Single working professional or a happy newlywed, a stay-at-home mother or a working parent: it doesn’t matter where you are in life and whether you enjoy the crazy buzz of modern world or prefer a calmer, slower lifestyle – we all equally long for some sort of balance.
We can argue what balance means. Simply defined as a “physical state of equilibrium”, balance in life can be perceived as having two opposite forces, good vs. bad, in equal parts to balance each other out. This sounds great in theory, but it does not necessarily create a sense of balance in real life. Moreover, having an equal part of “bad” can be quite detrimental on the body and mind, just like having a very healthy, clean lifestyle – despite the beauty of the concept – can sometimes have a very unhealthy effect on the mind due to its many restrictions.
If you ask me, balance is not about having good and bad in equal parts, it is about doing things in a way that makes you feel centred, or grounded in yogic terms. Because my centre will be very different from yours, there is no way I could tell you exactly how to find your balance. You have to figure out for yourself – create your own recipe. But I am here to offer help and some insight on Balanced Living. So bear with me and be prepared to do some soul searching.
What is Balanced Living?
I often use this in my hashtags and advocate for a balanced lifestyle, but what is it exactly – the balanced living? And how does one go about achieving it?
In simple terms, creating a balanced lifestyle is a conscious choice to counteract the stress and negativity in our day-to-day lives, as well as other harmful factors. For example, it is a conscious choice to practice a positive attitude that counteracts the stress and engaging in activities that bring the feeling of content and happiness. It is a conscious choice to lead a more active lifestyle to make up for the sedentary day job you may have. It is a conscious choice to make healthy, nutritious foods the staple of your diet but not forgetting to treat yourself every once in a while – because it nurtures the feeling of balance too.
It is important to note here that doing something just because it’s good for you will not necessarily bring the feeling of balance into your life. You could talk yourself into running every morning or eating broccoli with every meal, but if you do not enjoy the process it is unlikely to benefit you long term. On the contrary, it can create more unnecessary stress that your body will not thank you for.
In other words, before you start creating your balance you need to really tap into your mind and your body and look for clues what you may be lacking. It may also take a great deal of experimenting before you finally understand what you truly need to do to get your life into that blissful state of equilibrium. And you must be ready that things may change any moment and you may find that you’re off balance and your regular tools don’t work for you anymore. You may then need to tap into that mind of yours again and look for new ways.
But now, let’s make a start and look into some ways of bringing the sense of balance into your life (despite the chaotic time we live in). We will look at different areas of your life where you may be struggling and talk about creating a more balanced relationship.
How To Create Balance
It’s probably worth starting off by saying that the first step in creating balance is prioritising self-care. Giving 100% of your time to work and other people can feel very draining. If you have family, it is understandable that you have obligations, but they can be extremely draining too if you don’t take proper care of yourself. So let’s start with you!
BALANCING YOUR WELLBEING
Regardless of the areas of your life, in which you struggle with balance, you should always take care of your own wellbeing first. It’s kind of like the safety demonstration on the airplane when they tell you that in the event of the loss of cabin pressure or emergency landing, you have to attend to your own oxygen mask or lifejacket first before taking care of your child’s. For a mother the idea would sound bizarre – it is our natural instinct to save the child first. But in such cases you have to prioritise yourself because then you will be able to help the vulnerable without risking your own life. If you do risk it, you may not be able to help anyone at all.
The same holds true for almost anything in life. Taking care of children or other people can take its toll on you so quickly you won’t even have time to realise it. So it is essential that you take care of yourself, even if it feels selfish to you. You must realise that there is nothing selfish about saving yourself – it’s self-preservation, an act of survival to be able to do greater things.
To do this successfully you need to start with the basics of self-care and figure out along the way what your needs are and what gives you pleasure and sense of completeness. The four most important aspects of self-care are:
- Mental Health
All four of these aspects must be tended to in order for you to feel your absolute best, your balanced self.
Here are some ideas how to take care of these aspects:
Begin with the simple principles of good nutrition:
- Eat a varied, balanced diet
- Increase intake of vegetables and fruits
- Drink lots of water (strive for 2 litres/8 glasses of water each day)
- Halve your caffeine intake and replace with green tea or herbal tea
- Avoid caffeine after 2PM (12PM if you go to bed early)
- Find a meal plan that suits your body type
- Limit alcohol intake
- Get your blood work done to ensure you’re not deficient in any nutrients and take care of them if you are
- Do not restrict yourself – if you crave something, have it (in moderation, of course)
The easiest way to transition to a healthier diet (read ‘way of eating’) is to not focus on what you can’t have – because you can have anything as long as you don’t have to avoid for medical reasons. Instead, you should focus on prioritising good, nutrient-dense food. For example, by all means you can have your couple chocolate squares at lunch if you want them, but try eating a piece of fruit first (preferably before the meal) and then see if you still want that chocolate. You might be full by that time already!
Further, there are many diets (read ‘ways of eating’) that you can choose from to find the optimal diet for you. The balanced diets include:
Mediterranean diet focuses on unprocessed grains, healthy unprocessed fats (olives, nuts, seeds – and fish if you’re not veggie), as well as eggs, yogurts and fresh cheeses if you’re not vegan. It is one of the most pleasurable ways of eating, since it doesn’t keep you fat and carbs intake low, and these are the macronutrients that are most associated with the pleasure from food.
Scandinavian diet (New Nordic Diet) typically focuses on high fish intake with lots of seasonal vegetables and fruit, and wild produce you can forage for – mushrooms, berries, leafy greens, etc. DO keep in mind that foraging for these will depend on your geolocation and you do need to know what you’re doing. This diet is thought to have anti-inflammatory effect and be beneficial for heart and joints. There is also a vegan/vegetarian version of NND, which can offer additional benefits to the typical Scandinavian diet, such as even lower levels of blood lipids and blood pressure, as well as lower inflammation.
Clean Eating diet simply advocates for eating unprocessed whole foods, cooking your own meals and choosing organic over conventional farming. It does not exclude any foods or food groups as long as they haven’t been processed. You can have omnivore, vegetarian or vegan version of clean eating diet and it could be the least restrictive diet of all. Well, as long as there is no junk.
There are other diets that are considered healthy, such as Ketogenic diet (plant-based version is better) and Intermittent Fasting protocols, but these are more restrictive than any of the diets listed above and should be approached very carefully. A consultation with a doctor or a dietician must be warranted if you suffer from any medical conditions.
From the well-being perspective, however, the best way to eat is Intuitive Eating. Although not easy to master, intuitive eating is the most natural way to eat. It is based on a few easy principles, but the most important principle of all is listening to your body. It means eating when you are truly hungry and not when the clock is telling you, it means eating exactly as much as you need to feel satisfied (but remembering that you should eat slowly and stop when not the feeling of hunger is gone – not when you are uncomfortably full or your plate is clean). It also means going for more protein, more carbs or more fat when you feel like it. Intuitive eating is gentle in terms of restrictions: you can allow yourself a piece of cake if you want to. But it is not an invitation to eat all you can or eating a ton of sweets just because you feel like it.
One more important thing to remember is that you can’t be “punishing” yourself with dieting for having too many treats. This is not self-care, it is not an act of love for yourself or your body, even if you do it out of best intentions. Forgiving is the act of love, and so is acceptance.
We all know about the benefits of exercise. But moving your body is not only important for your physical health, it is also important for your mental health (there is a great deal of overlapping between these four aspects). Exercising can be the ultimate salvation when you are feeling stressed out, and yet it can go wrong in so many ways and place more unnecessary stress on your body and mind.
With exercise, there is no One Size Fits All. Our bodies are genetically unique to begin with, but our lifestyles, eating habits, even thinking patterns can change our needs and make the most acclaimed exercise plan quite bad for us. This is why it is extremely important to try things without prejudice and then decide whether it is something we can sustain long term.
How can you know if the exercise plan is good for you? It’s easy. Answer these questions:
- Does it make you feel better or worse?
- Does it bring you down emotionally or lift you up?
- When thinking about engaging in this exercise, do you feel positive and motivated or does it seem daunting?
It really is about how it makes you feel both physically and emotionally. If it’s not right for you, you will most likely feel exhausted and low. If it is good for you, it will most likely bring your spirits up and make you want to keep going. But you have to really listen to that voice deep down within yourself: sometimes our minds can trick us and the idea of doing something may seem more appealing than it actually is. Don’t fall into that trap.
As for the types of exercise you could be incorporating into your routine, the choice is endless. Not all exercises are made equal, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be running or gym: hiking is a physical activity that strengthens your body and cardiovascular system and yet it gives you so much more than simply moving your body. The same goes for dancing, or playing sports. Look at the list below and see if there is something that stands out to you, that you would really love to try:
- Mountain hiking/Hill walking
- Trail trekking
- Wall/Rock climbing
- Dancing: Ballroom, Latin, Tap Dancing (Irish, Flamenco), Ballet, Hip-hop, etc.
- Fitness classes: Zumba, Spinning, Iron Pump, HIIT, Tabata
- Weight lifting (strength training, body building, power lifting)
- Pole dancing (yes, that counts too!)
- Games: Badminton, Tennis, Soccer/Football, Volleyball, Basketball, Rugby, Golf, etc.
Research your area. What classes are available that you could join? What leisure centres or clubs are there? Ask your friends and relatives if they would like to start with you? Or maybe they are already doing something and could get you onboard. It is always easier to start in a company.
If you are interested in yoga, look at my Top-4 Yoga Resources post to help you get started right now.
No matter which activities you choose, make sure that you enjoy them, that they do not feel like a burden. And make a conscious choice to carry on with them daily or at least 3-4 times a week.
Adequate sleep is very important for health and wellbeing of any living creature, but especially for such a complex one as human. The lack of or poor quality sleep can unhinge even the most mentally stable person and significantly reduce their cognitive function and physical strength.
According to CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), 35% of adults do not get the recommended 7 hours of sleep. A more shocking data from National Center For Biotechnology Information suggests that over 100 thousand deaths can be attributed to medical errors due to sleep deprivation. They also tell us 30% of adult US population suffer from insomnia.
When it comes to sleep and stress, there is a two-way relationship: firstly, stress leads to poor sleep quality, but persistent lack of sleep or poor sleep inevitably leads to aggravation of stress and puts you in a vicious circle, which is really hard to break. So get your sleep back on track by practicing the following steps:
- Plan your sleep – adults need a minimum of 7 to 9 hours of night sleep
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time as much as possible
- Start winding down 2 to 3 hours before bed
- Avoid caffeine after 2PM (after 12PM if you go to bed early)
- Avoid alcohol, sugary and very dense foods before bed
- Avoid watching TV and using the phone and any devices before bed
- Air your room every evening before going to bed
- Avoid vigorous exercise late in the evening
- Get blackout curtains if streetlights and breaking dawn disturb your sleep
- Invest in a sleep mask and ear plugs, if needed
- Use sleep sounds and binaural beats to help you settle
- Invest in calming essential oils, such as Lavender, Geranium and Chamomile
- Ensure you are not too cold and not too warm in bed: choose PJs that are comfortable and suitable for the weather, choose an appropriate blanket too.
As for winding down before bed, there are a lot of activities that you could do before bed without overstimulating your nervous system, which often results in trouble falling asleep.
- Instead of electronic devices, read a book, draw, write in a journal or even knit/crochet if you can
- Plan for the next day: write a detailed To Do list to prevent yourself from worrying about the uncertainty
- Listen to gentle or chill music (check this playlist on Spotify)
- Diffuse calming essential oils or burn scented candles (though they aren’t as eco-friendly)
- Do gentle yoga or stretched
- Have a warm (not hot!) chamomile tea
- Take a warm bath with muscle relaxing soaks
One good tip that I have recently heard is to set up a reminder to go to bed one hour before your planned sleep time and start getting ready for bed with the reminder, because it often takes 30-60 minutes before you actually get to slip under the covers.
Finally, we get to the last but not least important aspect: mental health. However, this aspect is a little bit more difficult to track. We know when we don’t move enough or we don’t eat enough fruit or eat a lot of junk food. We know when we don’t have enough sleep or the sleep is broken. These signs are obvious. The signs of slipping mental resilience are less visible to the naked eye, and at first the changes are very subtle. When the problems become obvious, there is usually already enough damage and immediate actions are required to salvage the situation.
Luckily, you can practice various habits for better mental health to prevent these problems from manifesting in the first place. And here is how:
- Practice mindfulness: do things slowly, paying close attention to the process
- Stop multitasking: do one thing at a time and be mindful about it
- Meditate daily, if only for 5 minutes (check out my favourite apps)
- Schedule a couple of hours each week just for yourself, prioritise yourself and self-care
- Good skincare routine, bath time and other pleasurable things feed into your mental health, so practice them too
- Go for lone walks
- Declutter your space – clutter weighs your spirits down and negatively affects your mind
- Practice kindness and gratitude
- Practice forgiveness
- Write a journal, recording your thoughts, feelings, fears and dreams
- Practice positive affirmations
- Declutter your life: drop toxic people and activities that do not add value
- Accept what can’t be changed; change what you refuse to accept
- Spend time outside every day, weather permitting: connectedness with nature boosts mental health
- Stop comparing yourself to others
As you see, many of these activities overlap with the ones I have listed for the other three aspects, but this is only because these four aspects are really interconnected, and one cannot be balanced fully until the other one is. You can’t be balanced fully until four of them are.
The whole idea of bringing balance into your life is to find the right balance of all these aspects and then the bliss will come. You can’t neglect one of your basic needs and hope to feel ok. Your body and mind are one complex unity and should be viewed and nurtured as one. I hope these tips are enough to get you started.