So many of us are trying to “find balance.” Juggling work, relationships, health, and personal pursuits can leave us feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. Societal pressures make us believe we have to do everything, do it well, and do it now. Oh, and you must be Zen-like all the while (read: balanced). As I thought about writing this post, I kept asking myself: “Why this pursuit of balance?” What I’ve arrived at is that knowing how to get back into balance is probably more important than (always) being in balance. And, those of us preoccupied with balance probably recognize this pursuit as a way to make the “shoulds” of modern life more palatable or achievable.

Personally, I often feel the pressure to be balanced on a daily basis. I’m learning that instead of daily balance, I would prefer to measure my joy, sanity, and challenges over the course of a week instead. It’s more forgiving, it’s more geared toward the life I lead, and it sets me up for greater success in the balance equation. For some of you, monthly balance might be more where you are in your life, and that’s ok.

My proposal is to take an integrative approach: recognize that the stability any of us has in a given moment, day, or week is truIy fleeting, and using your own internal compass to identify when you’re feeling imbalanced is one of the strongest tools you have. In the sections below, you’ll find some practical tools to lean on when you recognize life is getting out of balance.

Check in with yourself

If you don’t already know them, get familiar with what your bodily and mental cues are when you are out of balance or overwhelmed. Irritability, food cravings, sleepiness, headaches, mindless activities (ahem, scrolling), trouble focusing, and poor sleep are just a few common ones. Using these “check ins” can be a useful way to recognize that something needs your attention. Sitting quietly for even 30 seconds can sometimes help you recognize if you’re feeling nauseated, your heart is beating hard, you’re scowling, you’re avoiding something, or you have a general sense of unease about something. These are signs your body is trying to communicate to you. Listen.

Prioritize Your Well-being

There’s no surprise here: adequate sleep, good nutrition, physical activity, moderated stress, and social connection are well established elements of a healthy human. Of course, even this list of things can be overwhelming. I try for the 80/20 rule in this arena: 80% of my week I try to eat well (mostly Mediterranean, for example), move my body, not be too stressed out, sleep 6-7 hours a night, and spend time with my friends and loved ones. Eighty percent of a 7-day week is about 5 days a week. So, for example: if I exercise (walk, yoga, cycle, lift weights, dance, etc.) 4-5 days a week, I’ll take it. Remember, taking care of yourself enables you to show up fully in other areas of your life.

Master Time Management

Efficient time management is key to maintaining equilibrium. Some folks like to block specific sets of time in their day to achieve goals. Others like to set hourly limits/minimums for themselves. Some others don’t have total autonomy in their schedule (for example, a teacher who must teach when school is open!), but most of us squander our time by not using goals, timers, or awareness. Start by creating a weekly schedule that allocates time for work, personal commitments, and relaxation. Break down large tasks into smaller, manageable chunks to prevent feeling overwhelmed. Eventually, once you find a rhythm that works: a) it might change, and you’ll have to start all over or b) you’ll intuitively be able to manage your time without the specific framework. Utilize tools like to-do lists (see below), calendar apps, or planners to stay organized. Be sure to include buffer time to account for unexpected events or moments of rest.

Make Lists

My husband laughs at me and my lists. I have lists for everything, but it helps get things out of my brain and in a place where I can see that (often) what I want to do and what I actually can do are not aligned. The lists I make often get sorted into sub-lists and then eventually thrown out because I realize they’re not important, or they get done and that provides an enormous sense of accomplishment. Making a list and breaking it down aids in the balance factor; you can see all the things you want to do. By prioritizing, you help keep focus on what’s important for now. The objectiveness of a list can be revealing, and let me tell you (and the data supports this) that clicking “done” or crossing it off your list really does give you a dopamine bump. There are lots of apps you can use to help make lists and share them with others (like parents sharing grocery lists or the soccer schedule) that allow both parties to edit/make notes. These can be game changing tools.

Learn to Say No

One of the most challenging aspects of finding balance is learning to say no. Evaluate your commitments and prioritize those that align with your goals and values. Politely decline tasks or projects that would stretch you too thin. By setting boundaries, you create space for activities that really matter to you, preventing burnout and fostering a healthier work-life balance. One way to think about who/what to say no to is:

  1. What are the things you must do? These must be a yes.
  2. What are the things you want to do? These can hopefully be a yes.
  3. What are the things others want you to do? These don’t have to be a yes.

Embrace Flexibility

Life is unpredictable, and rigidity can lead to frustration. Embrace flexibility by acknowledging that plans may change. Rather than resisting the unexpected, find ways to adapt and make the most of the situation. A flexible mindset reduces stress and allows you to navigate challenges with grace. It’s a little cliché, but remember: What doesn’t bend will break.

Practice Gratitude

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude by reflecting on the positive aspects of your life. Each week (or maybe each day), jot down a list of things you’re grateful for. I know families who like to make this a morning or before-bed ritual with their children, like picking one thing each day that they’re grateful for. The list can be silly or serious, but the act of expressing gratitude shifts focus away from what’s lacking and reminds you of the abundance around you. Gratitude enhances your overall well-being and promotes a balanced perspective.

Delegate and Collaborate

You don’t have to do it all alone. Delegate tasks at work and at home that others can handle effectively. Collaboration not only lightens your load but also fosters a sense of teamwork. Recognize that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and it allows you to focus on what matters. Sometimes when I look at my lists and start to feel like they’re actually making me feel imbalanced, I’ll ask my friends, husband, family, or coworkers to help with even just one or two items, and suddenly, I feel like I handle things again. You know how good it feels when someone asks for your help, when they really need it? Give someone else that good feeling by asking for support.

Disconnect Regularly

In our hyper-connected world, it’s crucial to disconnect regularly. Designate specific times each day to unplug from electronic devices and social media. Use this time to engage in activities that recharge you, like taking a leisurely walk or enjoying a technology-free hobby. Disconnecting enhances your mental well-being and prevents overwhelm.

Remember that balance is not about perfection, and what feels balanced one week may not feel balanced the next week. Keep practicing self check-ins, and then move toward what feels like the next best choice. You have the power to always strive for balance.

Resources to Consider

  • Atomic Habits (book and other resources) by James Clear 
  • Apps helpful for meditation and check ins: Waking Up, Calm, and Headspace
  • List/calendar/goal keeping: 
    • Old-fashioned pen + paper
    • Simple “Notes” app on your phone that is easily accessed (and can also be shared)
    • Sharing a Google Calendar or Document with your partner/family or coworkers
    • Creating your own little website using something like Notion
    • Cozi App – helpful for families with multiple jobs, schedules and dependents (one of my colleagues relies heavily on this and loves it)
  • Gratitude journal: simple piece of paper + pen, or a bound journal, or digital app options, many of which are free on Android or Apple – put it in a place that’s obvious!

This blog post was written by Liz Frost, PA-C, Clinical Director of Integrative Family Medicine of Asheville. You can read more about Liz  by reading her bio!