We missed out on an hour of sleep this weekend (even more than that for some Pittsburghers, since the Pens played an awesome game in L.A. on the same night we had to spring ahead). Those 60 minutes can mean a lot to those of us who appreciate sleep and the energy it brings, and this loss reminded me of the importance of balance in my life.
People are a lot like ATMs. If we are frequently making withdrawals without making deposits, we’ll be in big trouble and end up paying more in the long run. Similarly, if we don’t invest in our intellectual, spiritual, emotional, social, and physical selves, we will be depleted and exhausted.
To be clear, I don’t believe that perfect balance is attainable, let alone maintainable. New parents don’t get as much sleep as they desire, which depletes physical resources. Someone quarantined with the flu misses out on social interactions for a while. When winter weather calls for cancellation of church services, we miss out on spiritual deposits. With all of the things life brings, it is important to stay tethered to something to remind us of the importance of whole-being wellness.
I keep a copy of this chart in the front of my journal to remind myself that I am made up of parts, all of which must be nurtured in order to feel well. I share this with clients to learn about their self-care routines and habits. Now I’m sharing it with you! As I list some examples of each, think about balance in your own life. Make a list of the ways you already take care of yourself in each area. And remember, one life task might meet more than one need! (For example, taking a class at the gym might be both physical and social.)
Intellectual. We all need mental stimulation and challenge. Active students meet this need naturally as they fulfill the demands of their institutions. Some people have jobs that fill up this part of the pie. Others find ways to build intellectual time into their lives: puzzles, sudoku, cards, planning the family calendar, balancing the checkbook. Anything strategic taps into our intellectual selves.
Spiritual. Some spiritual investments are communal: religious services, meetings, retreats. Others are more personal or private: prayer, meditation, study, research. Whatever your spiritual background, it is important to make time to think about where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’d like to go next. Find people you trust, ask difficult questions, have deep conversations, and seek accountability.
Emotional. Counseling, journaling, talking to a friend, doing something artistic, going to a movie that makes you laugh (or cry): all of these things can be helpful for processing and getting perspective on our emotions. Feeling emotionally exhausted for an extended period of time is a sign that there may be deeper things to consider. A trusted counselor can help you process forgiveness, shed light on past secrets, and talk about things that may have been weighing you down for a long time.
Social. This area is often a reflection of how introverted or extroverted you are. For some people, parties are energizing. For others, large groups of people are exhausting. Both approaches can be healthy, but it is important to know what is most helpful for you. Do you prefer large parties and loud concerts or lunch with a friend and writing notes to loved ones? It is important to try things outside your comfort zone, but please find ways that you can engage with your community without draining all of your energy.
Physical. Sleeping, eating, and getting physical activity are the three main aspects of physical self-care. I also encourage my clients to find ways to experience safe physical touch every day if possible: hugs from friends, massages, physical therapy, cuddling with pets, holding hands with a loved one.
Now take a look at your list. Which area is your strongest? Which is your weakest? What are some things you can do to strengthen your weak spots? If you’re in a season where balancing each area isn’t realistic, where will you find your hope and strength?
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