Finding a “healthy” life balance seems to be the popular prescription for mental health challenges. Life balance is certainly not one of the skills we are taught in childhood, but work-life balance has become one of the most popular goals of our ever-connected culture. Influencers will share multiple posts a week about their latest self-care techniques. If you google “work-life balance” you receive almost 2 million results with advice for achieving the perfect balance. The results range from “selling all your possessions and quitting your job” to “scheduling your dream vacation”.
Many of us are searching for an answer to a problem we might not even be able to define for ourselves. We know we’re tired, anxious, and burned out, but we do not know how to find balance again. In response, many of us push on at our constant pace, wondering if we’ll ever find a day off, dreaming of the next vacation. Others completely withdraw from work and life activities. While neither of these options are the best way to cope, it’s confusing to know how to achieve balance when we are unable to define it.
What does balance mean?
Researchers Jane Meyers and Thomas Sweeney have found that it is best to look at people in terms of their whole selves when trying to determine what it means to be balanced. Each person has the same elements of their identity that define who they are as a person:
Essential self – What you believe, the culture you are from, how you view your gender and sexuality, and what you do to take care of yourself are all at the core of who we are.
Physical self – These are the things that you do to take care of yourself like exercise, nutrition, and sleep.
Creative self – Your creative self is more than how you express yourself. It includes your thoughts, emotions and values. It also accounts for how you express them through work, play and art.
Coping self – If you do not know how to manage your leisure activities, time, or self-worth, you will begin to feel tired and stressed.
Social self – Who do you love? Who are the people in your life that you can rely on when things are difficult? If you feel alone, this can have a massive impact on your mental health.
When these parts of our identity are in conflict, we begin to feel strained. How this strain manifests itself is different for each person. However, feeling stuck, unmotivated, anxious, or burned out is often a sign that we need to re-evaluate the different parts of our life and give attention to the more neglected area.
Why pursue balance?
There are seasons in our lives where things are going to be out of balance. Finishing college, aiming for a promotion at work, or starting a family are all examples of times when one area of our life is going to receive more attention than others. However, no one can maintain this strain forever. For example, someone who focuses all of their energy on work without a good sense of their physical or coping self may begin to feel strain in other areas. They may struggle with self-doubt and begin to see a negative impact on their relationships.
If this strain continues, you may begin to make decisions that are not aligned with what is important to you. When you become stressed, anxious or burned out, you run the risk of losing relationships, jobs, or hobbies that were important to you. Over time, you may begin to regret the things you gave up in the pursuit of a calmer life. In part 2, we will further examine each element of our identity and ideas for restoring balance.
If you’re not sure where to begin restoring balance, a therapist can help you examine your values and priorities. Call today!