by Jenn Krebs, N.D.
Last week a patient said to me, quite casually, “You haven’t written a newsletter in a while.” I immediately felt a slight sense of panic. Thoughts raced through my mind like, “I haven’t been doing my job,” “I’m slacking,” and “I really need to focus more on my work.”
I didn’t consciously take the summer off from writing, but when my teaching responsibilities got fewer and my kids got out of school, my priorities shifted … and my balancing act tipped in a different direction.
When we talk about priorities, it is important to emphasize that they are constantly shifting and that they constantly need to be reevaluated. What our priorities are and what is important to us drive many or most of the decisions we make in a day. We go to work because it is important that we provide for our family, that we contribute to our communities, and/or that we feel a sense of accomplishment and meaning. We nurture, love, and care for our families because they are our priority. Balancing work and family is just part of our job in life, and we experience more challenges and more curve balls on a daily basis. But we adapt, learn, and move forward.
The part of the act that I find most challenging personally and in working with students and patients is the act of prioritizing ourselves. When do we find the time? Where do we find the energy? What does that even mean? Prioritizing ourselves?
When I talk to a mom about her making different dietary choices, I see her mind racing. “How can I make that work with the grocery shopping, the cooking, the mealtimes?” When I discuss starting to exercise with a dad, I see the challenge that it poses to the already delicate pull between his work and his family. When I talk about creating some time for reflection or meditation with a student, I see panic in the face. “I am already overwhelmed with my commitments and responsibilities. Something has to give”
As I’m writing this newsletter, I’m very conscious of the fact that I don’t have the answer to this common problem. What I do have is a little bit of experience in prioritizing myself and a lot of wonderful examples in my patients, students and friends. The truth is … something does have to give. In the years that I have practiced, I have seen prioritizing ourselves result in many scenarios: a dirty house, a hungry husband, a less-than-satisfied boss, a little less sleep, changing jobs, heaps of laundry building up, an overgrown lawn, unanswered emails, turning in a B paper instead of an A paper, calling off a trip, and I could go on and on. In making ourselves a priority, we risk not making everybody happy, not being everything to everyone, and, maybe most importantly, not getting everything done. That can be hard to sit with for many of us.
Probably the main reason I didn’t write this summer is because I have been running. I did something else with the little bit of time I usually set aside for writing. I switched my priorities, and I moved health and fitness up on the list.
The beauty of the balancing act is that it is constantly changing and should constantly change. The challenge of the balancing act is giving ourselves permission to be our own priority. I know the analogy is overused, but the concept behind the adult putting on the airplane oxygen mask before his/her children is universal and crucial. We cannot give away what we don’t have. If our priorities include a healthy and happy family and meaningful work, we must be happy and healthy ourselves and find meaning in our journey.