Balance. Ultimately, it’s what we’re all aiming for, right? Whether it’s balancing our work life and home life, balancing our gut flora, our circadian rhythm, or our dreams with our reality. There are so many things that knock us off balance, though: extra work projects, late nights and takeaway food with friends, health and family issues. This post is for you if:
- you’re always striving for that balance, even if at times it seems impossible.
- you know ‘if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no’ is a luxury not everyone can afford.
- you work crazy hours because you are the primary income provider for a whole family, and you feel guilty while doing it because you really just want to raise your kid(s).
- you struggle with stress and/or anxiety.
But first, I’ve got to say two things. 1) You’re a smart human being – I know you’ll do your own research and speak to the relevant people. But just FYI – I am not a qualified healthcare practitioner. This post doesn’t contain advice, but ideas for information and inspiration ONLY. 2) I haven’t got it all figured out. Some days I lose my shit. Some days I lose the plot. But I’m moving forward all the time. I celebrate how far I’ve come on this journey, as you should do on yours.
With that said, let’s get to it! Let me tell you some of the things that help me find balance while working 60+ hours a week, maintaining a house, looking after three kids and having anxiety.
Wake up right
I know you’ve heard the buzz about the ‘morning routine’ and there’s a reason for that: it works. It doesn’t matter what your routine is. Mine is currently: get up at 6 and get dressed, have lemon water and stare at the sky for a while, do a yoga class, write in my journal while I drink tea, get the kids ready for school, go for a run, come back and do a quick stretch class, eat breakfast and start work. But it’s flexible (more on that later…) Your morning routine might look completely different, include some or none of the things above, start earlier or later, take 20 minutes or three hours. The point is to craft a routine that starts YOUR day off right, that gets YOUR head in the right space and sets YOU up to do what you gotta do.
Get some exercise
You know this already, but do you know why? It’s what deactivates your sympathetic nervous system (a.k.a. your fight-of-flight response). This amazing function is activated when we feel in danger which, for most of human existence, would result in us needing to run, climb, jump, fight, etc. The rush of cortisol that fight-or-fight instigates enables us to do these things faster, longer, stronger – but the physical action of doing them actually leads to the sympathetic nervous system deactivating when the danger has passed. So when we’re getting stressed and not moving (in traffic, in a doctor’s waiting room, at our desks, on the sofa of an evening with our phones in our hands) our fight-or-flight response doesn’t have any help in calming down.
But we CAN help it by moving our bodies.
I’m fortunate in that I work from home, and so I’ve been able to add in bursts of exercise throughout my day – yoga, running, HIIT – and I find this really helps me, rather than one big session at the beginning or end of the working day. Experiment with what you can work into your life, and what works for you. If you think you’re too busy, start by stealing 20 minutes for a yoga session (I recommend Boho Beautiful on YouTube for a free option). You’ll probably find that you can work up from there.
You feel what you eat
Look – diet is a big one, and I’m not about to get into it now. The long and short is that our bodies can handle A LOT of crap, but if we feed them good stuff, we feel better. It’s hard – and I get that. I have one of those freaky metabolisms that requires me to eat 2500+ calories a day to maintain my pathetic almost-50 kg weight, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with food CHOICES. I can eat anything I like and I won’t get fat, but if I eat carbs and sugar all day, you can bet I’ll feel sluggish and a little spacey. If I eat a load of bread, I’ll bloat. If I drink too much caffeine right before my period, I’ll have cramps from hell. You know your body, and never forget that your body and your mind are closely linked. Your diet can affect the way you feel, not just physically, but emotionally too.
Exercise, fresh (relatively speaking, depending on where you live) air and vitamin D are just some of the feel-good things waiting for you outside. But there is the beautiful experience of being in nature too. You are a creature of the Earth. You weren’t meant to be enclosed in four walls, not in the daytime anyway. You need natural light, wide open spaces and outside air. You need to see sky and trees and flowers. You need to hear birdsong (or pigeons cooing and magpies cawing – whatever there is in your neighbourhood). Read that again – not you want, you like, you prefer – you NEED. Disconnection from the Earth is disconnection from our true selves. And how can you ever be balanced if you are disconnected from yourself and the world you belong to?
Respect your sleep
I used to HATE seeing this piece of advice. I’ve never been ‘good’ at sleeping. I’ve never, in my life, as a baby, kid, teenager or adult, got my 8 hours. Only in recent years have I been able to fall asleep when I get into bed, instead of lying there for hours staring at the ceiling. But of course, at stressful times, I wake up a few hours later and do some ceiling-staring then. Oh, and I can’t do lie-ins, however badly I want to. What is the cause of this? Well, one thing is my mad brain, but let’s put that aside for a second. The other MAJOR factor in why so many of up have messed-up sleep is that our circadian rhythms are out of whack. There are – in super-simplistic terms – two hormones that govern our wake-sleep cycles: cortisol for action in the daytime and melatonin for relaxing at night. We all know about cortisol, right? But what about melatonin? (It’s telling that, as I’m writing this, my spell check doesn’t recognise the word!) Our bodies naturally produce melatonin towards the end of the day, as it begins to get dark. (They are also supposed to produce more in the winter months when it’s darker for longer.) The problem with modern life is that electric lights, the TV and computer/tablet/phone screens are all sources of artificial light, and that messes with melatonin production. Here are some ideas:
- keep the lights down low in the evening.
- don’t watch TV or scroll around on your phone for an hour before you go to bed. (It’s really not that hard to kick the habit – trust me!)
- have an evening routine. Try some (very gentle) yoga, listening to a meditation, reading in bed with a nightlight, etc. Different things work for different people. For example, reading fiction (which I love) tends to keep me awake much more than non-fiction, even if I’m really interested in the subject.
- look into melatonin as a supplement. I’m actually going through a super-stressful time right now, and a few weeks back I could feel all my progress unravelling. So I’ve recently started taking this orally half an hour before bed. It may be psychosomatic, but I have stopped waking in the night. I don’t plan to take melatonin long-term, however. I see this supplement as training wheels for my body, to get it back into a place where it can balance itself. If you plan to do this DO YOUR RESEARCH. This is a relatively safe supplement, but there are rules, and there are several medications with possible interactions.
Live in your cycle
Remember you are a cyclical being. Even if you’re not menstruating right now, your nature is still cyclical (you might find you flow with the Moon’s phases in place of a menstrual cycle.) This affects EVERYTHING. Not only how you perceive, react to and deal with stressors in your life – both physically and emotionally – but everything we’ve discussed above too. Yes, have a morning routine. But recognise that on Day 10 you might leap out of bed ready to take on the world, and on Day 2 your limbs might feel like lead. Yes, exercise. But don’t expect to hammer out a 5k run on Day 27 of your cycle in the same way as on Day 13. Eat right, always. But know what you body needs. A cold smoothie, however healthy, on a Day 3 morning in the middle of winter might not be the ticket. Realise that you need to rest more during pre-menstruation and menstruation, and possibly sleep more too.
Finally, I just want to say that life is reeeeaaaaally stressful right now. Even if you have no direct stressors in your life (yeah, right!), we’ve got it coming at us from all angles. There’s the whole question of the ‘role’ of the 21st-century working mum – all those balls you’ve got in the air at once. Then we add to it the healthy dose of guilt social media deals us for, well … just about anything. Stir in a little climate change, a dash of global pandemic, liberally sprinkle in general health concerns of the modern lifestyle (chemicals in the air and in your shampoo) – and don’t forget the secret ingredient of a war that could turn nuclear. Are you freaking out yet??
It’s fine to get mad, sad, miserable, frustrated, angry – but don’t stay there. Life is beautiful too. That’s the balance. You can feel all that negativity – and you will. The truth is, you’re not going to transcend stress, even if you follow every tip on the Internet. Something will still happen to trigger you. But balance that with the good stuff – because there is SO MUCH good stuff too.
If you made it to the end of this looooong post, THANK YOU for reading and I really hope you found something here to inspire or motivate you. We are all just striving to do better for ourselves and our families. And we all screw up sometimes. Just keep getting back up, girl. You are a 21st-century warrior.