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Finding Balance in Work, Relationships, and Your Health

Balance allows us to navigate life with less stress, ensuring we have the mix of work, play, and rest that works best for us.

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By Meadowlark Monaghan

To us, balance isn't something we strive to “accomplish” once and for all – it’s an ever-changing place that comes and goes, and differs in meaning, throughout our lives. While the exact definition is different for everyone, balance generally means a sense of equilibrium between the different parts of our lives. It gives us the ability to navigate life with more confidence and less stress, ensuring that we have the mix of work, play, and rest that works best for us. If your life feels way off-balance and you’re not sure where to start, follow our guide below for finding balance at work or school, in your relationships, and with your health.

Homework

1. Work & School

Navigating balance between work or school and the rest of your life is about managing your energy, setting boundaries, and getting clear on what your priorities are. 

Manage Your Energy Not Your Time:

Time is out of our control. There are a finite amount of hours in the day and they seem to always slip away too quickly. Instead of time blocking or organizing your calendar hour per hour, try managing your energy instead (within whichever constraints you’re working with, whether that’s a strict work schedule or family responsibilities). This will allow you to view your tasks with more flexibility and a sense of control. Energy, unlike time, is replenishable (after a nourishing meal or a healthy sleep) and in our control (we can’t change how much time we have but we can make decisions that impact our energy levels). If you know that your brain is on fire in the mornings and burns out around the 3PM slump, get challenging tasks (or the ones you tend to procrastinate) out of your way first. Schedule your meetings after your morning workout if that gives you energy for the day. Balance mindful distractions, like a 20-minute reading break, and coping skills with productive tasks related to work or school. This means, use your energy (and a healthy amount of stress) to get yourself into a focused, flowing, productive state of mind. As Tony Schwartz puts it in The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, “it’s not how many hours you put in that determines how productive you are, it’s how much energy you’re able to invest during the hours you work.”

Set Boundaries To Avoid Burnout:

Work boundaries can be some of the easiest to slip away as we fear letting our colleagues or bosses down. Not constantly focusing on work can feel like a direct threat to our jobs/school security and, thus, our livelihoods. The same philosophy applies to school boundaries as well. However, setting healthy and fair boundaries helps you avoid burnout and prevents you from adopting the dangerous hustle culture mindset, giving you the energy (!!! see above) you need to be your best self at work or school. Some work and school boundaries you could implement are: not responding to texts/emails/calls past a certain time or on weekends in order to protect your downtime, having a clear schedule and understanding of when you’re available to avoid taking on an unrealistic amount of work, and avoiding toxic conversations and gossip that’s distracting. 

Get Clear On Your Priorities:

Prioritizing what needs your attention first will help you in your journey to managing your energy. Before you start, make sure your priorities are aligned with your school or work needs. Abundant and clear communication with your boss and coworkers allows you to all be on the same page about what needs to be done. That communication needs to happen with yourself as well. Should stress cleaning your living room to give yourself a clean environment to study in be the top priority or is working on submitting that essay that’s due tomorrow more important? The answer might differ each time, and should be the one that allows you to best manage your stress so you can work productively (more on that in our piece on The Stress Curve). Making lists of what you have to get done, in order of importance, can help you visualize and confirm your priorities.

2. Relationships

The irony of finding balance in relationships is that it all starts with independence. How many times does RuPaul have to say it? “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” This is true for all relationships – romantic, platonic, and familial. 

Separate You from Them:

One of the best things we can do for our relationships is to understand our place within them: knowing what is ours and what is the other person’s. This goes for our energy, our projections, our time, our expectations, and our happiness. It’s the balance between having empathy for our friends, for example, without taking on their problems or stress as our own. This also goes for having a grounded sense of happiness within yourself so that your happiness does not rely or depend upon someone outside yourself (frankly, that’s not fair to put on someone you love). It’s about finding a natural rhythm of giving and receiving equally. Knowing when a bad mood is ours or theirs, and having the independence to honor and recognize the difference. (If this audit made you realize you need more boundaries, check out our Friendship Boundaries Toolkit). 

Pick a Role:

You can’t be everything for everyone. Just like a roommate shouldn’t be expected to be your best friend, therapist, personal chef, and mentor all in one. Having an understanding of each relationship, your unique role within it, and the other party’s role as well, can help you to maintain the balance. This comes (you guessed it) with having more open communication between both parties!

Own Your Side:

A lot of conversation around balance in relationships centers around the idea that you should be receiving as much as you are giving. While this is true, so is taking accountability for your side of the equation (it is 50%). If you are giving more than you’re receiving, question why that might be: Are you doing so as a means to control or out of a place of insecurity in the relationship? Or are you giving less because you’re more comfortable being taken care of and haven’t confronted your codependency? Taking ownership of the traits and history you’re bringing to the relationship allows you to be a better friend/partner/coworker/sister/etc. 

3. Health:

Balancing our health is a touchy subject since it’s highly individualized. However, health isn’t just about your diet or workout routine. Finding balance with your health comes from tending to your environment, going back to the basics, and putting yourself first. 

Tend to Your External Environment:

Health goes beyond our fitness routine. Tending to our external environment is also an important way to feel more grounded internally. Cleaning and caring for your space reflects how you care for yourself. We know from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that our basic needs of safety and security are felt most prevalently in our home-life. Making your home (whether “home” means a college dorm, childhood house, or apartment with six strangers you met on Craigslist) a safe space for you to feel that you can truly unwind will have a profound impact on your mental health. One way to do this is to dedicate a private space for journaling, reflecting, and/or meditating. It can also be as simple as setting a standard of living to stick to, like a cleaning schedule or a room arrangement that “sparks joy.” 

Don’t Underestimate the Basics:

You’ve heard it your entire life for a reason – the basics are what we need. In fact, we can feel so disconnected from them that you’d be surprised what an impact it can have when we return to them. That means: eight hours of sleep, nourishing and regular meals, drinking plenty of water, getting outside at least once per day, logging off your devices, and regular movement that feels good for you. 

Prioritize Yourself:

When all else seems to be slipping away, the most important thing to hold onto is your health. When the balancing scale of life feels wobbly, that 30-minute workout or washing the dishes can be the easiest things to throw out the window since they only directly impact you. But these routines lay the foundation for the energy and attention you need to check off the other boxes like engaging in positive relationships, tackling work and school, and addressing your emotional needs.