During numerous mental health speaking gigs around the country, one of the key questions I get asked by audience members is, “With so much going on, and so many things you do, how do you unwind and find balance?”
We’ll get to my response in a moment, but firstly – what even is balance? It’s a concept that some say is dying in this day and age, due to the growing pressures and expectations (personally and professionally), constant stimulation and increasing pace of the world around us. All of these factors are real, and ever so present, but it’s how
we respond and deal with them that can make all the difference.
“Sleep’s for when you’re dead right?!” I used to swear by this phrase for years, pushing myself to achieve impossible deadlines, working late nights where a 3am bedtime was not uncommon. Though more recently, I’ve established just how important balance is in my life. It all comes down to the brutal fact that burnout is REAL. And it’s a bitch!
It got to the point last year, where all those crazy late nights, last minute deadlines, and the stress of managing two full-time jobs, had all hit the overload button. No matter how many times my body tried to shout “help, I need a break!” I kept pushing. The result – a super stressed, shell of a human. The interesting part however; it doesn’t necessarily have to be a trade off. I’ve learnt to listen to myself a lot more, and have come to appreciate the importance of balance – and as a result, I actually get more done!
Balance as an excuse or a tool?
It’s important to understand and evaluate the meaning of balance in your life. With every good intention, sometimes people use balance as an avoidance strategy, to escape feeling overwhelmed. In other instances, it can be used as a strategic tool to provide rest, inspiration and rejuvenation. Jack Delosa is a guru at this concept, so if you haven’t treated yourself to his wisdom, do yourself a favour.
Now back to my response to that repeated question. Here’s some strategies that I have used in my own life, that I hope could help you. Thought I’d only share 5 points this week as I don’t want to bore you all to tears…
- Switching off – Easier said than done, but when it’s time to close the laptop or
switch off your brain, you’ve actually got to cut the power! If this isn’t done, the divide gets messy and makes it hard to enjoy time with the people you care about. Being comfortable with the fact that there will always be more to do, can sometimes help facilitate the disconnection. This is by no means an excuse, rather a justification for not staying at the office until 11pm working on a task that realistically takes 3 weeks to complete.
2. Find something you love.. And do lots of it! – As an Occupational Therapist, we often speak about the concept of leisure as an important part of one’s life and identity, and boy-oh-boy is that true. Surfing is one thing that keeps me sane regardless of what’s going on or how hectic things are. It gives me the chance to get out there in the ocean, escaping it all. It’s almost like the shoreline acts as a symbolic ‘bullshit barrier’. As soon as I step into the water, the power of saltwater therapy kicks in, and it’s as if none of my worries are allowed through the shore-break. Whether it’s surfing or sewing, find that activity that gets you going, and make time for it. Treat this time as an appointment or meeting so you don’t let other commitments take over.
3. Find more ingredients to your recipe – Meditation is also an ingredient of my recipe which works a treat. The term meditation often scares people, but in essence it’s a fancy way of saying mindfulness. There’s some great apps out there which can really help you unwind; Headspace and Buddhify are two which I use regularly. Sometimes I used to get in the rut of telling myself “I don’t have time to meditate”, but what I have come to understand, and what I often tell people is a little gold nugget of wisdom I once heard (source escapes me) – “You should meditate 20 minutes a day, and if you don’t have time for that, you need 40 minutes.”
4. Drawing the line – Being realistic is key when it comes to balance. If you’re overloaded with tasks, prioritise them. Write a list, but don’t make it excessive. It’s important to identify the things that are essential, and the things that can wait. When it comes to the end of the day and you haven’t reached your goal, don’t beat yourself up about it, just determine how you will do things different and strive towards that. If you don’t find a way to draw that line, it can heavily impact your personal life. I’ve been guilty of this recently, pushing away one of the most important people in my life, only to realise when it was all too late.
5. The importance of personal reflection – I’m thankful for the lessons drilled into me years ago at uni about ‘reflective practice’. As a health professional it’s essential to reflect back on your clinical reasoning, to enable continuous learning. Now it’s a little more complicated in this case with models and theories, however regardless of whether it’s in your professional or personal life, reflection can make the world of difference. In more recent times far from the hospital setting, I’ve found myself amidst a written reflection over 6,000 words, or a 15 minute voice recording following huge frustration. I would encourage you to use self reflection as often as possible, as when you retrospectively reflect on your thoughts with fresh eyes, the comparison between the ‘then and now’ will provide so much more clarity.
That’s it for now folks. Tune in next week for part 2. Until then, be kind to yourself, and cut the power!