Balance is so hard for a lot of us to figure out. We either give way too much of ourselves, and end up burned out and exhausted, or we shield ourselves to the point that we can’t give at all. We work ourselves to the bone, burning the candle at both ends for way too long, or we can’t seem to get anything done.
Balance means a little something different to everyone, but ultimately, the full meaning of balance is feeling like you have just enough of everything in your life. Your work and your play are equal to each other for the most part. Your giving vs. your taking care of yourself is equal. This doesn’t have to be true of every single day, but the majority of your life and time should be as close to equal as possible.
For me, an example of balance is when I take time during the day to both sit at the computer and work, and to get up and move around. Or, if the weather permits, I try to spend some time outside to balance my time inside. I spend time listening to music or watching my favorite shows or videos, but I also take time to be in silence as well. It’s the yin and yang of life.
Why is keeping balance in our lives so difficult?
One big reason is that we genuinely want to help everyone we can so we’re constantly trying to do everything for everyone. Many of the people who struggle the most with keeping balance in their lives, are those that somehow give of themselves to help others. The caregivers, volunteers, healers, and people like them. They give everything they have to help the people around them and don’t take time to care for themselves. As a result, their own health and well-being suffers.
Another reason we tend to get out of balance in our lives is because we are too worried about what other people think. On top of trying to do everything for everyone, we are trying to BE everything to everyone. We want people to like us, to include us, and so we try to be whatever each person, or group of people, needs at that moment. We lose ourselves in being what other people want us to be. We’re worried that if we set boundaries, or say no, then they will no longer like us. We’re worried that if we don’t say yes to helping every cause, then we’ll be seen as uncaring, unhelpful, and lazy.
In worrying about this, we end up allowing others to dictate what we do and don’t do. We allow others to guilt us into doing things, when we know full well that we don’t have the time or the energy to participate. Maybe we feel like we owe that person something. Or maybe they are just really good at laying the guilt on thick.
If people need help, that’s one thing, but if they need help and don’t care about how it affects you, that’s different. Many people will make you feel guilty for taking time to care for yourself, or to do the things that you need to do, because they want you to take something off of their plate. They are trying to create balance in their life by placing their responsibilities onto you, thus creating imbalance in yours.
Having balance in our lives is important to our physical and mental health.
Physically, staying balanced keeps us from being stressed all the time. It helps us to stay out of that constant state of fight or flight. In doing so, it allows our bodies to be healthier in general.
But also, those emotions, feelings, and stresses are all stored within our tissues, somewhere in our bodies. If we can stay centered more often than not, we are better able to deal with those emotions and feelings up front, rather than shoving them down. Not shoving them down, means there are less of these emotions stored in our bodies causing dis-ease.
If we can stay in a more balanced, centered, calm place in our lives then mentally we aren’t as scattered. We can problem solve when we need to, but also, we can enjoy things more deeply because we can actually be present rather than worrying about everything going on around us.
How can we keep more balance in life?
1) Identify why you’re unbalanced to begin with.
Use the above examples as a guide and do some soul searching. Are you letting others guilt you into doing more than your share of the workload? Are you trying to do everything for people so that they will like you? Are you helping others and/or taking care of others and not giving yourself the same level of care?
2) Give yourself permission to do what is best for you, not selfishly, but in order to protect your health and mental well-being.
It sounds silly, to tell adults to give themselves permission, but often, we need to actually hear these words from ourselves. “I give myself permission to put myself first, to care for my needs along with those of others, and to do what I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy.” You can even write this on a post-it note and put it on your mirror, in your car, or in your wallet; wherever you will see it most often.
3) Learn to say no.
This is not always easy for people, so start small and work your way up if you need to. Something that has helped me to learn to say no is practicing beforehand. I would often set my boundaries, only to watch them crumble in the heat of the moment because I wasn’t used to hearing myself say the word no. It still felt wrong. My words would jumble, I would feel like I had to justify why I couldn’t do something, and then I would end up giving in and saying yes.
To alleviate this, practice saying no in the mirror, or while driving. And remember, you don’t have to have specific excuses to give, (ie. I can’t help that day because I have to work) just focus on politely saying, “no”.
One thing to remember with this, you are not responsible for other people’s lives or feelings. If they waited until the last minute to do something and they are expecting you to say yes, because you always do, then they are likely to get mad at least the first few times you say no. But, you aren’t the one who waited until the last minute, they are. You aren’t the one who failed to plan ahead, they are. If they didn’t do something because they were expecting you to, but hadn’t even asked yet, this is on them, not on you.
4) Spend time in nature.
Whether you take a walk at a nearby park, spend a few minutes sitting in a chair outside, or add a plant or two to your living area, take the time to reconnect with nature in some way.
If you have the ability, take your shoes off and walk barefoot in the grass. This may sound a little “hippy-dippy” (as my Father-in-Law likes to say), but it’s a proven fact that this can reduce stress, reenergize you, and help with the healing processes in your body. It’s called “Grounding” or “Earthing”. You can also do it by putting your hands into water, or by touching a natural physical object, such as a crystal or rock. This is one of the reasons that some people carry stones or crystals in their pockets, or keep them throughout their house. It serves as a connection with nature wherever you may be.
You can read more about this if you’re interested, in a book called “Earthing” by Clinton Ober, Stephen Sinatra M.D., and Martin Zucker
5) Learn more about your body.
Specifically, learn the warning signs of when your approaching burn out and overwhelm. Then, just as importantly, heed those warnings and stop. Give yourself a break.
Doing Qigong can help with this in general (as can Yoga, Tai Chi, and other practices). A practice that specifically helps you to become more aware of your body is the Center and Balance Meditation. It’s calming, but it will also give you the ability to see where you might be holding tension and emotions that you can let go of.
6) Figure out a way to let others know that you need a break.
Be up front and honest with them. Don’t hint around and hope they get the message because, they won’t. Letting others know that you need some downtime, helps them to know what to expect. But here’s the kicker, you have to stick to your guns. If you tell people that you’re going to take an hour each day for yourself, take an hour each day for yourself and don’t let people encroach on that hour in any way. People will push your boundaries on this one. They will try to text instead of calling, or try to “just pop in and ask a quick question”. Once you’ve set this time for yourself, don’t let anyone or anything interrupt it. It doesn’t have to be the same time each day, but do take at least a little time each day.
7) Do some sort of exercise and meditation daily.
Whether it be strenuous exercise, like lifting weights, or something gentler like Qigong, make it a point to move daily. This helps to take care of your physical body, release stress, and improve your overall health. Doing a meditation, whether sitting in stillness or doing a moving meditation, can help with these things as well. Also, when we balance and center ourselves regularly, it helps us to better deal with the craziness that often goes on around us. We are more able to stay in that place of calm and deal with whatever arises.
“Sometimes it’s not about balancing your life; it’s about balancing your mind despite the chaos” – Brendon Burchard
8) Within this exercise, practice some kind of actual, physical balance exercises.
Whether you’re standing on one foot while doing bicep curls or overhead presses, or your doing the Tree Pose in yoga, actually practicing physically balancing yourself is one way to send a signal to your brain. When you do poses like this not only is it good for your body overall, but it boosts your confidence, and tells your mind that you are aiming for balance in general. Adriene, from Yoga with Adriene, says a lot that what you do on the mat reflects out into your daily life. Even if you’re not great at these balancing acts at first, keep trying. (Doing balance practices like this also benefits us in the long term as well. It helps to strengthen those muscles that are often under used, and it helps to keep us from falling.)
9) Another way of reminding ourselves to stay balanced is to place physical expressions of balance in your life.
For instance, have you ever heard of a cairn? Cairns are used as markers along a path, as a symbol of “I was here”, but they also represent balance.
When we see reminders throughout our day, of what balance looks like in the physical world, it transfers into our minds as well.
You could even try making your own cairn: out of rocks, pieces of wood, or whatever natural elements you have lying around. (Bonus points for taking a walk in nature and collecting these items.)
10) Be diligent about practicing self-care.
Some people think that self-care requires a lot of time and money. They think that to really practice self-care they have to have a full-blown spa day. There’s nothing wrong with a good spa day, or having a massage….just remember that the little things we do each and every day for ourselves counts just as much too.
Take the time each morning to look at yourself in the mirror and say something nice to yourself. Every evening, make the time to wash your face and brush your teeth. Throughout your day, choose foods that will nourish your body rather than weighing it down. In the same respect, allow yourself to have treats now and then without judgement. Make a list of things that you’re grateful for each day. Take the time to stretch your muscles. Smile.
11) Find someone who will support you in doing all of this.
Not necessarily someone who will hold you accountable, but someone who will stay by you and support you when you’re having a hard time saying no to things. Someone who will gently remind you to take care of yourself, that you’re important too, and that you deserve to be taken care of and loved.
There are a lot of people who are in our world to get something from us. Find that person, or group of people, that truly support you and your overall well-being.
Keeping ourselves balanced in life isn’t always easy, especially when things are constantly changing and swirling around us. If we make a habit of practicing some of the above techniques, we’ll be better off when things do change and the swirling begins. Just like any other muscle in our body, or talent that we have, the more we use it, the stronger it gets.