time.” Write in your planner that you’re going to read for an hour before bed; this may help you to feel motivated to actually read.
The key to finding your balance is knowing when you’ve lost it. So be aware of how you’re spending your time and continue adjusting until you meet your goals.
Finding balance requires motivation and work, but your overall well-being is worth it.
Reprinted with permission from NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For more information, please visit www.nami.org.