Finding Balance In Life
Recently, the question of balance in regards to mental health and happiness has taken center stage in many circles of psychological research. Dozens of studies being conducted and published on this subject.
This is because companies and individuals alike have noticed that their chaotic lifestyle is not producing the kind of happiness they always hoped to achieve. The majority of these studies illustrate the immense benefits of finding balance and variety in life.
What About Stress
These studies have happened upon interesting findings about stress. It is not that stress and chaos are necessarily detrimental to health and happiness, but rather the perception of stress over time. In fact, a bit of stress here and there is actually healthy, for both plants and animals.
The problem comes when stress becomes the everyday norm, and the body and mind have no time to recover from the depletion of their resources. A great example of this is burnout amongst professionals.
However, what is the cause behind the stress? In addition, what is the key to eliminating it? That question too, has already been answered. Human beings are naturally made to thrive on a diet of moderation. Ironically, people all seem to gravitate towards lifestyles of extremes.
Perhaps it is a psychological compulsion to escape the sea of sameness that drives them to seek everything in unhealthy proportions. Regardless of the cause, there are so many reasons to avoid the rat race, and live a life of medium portions.
A case study might help to illustrate why, and in western society, there is probably no better subject for study than the higher education system. As knowledge increases, and job requirements become more demanding, the amount of curriculum required to graduate goes up, while the time allotted for completion of tasks goes down.
This of course places the students under incredible amounts of stress. As any college student can tell you, the symptoms of chronic high stress abound. Among them are poor eating habits, poor sleep, chronic anxiety and depression, lowered quality of work performed, and most importantly, a decreased appreciation for study.
The fact that as a nation America and its colleges place such high expectations and such high stakes on a single four-year period of life creates so much pressure that even the most zealous scholars often begin to dread the moment they have to crack a text book. High schools are often not much better. Is it any wonder than many children hate school?
The principle is simple, if you put too much emphasis on a single item, and create too much pressure around it, then eventually even something pleasurable becomes drudgery. This is because the activity itself is smothered by the stress surrounding it.
A good illustration of this is that many artists decide to keep their art as hobby only, not a profession. They know that if their livelihood depended on their art then the pressure would cause the fun, creative nature of art to lose its romance.
Another blatant violator of this rule in western culture is probably work-life balance. Americans work themselves to the bone their entire lives so that they can eventually retire and vacation themselves to an early death. Even a typical work week is demonstrably extremist.
Many people try to compensate for excessive work stress by ingesting an excessive amount of booze, cheesecake, ice cream, or other comfort, to wipe away the memory of everything that happened over the previous week. They use one unhealthy extreme in their life to justify throwing everything else out of balance as well.
On the other hand, if you have a busy day at work, a lovely dinner with family, and then some time at the end of the day or week to work on a hobby, then chances are you will enjoy it immensely, as it provides a relief from the cares of the day. When you go back to work on Monday, you will have relaxed sufficiently to be able to handle the work stress with a positive attitude and perhaps even enjoy the occasional crisis.
Throughout it all, your emotional and psychological will remain much more stable than someone who works nights and weekends so that they can get an extended vacation at the end of the year. Spreading out work, rest, and fun throughout the week can help increase overall satisfaction with life.
This technique can be applied pretty much universally across any aspect of life, whether it is food, sleep, exercise, entertainment, and study. The body does not do very well when you starve it for three days and then binge eat for three hours.
Human bodies, and minds, were never meant to handle things in excess. This could be one reason why hardcore street drugs do so much damage to the body and brain; they are the epitome of extreme. The secret then of good health and peace of mind is striving to find balance in all aspects of your life.
Arrange your schedule so that you have enough time to prepare or purchase healthy foods, have time to eat them in peace, and have time to eat at regular, frequent intervals throughout the day.
Regular exercise in moderation is also a key factor to mental physical health, as is regular social interaction, regular eustress, regular sleep, and regular relaxation.
The word “regular” comes from the root “to regulate” which means to keep things in their proper proportions.
It is important to remember however, that even regulation can become extreme. If you obsess over counting calories, timing your exercise to the second, and stress when you only get seven hours and twenty-nine minutes of sleep, then chances are you need to loosen up a bit.
It is all too common to see a person go from an extreme lifestyle, to an extremely regimented one. Being flexible is part of regulation. There will inevitably be times in life when a bit or even a lot of imbalance cannot be avoided. That’s just fine, as long it doesn’t develop into a pattern of imbalance.
There are also other dangers to worry about when shifting to a more normal pace of life. One particularly common pitfall is when an individual decides that society is wrong to place so much emphasis on so many things, so they take up the torch in total opposition to the idea, and claim that nothing matters, and that you shouldn’t take anything seriously, no matter what anybody else says.
Proponents of this philosophy typically espouse the idea of following whatever whim you have in the moment, as that is the only law by which you should abide. This opinion too is one of extremes, just the opposite extreme of the normal western mindset.
As moderation is the avoidance of extremes, you should be extremely wary of anyone preaching this dogma. It is just as likely to lead to dissatisfaction in life, as over-emphasis will. Several studies on employee engagement have shown that meaning is a powerful factor in motivation and enjoyment.
If you remove the meaning from your work, then you remove the reason to work at all. It is the same with life. In fact, many of the happiest people claim that their source of felicity comes from finding a deeper meaning to the everyday aspects of life.
The lesson to be learned from all this is that extremes are dangerous, and the body knows it. Learn to identify your physical and emotional instincts and live a lifestyle that will help accommodate them, but not make you a slave to them. Moderation is the key. Just don’t overdo it!