Updated: Oct 30
I’ve talked to so many clients who struggle to find balance in the fall. It’s common to struggle with finding balance all year, but I’ve noticed that many people – women especially – seem to find this season particularly challenging. All of a sudden, life seems chaotic and overwhelming.
Why is fall so challenging?
During the summer, many people experience less time pressure. If you have kids, then their schedule is likely much less complicated during the summer than during the school year. In addition, work tends to be less busy for many people during the summer. Beyond that, most people also get more exercise and spend more time outdoors during the summer than at other times of the year, which tends to make us feel much better.
But then fall rolls around, and things suddenly start to feel more complicated. It’s very easy for many of us to fall into the usual pattern of taking care of everyone else’s needs before our own. Before you know it, you might find yourself skimping on sleep, going days without any exercise, and even eating in your car because you don’t feel like you have time for a proper meal.
I know that when my son was a kid, I used to struggle every fall. It was even harder during the years when I myself was also a student (in my post-college biological science program, and then in medical school). As soon as September rolled around, I’d suddenly have to figure out how to manage his school and afterschool activities, along with my own school schedule. To be honest, I often failed to take good care of myself during these years. I got completely out of balance.
How to find balance in the fall
It’s important to recognize how important it is to find balance in your life. Yes, there are people and things that you need to tend to. Giving energy and attention to your family and your job is important, and it can even be a pleasure.
At the same time, it’s crucial that you give energy and attention to yourself as well. If you neglect to take care of yourself, then you won’t have anything left to give to anyone else. Long-term, your physical and mental health depend on taking care of yourself. You’re just as important as the other people in your family are, and you deserve care and attention too.
As a doctor, I’ve seen what happens to people when they don’t make themselves a priority – their health suffers. You need to make sure that you’re getting enough exercise, sleep, and healthy food each day. If you’re not doing those things consistently, then it’s absolutely going to take a toll on your body.
It’s important to find the right balance between taking care of others and taking care of ourselves. I certainly know how hard this can be – but I also know how important it is, and how good it felt when I finally started to find balance in my own life.
If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a process that I recommend.
1. Explore your needs
The first step is to determine what’s really important to you. To do this, I recommend journaling. This is an extremely useful tool for gaining clarity on your emotions.
Here are a few journal prompts you can use to help you explore the concepts around balance. In general, I recommend just writing freely – write whatever comes to mind when you think about the question. Allow your brain to make associations and go wherever it needs to. Don’t try to produce “good” writing – this is just for you, to help you explore and understand your emotions.
What’s most important in my life?
What do I need to put energy into at this stage?
How am I currently taking care of myself?
Is there anything that I feel is currently taking too much of my time and energy?
Keep writing for as long as you need, in order to feel that you’ve fully explored these questions.
2. Decide on your priorities
Now that you’ve explored what’s really important in your life, you can start to create a plan for how to find time for the most important things. Consider your journal writing from earlier. What did you determine are the most important things for you to focus your time and energy on?
Make a list of a few key non-negotiable
things that you need to include in your day. To promote optimal well-being, try to include at least 20 minutes of exercise, 8 hours of sleep, and 15 minutes of self-care each day. (That 15 minutes is time for you to rest, and to do something you truly enjoy.) In addition, you can add anything else that feels important for you to focus on. For example, you might include some quality time with your partner or your child.
3. Set your intentions
Now, you have a concrete plan for focusing on what’s most important to you. Commit to prioritizing these activities, no matter what. You’ll fit in everything else around these – not the other way around.
You might want to create affirmations around these important activities, to help you remember your commitment to them. For example, for exercise, your affirmation might be “I give my body the physical activity it needs to stay strong and healthy.” Create an affirmation for each of your top priorities, and then put the list of these affirmations somewhere that you’ll see it every day (such as on your bathroom mirror). This will help you to stay motivated to stick with your plan.
4. Create extra time by letting go
Of course, we can’t ever get more time in a day. That means that, in order to add the important things into our day, we will need to find things to let go of.
You might be able to do this by getting rid of things that really aren’t important to you. For example, maybe you scroll social media for an hour each evening. You could choose to use this time to do other things that are more important to you, like exercising or hanging out with your partner. You might also find that you’re overcommitted, and that you need to let go of some of those commitments. For example, if you’re on multiple committees at your child’s school, you might need to back out of some of those in order to have more time.
You may also be able to create more time by outsourcing tasks. For myself, I invested in a meal service. I get healthy meals prepared for me, so I don’t have to spend my time deciding on what to make, grocery shopping, and cooking. This way, I still get to eat healthy food (which is a priority for me), but I also have more time to exercise and to do self-care activities. If you’re not ready to invest in a meal service, even just getting groceries delivered instead of going to the store might help. Other examples might be hiring a housecleaning service to clean for you once every week or two, or sharing carpools with other parents so that you spend less time driving your kids around.
In addition, you might be able to ask for more help from the people you live with. Many women take on all of the burdens of running the household, leaving themselves chronically stressed. Maybe your partner and your kids can take some chores off your plate. When you reach out and ask the people you love for help, they’re often happy to do what they can to support you.
Consider what you might be able to let go of in order to make time for what’s truly important to you. This could include anything that you’re currently spending your time on, but which didn’t make it onto your list of most important activities. Be honest about what truly nourishes you, and what’s really not important.
Find your balance this fall
Fall can be a challenging season for many people. I encourage you to take the time to consider how to bring your life into better balance. Your health and well-being are important, and you deserve to have the time to take care of yourself.