I felt unbearably claustrophobic even though I was sitting alone in a dark room. My breathing was faster than normal with quick short breaths over and over, never taking in enough air. Exhaustion filled every part of my body and I knew that no amount of sleep would make it go away. My life had become a marathon through thick, sticky, black tar, and the harder I tried to push forward, the more entangled and stuck I became. As I laid on my bed choosing to give up the metaphorical race, I felt as though I was drowning in tar as my life came crashing down around me.
Yep, that was me… having a total breakdown.
Look, I had a total breakdown. Actually, let’s be honest, I had a lot of breakdowns during that time period. Why? For a lot of reasons, but one of the big causes was the fact that I couldn’t manage my life. I never had enough time in the day to complete everything that needed to be done. The more I tried to juggle everything on my to-do list, the more I dropped the ball. It wasn’t until I had a total breakdown and had to start from scratch putting my life back together piece by piece, that I learned how to truly succeed at finding actual balance in my life. Here are eight discoveries I made on my “finding balance journey” (aka breakdown) that no ever told me before I got to that point:
1. Understand that it is impossible to truly balance everything.
Say what? The secret is that it’s impossible to find perfect balance in life? Then, why am I even reading this?
Trust me, knowing that it’s impossible to be totally balanced in life helps alleviate the shame around never achieving balance. I now understand that I can’t have complete balance, so I don’t feel pressured to be perfect at it. It’s just simply something I can make more of an effort for in my everyday life.
2. Take balancing life day-by-day.
There is constantly so much to balance! Instead of trying to deal with it all at once, focus each day on only a couple of things. My day may consist of going to school and work, then later coming home to cook dinner, and throwing my clothes in the washer before I finally fall asleep. The key is the next day to try and include other aspects of life that needs attention. For example, my next day might look like getting some homework done before going to work. Then, on the way home realizing it’s been awhile since I’ve talked to my mom so taking a moment to call her before going to sleep.
The goal of balancing life day-by-day is not to accomplish everything in one day, but accomplish a couple of things every day. If I try to accomplish too much in a day I feel too exhausted to do anything else. On the other hand, if I sit at home all day and just watch Netflix I feel less satisfied. If I instead wash some dishes or go on a short walk before I spent the rest of the day on a Netflix binge, then I find I am more content with how the day went.
3. Do everything to only the best of your ability.
When I focused on giving half of myself to everything, I was less fulfilled and more stressed. Now when I do something, I take time to do it to the best of my ability. For instance, if I’m at work, I focus on only work. When I’m with friends, I concentrate on them and try not to worry about other things.
The biggest point about this secret is that everyone’s capacity is different. I know if I work hard I can get an A on a paper for school. But, I also realize that when I do my laundry the clothes will never get folded or hung up. Instead, I have a clean clothes basket and a dirty clothes basket and I am okay with that. That is the best I can do right now when it comes to laundry and that’s fine. Don’t mistake thinking that the best of your ability means that things should be completed a certain way.
4. Don’t feel pressured to live your life a specific way.
It is so easy to feel like a failure when everyone else seems to be succeeding at other things. A roommate might be on a certain diet that makes them feel great! Why aren’t you doing that? A friend is volunteering to build up their resume and find it super rewarding! How could you not be making time for that? The news says that a person should be exercising for X number of hours every day to be healthy. Don’t you want to be healthy too?
Listen to me… forget all of that! You live your life your way. Don’t be shamed into feeling like you’re not accomplished if you’re not doing X, Y, and Z because it’s only going to make you feel worse. I still struggle not comparing myself to others, so I get that it’s really hard to let go. But, I promise that if you live your life your way, you will be happier.
5. Make take time for yourself, especially when you need it most.
I use to think I couldn’t make time for myself because A – I felt selfish doing it, and B – I didn’t have the money or time to get a pedicure whenever I felt stressed. The reality about self-care is that it is a universal need that can be simple and free.
Making time for myself could be as easy as, getting stressed at work and taking a break to get a cold drink. When my homework becomes taxing, stepping away to take a shower or walk around the block. My spouse is driving me up a wall, so I take a moment listening to my favorite song.
The moral of the story is, when you need a moment take it! It’s not going to make anything better by fighting through it. Do something simple that you enjoy for less than five minutes or until you feel a little better.
Also, every couple of days, plan on doing something that you enjoy that is more time consuming. These things could be painting nails, going for a run, taking a bath, coloring in a coloring book, watching a movie, or visiting with a friend.
6. Plan ahead while being flexible.
Whether you are the kind of person who has a very detailed planner or, like me, find making a to-do list super stressful, organizing various aspects of life is valuable. For me, planning ahead is simply writing down my assignments and what day I plan to work on them. That’s it. No fancy calendar or planner, because those don’t work for me. But, you might benefit from a more thorough schedule and that is fine. Do what works for you!
The most important part is to be flexible. If you planned on getting started on paper one day but something came up, or you simply didn’t feel up to it, that’s okay! Just rearrange your schedule. Remember the goal of balancing life is to help you feel less stressed and more satisfied. If the way you are organizing things become more of a stressor, then don’t do it that way! Otherwise, it defeats the whole purpose of using planning to help balance life.
7. If you are having a hard time seek professional help. It’s okay!
No one thinks they are struggling enough to need to talk to a professional. Let’s just get the truth out in the open; everyone needs help because everyone is struggling! If this semester has been difficult, work is taxing, family is demanding, the future is overwhelming, or anything else, then talk to a professional. Don’t think you have to be struggling with a certain issue or a certain amount to benefit from talking to someone specialized.
When I say professional, that could mean a lot of different things. A therapist is the first thing that people think of when I say that. Look, therapists are great! I see one once a week, but there are a lot of other options that people don’t tend to think about. There are academic counselors, health coaches, career advisors, success coaching, group therapy sessions, religious leaders, and advisors. Utah Valley University even offers a lot of these services to students for FREE! Follow the links for more information:
- Success coaching: https://www.uvu.edu/wsc/services/success-coaching.html
- Group therapy: https://www.uvu.edu/studenthealth/psych/
- Career advisors: https://www.uvu.edu/cdc/about/#counselor
- Advisors for specific majors: https://uvaps.uvu.edu/prod/SZINFLST.P_DispAdvrList
- Academic counselors: https://www.uvu.edu/acc/staff/
- UVU Reflection Center: https://www.uvu.edu/studentlife/reflectioncenter/index.html
- I AM FIRST: https://www.uvu.edu/iamfirst/
- *Individual Therapy: https://www.uvu.edu/studenthealth/psych/
- *Health Coaches: http://www.uvu.edu/wellness/gethealthy/health-coaching.php
- *Couples Therapy: https://www.uvu.edu/studenthealth/psych/index.html
*There is a fee to participate, but financial waivers are available if needed.
8. Let go of the shame for saying no!
I was always taught to put others first. As good as that statement is, it made my life more difficult. What I do instead is make time for others while also making time for myself. If I don’t take time for me, I end up burning myself out. The best way to achieve a balance between others and myself is by saying no.
Look, I’m a total people pleaser and letting someone down is super difficult for me. But, the more I’ve practiced saying no, the easier it becomes. I had to actually give myself permission to put my needs first. Now if friends what to hang but I have homework, I’ve gotten used to saying no without feeling bad about it.
At the same time, I need to focus on what my needs truly are. For instance, one night I might need something fun. In that case, I would say no to my homework and hang out with my friends. That’s okay too! There is no need to feel guilty for taking time for you.
Those are the eight things I learned after having a total breakdown from balancing my life incorrectly. Now, I do find that I am less stressed and life is more enjoyable. Does that mean that my life is perfect? No way! Does that mean that I’m never stressed? Um… no. Does that mean that I am good at balancing my life? Nope! I’m still working at it and trying to improve. It’s a constant learning process, but the biggest thing for me to remember is to be patient with myself. With that, I wish you well on your own journey to a more balanced life.
*Originally posted HERE on the UVU Women’s Success Center’s Blog Site.