February 19, 2015 | Posted in:balance, Blog posts, psychotherapy, reframe
There is no such thing as living life in a state of perfect balance. We are either going toward balance or away from it, much as a child does balancing her weight standing on a teeter-totter. When our lives tip away from balance we are less able to deal with stress and we become dissatisfied. When we are moving toward balance, we are better able to tolerate and deal with the ups and downs of life. The trick is to stay closer to balance than to tip wildly from one extreme to the other. Here is a list of the top ten things you can do to help you move toward a more balanced life.
Sleep is the pillar of mental health. When we don’t get enough, or if we get too much, we don’t function very well. Most experts say seven to eight hours is a healthy amount. Just as important as the quantity is the quality. If you wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day, you had a good sleep. If you wake up feeling tired you probably didn’t sleep well. Stress and poor sleep become a vicious cycle. As you reduce stress in your life you will probably start sleeping better. As you start sleeping better, the better able you’ll deal with stress.
Yeah, I know, all tips for a better life include exercise because it’s essential. You don’t have to work out in the gym four days a week or run a marathon. Simple things like going for a regular walk or using the stairs instead of the elevator incorporates exercise into your life. Most experts say that the best “medicine” for depression is a long walk. There are a lot of reasons why exercise is good for your mind and body but let’s not talk about it and just do it.
We are what we eat. We eat too much of the four food groups: sugar, fat, salt, and starch. They affect our bodies in drastic ways: rapidly inflating our blood sugar, our blood pressure; making us feel bloated; and clogging up our arteries. It takes a bit of time to plan meals and shop accordingly, and it’s well worth doing. In other words, putting a bit of thought into what we bite into makes a lot of difference. Meal planning allows you to look at your whole week so you can get some variety as well as nutritious, wholesome food. Having good food in your refrigerator will help you avoid running out for that slice of pizza.
I was raised with the value of “everything in moderation” and it’s served me well. At its root, it’s about knowing when you’ve had enough. We don’t have to drink until we pass out or eat until we feel nauseous to know that excess isn’t a good idea, yet millions do it every day. We live in an excessive society where there is a lot of everything so the temptation to keep piling it on (what ever it is), is always there. At the root, it’s all about knowing when you feel like you’ve had enough. We are driven by lifestyle demands, peer pressure, the demand for more (because more is better isn’t it?). At some point we have to decide for ourselves. A friend of mine recently purchased a kitchen safe, which is a clear plastic cube with a time lock. She puts a bag of cookies in it and when the timer allows her to open it, she takes out a few cookies, then locks it for another 24 hours. If you don’t have the will power to resist eating the whole bag at once, either don’t buy them or get a safe.
We live in a state of constant stimulation. It’s death by a thousand cuts. We over stimulate ourselves when we check our phone, watch TV, listen to the news, spend time in front of any screen, hear sirens on the street, or even listen to the radio. When stimulation creeps in it has an insidious effect on us, because we don’t pay attention to it. We may notice at some point in the day that we feel tense, but have no idea why. For the most part we are passive receivers of stimulation. Even the humming and clanking of our homes adds a tiny bit of stress to our overworked nervous system. Why not go on a stimulation diet? If you must listen to the news, do it only once a day. Turn your phone off when you get home and avoid other forms of stimulation. Read a book. For those who are extra sensitive, earplugs might be an option.
Control your Schedule
Talk to anyone who specializes in being “busy”, as in too busy to meet for coffee, or too busy to chat on the phone, and you will find someone who is a slave to their own busyness. Of course they have more control over their schedule than they let on and for reasons known only to them, they like it that way. How many times you have said, “I have to do …”, or “I should …”, without really considering why? We keep ourselves in a state of constant busyness at times, which unbalances us, makes us crazy and stresses us out unnecessarily. Take a break from the habit of busyness and take a 30,000 foot view. Ask yourself, do I really need to do this? What will happen if I don’t do it right now? Can someone else do it? You might surprise yourself how many things you can scratch off your to do list. Find blocks of time where you control your schedule. Do things that give you pleasure or allows you to unwind. Only you control your schedule.
Take a moment to check in with yourself several times a day. Notice what you are feeling. Are you feeling: overwhelmed; tired; excited; nervous; bored; hungry; or stressed? Most people are too busy, stressed, or unaware to check in with themselves. It’s only when you notice your state that you can do something about it. Typically once you’ve gone into overload it’s too late. For instance, if you are having a stressful day, you might take a break from your work to stretch and walk around a bit. If your plans include watching the latest action movie with friends tonight, you might want to give it a pass and have a quiet night at home. Noticing how you’re doing is half the battle and that starts with awareness and self control.
Too often we leave things unsaid, stay angry at people, or stew in the juices of frustration and resentment. It’s the sort of stuff that keeps us awake at night. To truly be able to sleep at night and to live without the past chasing you, consider cutting past hurts out of your life. If you have something to say to someone who hurt you, say it either in an email, in phone or in person. Life can be difficult and stressful enough without lugging this stuff around with us. Forgiveness can be tough for those of us who don’t come by it easily. The only way to really be at peace with yourself is to leave the past behind so you can face each day with a relatively fresh page.
Review Your Habits
We are a combination of good habits and bad ones. To know what they are, take an inventory. If you are falling out of balance, chances are good that some of your habits are dragging you into that territory. Reinforcing good habits is a good way to remain in balance. Conversely, erasing a bad habit will help you keep in balance. If you have habits you would like to change, tackle them one at a time. For instance, if you tend to be messy, make a point of cleaning up after yourself for a couple of weeks. Get into the habit of looking around and taking away an empty cup or washing it right away. After a few weeks you will transform a bad habit into a better one. Once you feel you have that one under control, tackle another one. Replacing old habits with new ones will make it easier to maintain balance in your life.
It’s easy to focus on negative things in our lives, because our brains are wired to prevent a recurrence of pain. That means we have to consciously reflect on the positive things in our lives instead of taking them for granted. Some of us are so wired for negativity that we have a difficult time thinking of anything to be grateful for. By focusing on positive things in our lives, we automatically spend less time being negative. Thus we are more balanced on the positive/negative scale. If we truly appreciate the good things in our lives, and yes, there are millions of them, we balance our thinking. Spending even a few minutes a day reflecting on gratitude actually changes the way we think. With a more positive outlook, we will be less prone to depression, more upbeat, and probably more fun to be around.
Toronto-based psychotherapist and coach, specializing in helping people with mood disorders, anxiety and depression
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