There's a lot of information out there about finding balance in all things. Ideally, to maintain balance, we have a
mix of work and play, of things we have to do and things we want to do, of things that drain us and things that feed us.
We also need to carve out enough time for sleep, relationships that sustain us, exercise, healthy meals, and other
life-affirming activities in our lives so we don't drown in only work and chores. But what does maintaining balance
Maintaining balance, literally
Sometimes maintaining balance can be messy. Even when we find overall balance in our lives, there are going to be times
when we are overloaded, times when we realize we need to pare down, and times when we can't pare down right away, but
can work toward greater balance in the near future. If you find yourself in that position, don't stress about it; that's
part of maintaining balance, too.
To illustrate this point, try balancing on one foot. Do you notice that you sometimes find yourself leaning in one direction
and, in order not to fall, have to right yourself by leaning in the opposite direction? If you just stayed perfectly still,
Maintaining balance isn't about staying perfectly still; it's about recognizing when you're getting out of balance, and
righting yourself. Keeping your balance isn't a one-time thing, but a consistent effort.
There are times when you need to adjust slightly to be back in balance, and other times when you need to adjust quite a
bit. You might notice signs that you are getting out of balance such as starting to feel exhausted or even sick, which
can be a sign that you need to listen to your body and your emotions.
Staying in balance looks different for everyone. Everyone has different needs for balance, different variables that work
within their lives, different levels of tolerance for imbalance, and different resources available.
How do you know your life is off-balance?
You'll want to pay attention to signs of burnout. Burnout results from things like chronic stress, perfectionism,
dissatisfaction with your job or relationships, and generally just not taking enough time away from your busy schedule.
Signs of burnout include:1
- Emotionally distancing yourself from people
- Exhaustion (physical or emotional)
- Feeling irritable, annoyed, angry, or sad
- Feeling numb
- Headaches or stomachaches
- Reduced performance
If you find that you're dreading more things in your life than you are looking forward to, you may be experiencing
burnout. While most of us experience burnout from time to time, you can view it as an opportunity to recalibrate and
reprioritize what makes you happy and more relaxed.
Strategies to maintain balance in life
The following are some strategies that can help you achieve the balance in life that you're looking for.
Take a break
Research shows that taking breaks from work and even from personal commitments helps refuel energy and promote well-being.
While it's beneficial to take mental health days and vacations, remember that taking even five minutes during your day to
listen to music, watch a funny video, or simply relax can help you get back in balance.2
Just say no
Think about all the things you need to do. Which ones do you want to do, and which ones do you have to do? Ideally, there
should be a mix of both in order to keep balance in all things.
First, see if there are any "have to" items you can cross off of your list. (Ask yourself: What things are the most
beneficial to my well-being?) Second, be sure that all of your "want to" items really bring you joy and feed you emotionally.
You might find that saying no to yourself and others is challenging, especially if you're not used to it. But saying no
for the sake of your well-being is a reflection of emotional intelligence (EQ). In fact, research shows that people with
high EQ levels have a higher quality of mental health and increased job performance.3
Setting boundaries is something that can help you in saying no and it's an important part of having relationships in
general. It's also a method of safeguarding your emotional and physical space so that you carry less stress around and
don't feel responsible for the feelings of others.4
If you want to create a boundary, start by telling someone how something they're doing makes you feel and ask for what
you need from them instead.
For instance, if a family member keeps asking you to do favors for them, you can say, "It makes me feel overwhelmed when
I take on your responsibilities in addition to my own. I need some space right now from doing things for you so I can focus on myself."
Ask for help
It can sometimes be easier for an outsider—someone who is not you—to see when you're getting out of balance and recognize
what you can do to get some balance back. Everything in your busy schedule may seem vital (and sometimes it is), but if
there's something that you can let go of safely, it's often a good friend, close relative, or spouse who can help you
If you don't have that kind of supportive person in your life, it may be worth finding help from a professional, such as a
therapist or life coach.
Professionals have an arsenal of resources to help you to manage your stress. Therapists and other mental health professionals can
also help you change negative thought patterns and learn adaptive coping strategies that can help reduce stress.5
There are some ongoing strategies that you can practice daily to keep yourself from losing balance, or to manage stress when
you're already out of balance. Some effective steps include:
- Delegating tasks6
- Letting go of perfectionism7
- Practicing mindfulness, deep breathing, and/or meditation8
These strategies can help you maintain internal emotional balance as well as balance in life.
Finding balance for all ages
The challenges you face that keep you from finding balance could be related to your life stage. The following are tips that
people of all ages can use to find balance:
Adults: As an adult, you might find yourself torn between working and spending time with family and friends. Make time for
both, but engage in plenty of self-care so you don't burn out. Remember that you need to prioritize your own health and
Older adults: Focus on the things that matter most to you. It's never "too late" to find new hobbies or relationships
that bring you joy. Take care of your mental and physical health as much as possible. Remember, it's OK to ask for help
when you need it.9
Take care of your physical health
Studies show that sleep, nutrition, and exercise play a huge role in our mental health and well-being. Remember to get
enough sleep, eat a well-balanced diet, and get physical exercise into your routine.10
Remember, your diet and exercise regimens should be attainable and realistic for you. Try not to restrict foods to punish
yourself, but rather, appreciate the foods that you eat and try to expand your diet to include more fruits and vegetables.
Likewise, your physical exercise doesn't need to be rigorous. Something as simple as walking around the block every day can
count as physical exercise
Do things you enjoy
Leisure time is a huge stress-reliever, and in general, it'll help make your life one that you enjoy living.11 Whether it's reading a
book, watching a funny movie, or getting coffee with a friend, you'll find that your efforts to do the things you like help you
maintain balance in all things.
Maintaining the balance of life takes time and practice. The key is to keep finding ways to improve your mental well-being and cope
with the stress that you face each day. Instead of waiting until you reach your breaking point, know when to take a break in order
to avoid symptoms of burnout.
1. Maslach C, Leiter MP. Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World Psychiatry.
2. American Psychological Association. Give me a break.
3. Hinton AO Jr, McReynolds MR, Martinez D, Shuler HD, Termini CM. The power of saying no. EMBO Rep. 2020;21(7):e50918.
4. National Alliance on Mental Health. Creating and maintaining healthy boundaries.
5. Chen JA, Gilmore AK, Wilson NL, et al. Enhancing stress management coping skills using induced affect and collaborative daily
assessment. Cogn Behav Pract. 2017;24(2):226-244. doi:10.1016/j.cbpra.2016.04.001
6. American Psychological Association. Stress management for leaders responding to a crisis.
7. Kelly JD 4th. Your best life: Perfectionism--The bane of happiness. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2015;473(10):3108-3111.
8. Janssen M, Heerkens Y, Kuijer W, van der Heijden B, Engels J. Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on employees' mental
health: A systematic review. PLoS One. 2018;13(1):e0191332. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0191332
9. Gillsjö C, Nyström M, Palmér L, Carlsson G, Dalheim-Englund AC, Eriksson I. Balance in life as a prerequisite for community-dwelling
older adults' sense of health and well-being after retirement: an interview-based study. Int J Qual Stud Health Well-being.
10. Briguglio M, Vitale JA, Galentino R, et al. Healthy eating, physical activity, and sleep hygiene (HEPAS) as the winning triad for
sustaining physical and mental health in patients at risk for or with neuropsychiatric disorders: Considerations for clinical practice.
Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2020;16:55-70. doi:10.2147/NDT.S229206
11. Qian XL, Yarnal CM, Almeida DM. Does leisure time moderate or mediate the effect of daily stress on positive affect? An examination
using eight-day diary data. J Leis Res. 2014;46(1):106-124. doi:10.1080/00222216.2014.11950315