It suddenly occurred to me the other day that I haven’t taken a ‘proper’ vacation since the winter of 2014 And by proper, I mean those types of trips where shoes are optional and you are faced with one difficult decision each day; Pool or Beach?
Many months have passed since I’ve given my mind nothing to think about and it is starting to show. Whilst there have been quick trips here and there, a short sojourn to Europe, these weren’t particularly relaxing affairs and I found myself returning to New York feeling even more harried than before.
“I’ll get to it” I keep telling myself. But the clock keeps ticking. Spring turns into summer and before I know it the temperatures starts to drop whilst my stress levels veer off in the opposite direction. Plans for an autumnal trip turn into plans for a winter trip yet these plans never become solidified. Something always seems to crop up. Usually in the form of that four letter word. Work.
Yet what I failed to grasp is that life is a careful balancing act. In an ideal world, there should be an equal amount of work and play. Yet if I continued to place all my time and energy solely on the work side of the scales, they would continue to bear all of its weight until the play side becomes stagnant. Immovable.
This would explain why my anxiety levels at work have started to surge and begun to sneakily infiltrate my personal time so that when I find myself having an anxiety attack on a quiet Sunday morning for no apparent reason, I realize my body is giving me a message. Just. Stop. Please.
Being a big proponent of self-care and the importance of looking after oneself this was a bitter pill to swallow. Turns out that even hamsters get sick of running on their wheels after a certain amount of time and just need a little rodent recovery time.
Much like the hamsters, it was becoming clear that I needed to get off the wheel of my own making and crawl into a pile of sawdust once in a while.
I needed to formulate a plan to get my life back in balance that didn't involve quitting my job and booking a one-way trip to paradise.
If all this sounds way too familiar, the following three steps helped me to begin to put life back into perspective and try to reinstate some semblance of balance back in my life.
1. Take a Chill Pill
Although this may feel counterproductive, establishing control over your time by slowing down and relaxing is the first crucial step in bringing back inner balance. The simple act of taking a deep breath and calming an overwrought mind brings us away from that reactionary place where everything seems to be spiraling out of control. Instead, it brings us closer to a more mindful state which is far more effective when trying to problem solve a stressful situation.
2. Make a List
When life starts to feel like a never-ending soap opera, sometimes it really helps to sit and list out all of the immediate stressors in order of importance. The very act of laying out each ‘problem’ and seeing them organized on paper seems to lessen their power, unlike when these difficulties are flinging themselves around our anxiety addled brains like a pinball machine. Once all of the things that are causing you to stress out are laid in logical order, then they can be tackled one at a time.
3. Make Time For Fun
In a world which seems to be built on “shoulds”, there seems to be little time left for “coulds”. Whether it's “I could sleep an extra hour on the weekends but I should be working” or “I could plan a weekend away but I should get to the bottom of my to-do list first”, it all comes back to the same place. Not allowing ourselves the time we need to do what we really want to be doing. Change this pattern. Instead, schedule time for those things that you love to do and make it a non-negotiable.
Ultimately, maintaining a balance in our lives is a matter of personal responsibility and something that we alone can address. Friends and family may be there to assist but only we know what balance is right for us.
We can choose to work ourselves ragged and accrue every material thing we think we need, but if we fail to choose to carve out time for those things that make us truly happy, in the end, nothing will matter. As the well-known quote goes “Never get so busy living that you forget to make a life”.
Victoria Cox currently resides in NYC. She has written for Amanda de Cadenet's "The Conversation", Tiny Buddha, Elephant Journal, LifeHack, The Lady Project, Dumb Little Man and The Numinous. You can connect with her on her website (www.thevictoriacox.com) or on Instagram (@vcox23).