Running on Empty? 6 Steps Towards Finding Balance in Your Life

BY CHRISTINE FINNEGAN @ The Cypress Counseling Group

I don’t know where it first started for me. That belief that I must constantly be doing something for others in order to feel of value and worth to this world. Maybe it’s something that was subconsciously passed down to me through the generations of my family; or, maybe it was just an unspoken truth that I saw modeled from a very young age.

Whatever the origin, I operated off of this truth for a very long time. Even now, I catch myself falling back into this old pattern of behavior; like a worn in pair of sneakers- so easy, so effortless.

“Do more. Be more. Give more. Not enough.”

My thoughts run wild from the moment I wake to when I go to bed at night. Even then, instead of counting sheep, I find myself making to-do lists in my head. What else can I achieve? What more could I be doing? What expectations can I fulfill? How can I prove myself?

I share this very human and vulnerable side with you, because I want you to know that you are not alone in feeling this way.

Holding these expectations for yourself and the world is not all bad. If it were, many people would not operate this way. By being this way, you in fact become a very driven, successful, compassionate, and generous person.

You are the person others go to when in need.

You climb the career ladder fast, because you become known as the person that gets tasks done quickly and efficiently- always willing to go the extra mile for your coworkers.

You’re the type of mother that signs up for numerous volunteer tasks at your child’s school; they call you first because they know you care and will put your whole heart into the task.

At church, you are asked to participate in many ministry projects; because once again, you are quickly pegged among others as the type of person that won’t drop the ball on a task- but instead- go well above and beyond what the average person will do.

Your heart is a beautiful gift to the world and many people see that and are drawn to it.

The problem isn’t your ability to give so generously. It’s where this generosity is being fueled, that is the problem.

“Do more. Be more. Give more. Not enough.”

By choosing actions off of this type of distorted belief, we are almost guaranteed to run ourselves empty. We never set boundaries with how many things we pile onto our plate, because we constantly feel like we should be doing more; that setting limits to what we take on in some way equates to us failing or being selfish.

We stop listening to our needs.

This is what can lead you to feeling angry and resentful.

You continue to take on tasks, but internally you begin to despise those around you for the amount of work they keep putting on you.

You believe that it is others that have led you to feel so exhausted, numb, and disconnected- because somewhere along the way you stopped believing that you have a choice in how much you do for others.

You do have a choice.

You can still be a good, generous person, while also setting boundaries and limitations to the amount of energy you pour into those around you. The journey towards getting to this place of balance isn’t through isolation, or distancing yourself from the people that ask so much; It’s beginning to tap back inside yourself, and truly hearing your needs.

It’s through changing the truth you believe about what it means to sometimes put yourself first.

Your inner voice wants to be heard but it’s difficult to know what it is saying when you give so much power and importance to those around you.

Here are six steps you can start today, to start creating a healthy balance in your life:

1. Journal: I know, I know. This is such a therapist thing to say; but hear me out! When you take time to journal each day- even if it’s just for 15 minutes– you begin to see patterns emerge. My guess is that when you first start doing this, a lot of the content will be about others. Identifying this pattern is the first step; because then you can start to see how truly lost your own voice is. Give yourself permission to start writing about your own feelings and needs; only then will you start tapping back into your own voice.

2. Schedule Time for Yourself: You are excellent at juggling and managing time for others, so what would it look like if one of your responsibilities each week was an allotted time or task that is just for you. Maybe it’s a 30 minute walk in the morning; a hobby that you start for yourself; or, seeking an individual counselor you see once a week. The purpose is geared towards creating space where you are allowed to put aside others needs and concerns, and give yourself permission to attend to your own.

3. Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of being present inside of this moment without judging or analyzing the moment. Generally this can be achieved through guided meditations (check out Headspace), but if you don’t connect well with meditations, this can also be achieved through simple tasks. For example, while cooking food, allow your focus and attention to be on your senses while cooking; by focusing on your senses (touch, taste, sound, smell, and sight) you are able to give those racing thoughts a reprieve and just be present. Slowing down our racing thoughts and worries through mindfulness practice, gives our brain a chance to catch up and be more aware. Why do people find the beach to be such a mental escape? Because in essence, the beach is a very sensory experience. Sitting on the beach and listening to the waves is mindfulness in action!

4. Find an Accountability Partner: Remember when I mentioned how often I catch myself reverting back to old patterns and beliefs? Our brain becomes conditioned and accustomed to the way we think, perceive, and interact in the world. In order to break old habits and routines, it’s important to have some accountability. An accountability partner is a great way to have that added support and encouragement as you work towards breaking these patterns in your life. It’s important that this person is someone that doesn’t ask things from you, but encourages and supports you along your journey towards creating healthy balance. Maybe this a friend, a spouse, or a family member; but, if these are the very people you find yourself constantly doing things for, it may be more helpful to seek an unbiased person, like a therapist, that holds you accountable and keeps you motivated.

5. Create a Rule List for Yourself: Write down the amount of tasks and responsibilities you feel expected to keep each week; then write down an ideal list of what you feel is realistic in managing- while not running yourself ragged. By having a visual, concrete list of what this balance may look like, you can begin to reference this “Rule List” when taking on more tasks and responsibilities. If something comes up that is outside of the rules, give yourself permission to say no.

6. Surround Yourself with Positive Messages: Keep in mind that a lot of the need to do for others is coming from an internal place; a script that is stuck on repeat in your head. “Do more. Be more. Give more. Not enough.” What would you like to be telling yourself instead? Write these thoughts down on flashcards and place them all over your house, car, and place of work. By having these concrete reminders of different thoughts you can be sending yourself, you are able to slowly diminish and dis-empower those old thoughts and beliefs.

Christine Finnegan, M.A., LPC-MHSP (TEMP), NCC