The Balancing Act

Living in a fast paced city, it can be difficult to keep life in balance. I'm constantly struggling to keep "all of the balls in the air". Work projects, house work, relationships, proper nutrition, exercise, recreation, etc, are all vying for my time and I often find myself exhausted.

I asked my dear friend Aurianne Jacobs Dorsay, who happens to be a PhD psychologist, for advice on how women over 40 can better balance their lives. 

Here is what she had to say...

Some of the most pervasive complaints I hear from women in their 40s are:

1)      I’m tired all the time

2)      I don’t know how to live a balanced life

3)      I’m not sure that what I’m doing provides me with meaning or fulfillment

Let’s start with the most common of all complaints—feeling tired—which I believe relates directly to the others listed.  We are tired from a deficiency in either the quality or the quantity of sleep we’re experiencing each night.  Perhaps we’re working too many hours or are too stimulated at night to be able to adequately wind down.  Once the kids are asleep, the chores for the day get done, it’s finally “me” time and the intensity of that desire can feel more compelling than getting a good night’s rest. 

In a nutshell, practicing good sleep hygiene includes the following: going to bed when sleepy, getting up at the same time every morning, getting out of bed when unable to sleep, using the bed for sleep or sex only (i.e, no screen time), no caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime, no excessive exercise 3-4 hours before bedtime, and minimizing light, noise, and excessive temperature during sleep.  Some have also improved sleep with the use of earplugs, window blinds, an electric blanket or air conditioner.  

Alcohol use to facilitate sleep is ill-advised.  Alcohol is a depressant and although many people believe it is a sleep aid, it actually is not.  While alcohol may facilitate sleep onset, a rebound effect occurs a few hours later and it causes sleep disruption during the night.  Nicotine is also a stimulant and should be avoided before bedtime and during any night awakenings.  Also, while a light snack may assist in sleep onset, a heavy meal too close to bedtime interferes with sleep. 

In addition, when we feel drained from an aspect of our life that does not nurture us (e.g. a relationship, job, etc.), but instead drains us, the result can be a feeling of exhaustion or fatigue. 

Some steps to counteract complaints numbers two (not living a balanced life) and three (finding meaning and fulfillment):

1) The first step is to identify the aspects of your life that are sucking energy from you as opposed to those that are infusing you with energy.  Examples of draining aspects:  an ongoing conflict in a relationship, poor eating habits, deficiency of fun, excessive worry, feeling unhappy in your workplace or with your career choice.  Identify which aspects are within your control to change and which are not.  Sometimes something that feels like it can’t be changed can be changed and vice versa.  Often it can help to talk to someone and identify and name these aspects of your life.  This can be done with a friend, family member, or a therapist with whom you feel safe.

2) Once you identify what is draining your energy, you can begin the process of addressing the issue.  For example, evaluating your health habits by increasing the healthful foods in your diet and eliminating some of the foods that do not provide any nutritive value can make a big difference.  Another idea is to find a way to incorporate 15 or more minutes of exercise into your day by taking a walk during your lunch hour or at a more convenient time.  A little bit of energy invested here can go a long way!  If it’s a relationship—be it a personal one or one at work—that is draining your energy, consider reading a book on relationships that can assist with this, or talk to a psychotherapist to address the conflict.  Likewise, if you’re constantly managing excessive worry, attempt to understand what lies underneath the worry and address it.  If it feels like it’s beyond your scope to address, consider meeting with a mental health professional.

If it’s a deficiency of fun that is leaving you feeling drained, put something in your calendar that you can look forward to.  Just the thought of having something you’re excited about in the future can infuse you with energy and good feelings. 

If you’ve identified something larger, like realizing that you’re in the wrong relationship, work setting, or career, then begin to take steps to address this.  Continuing to deny the impact of these things will only keep you from feeling like the person you aspire to be.  While making these changes might not be easy, most report that they feel lighter, more fulfilled, and more energy in the long run.

Aurianne J. Dorsay, Ph.D., has a private practice in San Jose, California.  She has been providing psychotherapy for approximately 20 years and enjoys her work very much. She specializes in working with people who face challenges with transition, parenting issues, children, and she helps individuals get clear about how to live a life with more meaning and integrity.