Over the course of a day, you might help a neighbor, lead a meeting at the office, counsel a friend over lunch, drive your daughter to dance class, and do and say a number of other things that illustrate the many roles you play in life. After all, most of us hold several titles—boss, parent, child and so on—each of which requires us to give of ourselves in different ways. While you may enjoy many of the moments that result, juggling it all “perfectly” can be demanding—and, truth be told, unrealistic.
“Trying to give equal attention to all of your roles in order to please everyone is nearly impossible,” says Sharon Alpert, L.I.C.S.W., a life management therapist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. “I don’t think all of your roles can ever really be balanced. Instead, your goal should be recognizing what you’re capable of and standing by that,” she says. And getting to that place is worthwhile. Succumbing to such pressure can raise your stress levels and blood pressure, as well as leave you feeling unsatisfied because you don’t think you’re doing anything well.
Instead of going through the motions to get everything done, really think about how you’re able to fully participate in your roles. For example, accept that making time for your friend means that errands can wait for another day, just as driving your daughter to her class may mean needing to grab takeout for dinner—and that’s OK. “Accepting what you can handle, even if that means giving some roles less attention at times, helps you gain control and move through the day with confidence,” says Alpert. “Then, when life takes an unexpected turn, you won’t be as frazzled.”
There may still be days when you feel torn and unsure if you’re doing enough. In those moments, take a deep breath and remind yourself, I am one person. This is one day. I will try my best. And as you continue on, keep these four things in mind:
Speak up. Being open with others about what you can and cannot handle takes some of the pressure off. “If your mother isn’t doing well and she needs most of your attention in the coming weeks, explain that,” says Alpert. “Saying it out loud cannot only lower others’ expectations of you but those you have of yourself, so you can appropriately direct your focus.” Being honest and vocal about your abilities may also help you get the support you need, whether that means family members offering to help or friends giving you some space.
Be present. Because we do so much in many of our roles, we often miss the substance of what we’re doing. If you enjoy the time you have in the car with your kids, for example, make the most of it. Talk to them, listen to them, sing with them. “If you’re focused on where else you need to be, you’re not really savoring that moment you love about being a mom,” says Alpert. “Be fully present in that role and you will reap the benefits.”
Respect your limits. When you’re doing your best, know that that is good enough, even if you sense that others may expect more from you. In some cases, people might feel disappointed that you’re unable to give them the attention you normally do. “When we accept our limitations, other people’s expectations aren’t as powerful,” says Alpert.
Make time for you. Don’t forget about the most important role you play in life: being you. “We really focus too much on all the things we need to be and do for others, but it’s important to recognize what we need and put our energy there too,” says Alpert. Cook yourself your favorite meal, try the pottery class you’ve been curious about, sign up for that 5K you wanted to do. “Making time for you is essential. When we replenish ourselves we bring more to everything else we do.”