Alexandra Mirabelli, Psy.D. 0000-00-00 00:00:00
At the beginning of a new year, most people resolve to make a change. It might be to spend more time with family, lose the extra baby weight, or accomplish an important goal at work. Resolutions and goals generally focus on improvement and achievement. By this time of year, most people find that making a noticeable change in one specific area has an effect on other areas as well. Spending more time with family might mean accomplishing less at work. Hitting the gym three evenings per week might mean less time with the family. There never seems to be enough time in the day to accomplish everything which needs to be done, and the result is feeling as though we are doing a million things unsuccessfully rather than a few things very well. Balancing the demands of parenting, work, marriage/partnership, and health—both emotional and physical—doesn’t just happen. In fact, it is another thing that requires work to accomplish. The good news is that with a few adjustments, achieving a life balance is one goal which is always within reach. Lay a strong foundation. A healthy and balanced life requires a good foundation which includes getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and getting physical exercise. Paradoxically, these are usually the first things to be compromised when life becomes too overwhelming. Cutting corners here will help you catch up on something else in the short run, but in the long run it is detrimental. Sleep deprivation, for example, is associated with poor memory, reduced ability to make good decisions, reduced creativity, weight gain, and a weakened immune system. Conversely, good habits in these areas support physical, mental, and social well-being. Envision your life the way you would like it to be. That is, sit down and take some time to sort out what you want for yourself, and write it down. This is not as easy as it sounds. By the time you get around to doing this, you may no longer have a clear idea of your own goals because you have been so used to meeting others’ expectations and just trying to make it through the day. Look over your goals and ask yourself which things you genuinely want to do, and which things you think you should want to do. Share your goals with your partner. Women in particular are often hesitant to ask for help from their partners because of a preconceived notion that their partner either won’t want to help, is already too busy, or will not understand exactly what is so overwhelming about trying to strike a life balance. However, they can’t help if they don’t know what to do. Even more importantly, talking about your goals helps define them and provides you and your partner with an opportunity to discuss how your lives will grow together, rather than drift apart. Know when to say when. Working and stay-at-home parents alike fall into the trap of agreeing to things in the moment, then later asking themselves what on earth they were thinking. Whether it’s a boss asking you to take on an extra project or your child asking you to take her to yet another birthday party this weekend, give yourself permission to opt out. If this is too awkward or feels unnatural, ask to think about it first rather than impulsively agreeing right away. Giving extra thought to what these requests might entail often makes it much easier to decline them. Be consistent. Resist the temptation to overcompensate out of guilt. For example, if you have had to miss work because of a family situation, don’t feel obligated to take on additional work to make up for it. Similarly, if you have to put in extra hours at work which take time away from your children, fight the temptation to ignore their usual routines or grant special exceptions to the rules in order to make up for it. Maintaining flexibility is a good thing, but staying consistent with your own rules and expectations, particularly when your routine has been disrupted, is important in managing stress and keeping future expectations manageable. Keep your expectations realistic. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and if you are getting enough sleep, you are awake for about sixteen of them. You can only do so much in one day, so figure out what is reasonable and tell yourself that it is enough. Try to remember that while you do want to have meaningful accomplishments throughout the day, not every second needs to be productive. Resist the temptation to maximize every moment. Allow yourself some time throughout the day where you will not need to process any information or make any decisions. Connect with friends. Social support is one of the healthiest ways to cope with stress. Research shows that having a social support system which might include family, friends, and/or supportive co-workers, can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, reduce physical pain and feelings of fatigue, and help improve the ability to cope with stress. Take some time each day to connect with someone, whether it is a phone call or in person. Know when to get help. Feeling stressed, unbalanced, and overwhelmed can be normal to an extent. However, if left unaddressed, an unbalanced or overwhelmed lifestyle can lead to more serious emotional problems such as depression and anxiety. If you have tried unsuccessfully to make changes but still find the demands of parenting, work, and other aspects of life overwhelming, seeking professional counseling or therapy may be helpful.
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