By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of simple ideas for better mental health by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on practical and simple things that you can do every single day to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing, based on quality research.
This is Episode 49 and this week I’m talking about finding balance – I’ll be discussing what balance is and what it isn’t, why it matters for good mental health, and how to incorporate more balance into your life for better mental health and wellbeing. So, let’s talk about mental health!
This is the third in a series of four episodes about the foundations of good mental health and this week is all about finding greater balance, so let’s get talking!
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the article/transcript version.
Before I start the episode: I have another milestone to say ‘thank you’ for; as at the 14th of October, Let’s Talk About Mental Health now has listeners in 100 countries around the world, which is just amazing! Thank you so much to each and every one of you who listens to this program every week, I feel very honoured and also quite humbled that you enjoy the work I do and find it useful… so thank you for your ongoing support. Now, enough about that!
FIVE-POINT EPISODE SUMMARY
- ‘Finding balance’ means having an appropriate amount of time and energy devoted to all the different aspects of life that are important for good overall health and wellbeing so that one aspect doesn’t negatively impact on another
- There are lots of different reasons why finding balance in our lives can be such a struggle for many of us, and it certainly doesn’t help that we live in a world that is constantly changing and evolving.
- Proactively incorporating greater balance into all areas of your life can help you feel more in control as well as better able to let go of things that are outside of your direct control.
- At its core, finding and maintaining balance is about living a life that feels right for you; a life that feels rewarding and satisfying, and one where you feel grounded and motivated.
- All six main areas of health — physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and financial — are connected, and they are each influenced by internal factors as well as external factors; it’s important to remember that what ‘balance’ looks and feels like will be unique to you.
If you do a Google search for the term ‘finding balance’ you’ll wind up with 1.17 billion results and what that says to me is that not only are a lot of us interested in the notion of finding greater balance but it also means that it’s a real challenge to actually find balance, otherwise I highly doubt there’d be so much content on the subject. There are lots of different reasons why finding balance in our lives can be such a struggle for many of us, and it certainly doesn’t help that we live in a world that is constantly changing and evolving (and as much as we might try to resist change, it’s as inevitable as taxes and lying politicians…). The circumstances of today are different to those of yesterday, which were different to the day before that, and so on, and so we can often end up paddling frantically just to keep our heads above water in terms of doing all the things we need to do each day.
But what if there was a better way? What if there was a way to approach your life on a day-to-day basis that left you feeling more in control of the things that you can control (i.e. Your own words, actions and feelings), as well as feeling more confident in your ability to influence things outside of your direct control, and more capable of letting go of the things that are completely outside of your control? Well, there is: it’s all about proactively incorporating greater balance into your life, and this week I’m going to be talking about how to do just that.
Now, I have to admit that I made myself laugh while I was halfway through writing this because I completely forgot I had already done an episode about balance all the way back in early January (which is funny because I have a list of the episodes in front of my computer while I’m working, but I just didn’t even notice it! I can’t even blame Mercury retrograde as I came up with this topic weeks ago!)… anyway, for a few moments I thought about changing the topic of this week’s episode, but two things made me decide to proceed with it after all. First, I re-read the transcript for Episode 14 (which, like all past episodes, is available for free at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes) and it felt like this program has evolved a lot in the 10 months since that was released so there is definitely a lot more to say on the subject, and secondly I feel like 2020 has been such a challenging year for all of us that frankly I find revisiting content I created pre-COVID to be a bit like a quaint old-time postcard from a distant land. I think we’re all continuing to be challenged to really reassess things and to consider what we really want out of life in a post-COVID world (even if it will take us many more months to get there).
For me, this is a perfect time to really look at all aspects of our lives so that we can make changes for the better — and it’s an utterly unique time that continues to force each of us to find greater balance and deeper meaning, while rejecting those things that no longer serve our individual wellbeing along with doing more of what is in the best interests of our fellow human beings.
So, let’s start with some definitions…
What is ‘balance’?
When you think about the word ‘balance’ in physical terms, it’s about keeping yourself upright and not falling over… which I think is a fairly good analogy the mental health-focused definition of ‘balance’ as well: it’s about keeping yourself facing the right direction and doing what you can to minimise the chances of external events (or internal challenges) knocking you onto your butt.
‘Finding balance’ means having an appropriate amount of time and energy devoted to all the different aspects of life that are important for good overall health and wellbeing so that one aspect doesn’t negatively impact on another: I’m talking here about your mental health, physical health, spiritual health, social health, emotional health and financial health, plus also mindfully integrating your work life into your overall life (since we’ve all got to pay the bills).
For me, ‘balance’ is about feeling in control of all the different elements of my life and not feeling that one aspect is overriding the others. That doesn’t mean it’s an even split between all of the areas, because things are never that perfect and exact in life, but that overall I feel calm, in control, focused and clear about what I’m doing and why (and if I’m not feeling that way, then that is what I’m working towards).
In Buddhism there is the idea of ‘the Middle Way’ or the ‘Middle Path’ which is effectively about avoiding extremes. Too much or too little of most things can lead to problems, and so in this context the idea of ‘balance’ focuses on moderation. Let me quote from an article on Access to Insight (which I’ll link to in the transcript) which draws from a traditional Buddhist sutra considered to be the first sermon given by the Buddha himself (and in the interests of time I’ve condensed the quote here):
“There is addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures… and there is addiction to self-mortification. Avoiding both these extremes… gives vision, gives knowledge, and leads to calm, to insight, (and) to enlightenment. And what is that Middle Path…? It is… right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.”Source: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.than.html
Now let me be clear here that you don’t need to be Buddhist to find inspiration in these words, because regardless of your spiritual beliefs there is a core message here in terms of seeking balance in all things; too much of anything tips you into excess and suffering, too little can potentially tip you into deprivation and suffering. A lot of this is what I talked about back in Episode 14 as well as balance between your personal life and work life, and so today I’ll be focusing more on balance in terms of the six key areas of health I mentioned earlier along with how that aligns to your work.
Just a few words here on ‘work/life balance’: I’ll be touching on this throughout the episode however I covered it in more detail back in Episode 14, so I’m not going to dive into it enormously except to say these couple of things:
- I find it ironic that we even had to come up with a phrase to describe having a decent life outside of our work because to me it’s just common sense; maybe that’s a cultural thing… if your work defines you and your life, you’re setting yourself up for danger because (a) nothing lasts forever and (b) you’re probably giving way more attention to your work than all of the different areas of good health and wellbeing, which can have negative consequences on your health in the long-term
- Money is a means to an end, not a reason for living — I know there are plenty of people who love their jobs regardless of how much it pays so it is very much a case of ‘each to their own’, but my point here is that if the money associated with your job is a big part of why it takes up so much of your time and energy then I would encourage you to question whether or not you are balanced in all areas of your life (which I’ll be exploring further in a minute)
The idea of finding greater balance in your life is about being mindful of where your energy goes. It’s about having clear priorities which put what really matters at the forefront of everything you do, i.e. Your health and wellbeing as well as your relationships with those you love. I mean, I’m not going to sit here and tell you what your priorities are or should be, but let’s also be blunt about this; in an emergency, very few of us would prioritise our jobs or our possessions over our health and those we’re closest to. For me, that speaks volumes about where our focus needs to be in order to find greater balance in our lives.
So why is finding and maintaining balance important for good mental health?
As I said back in Episode 14, if you live a life that is out of balance then eventually it will catch up with you in the form of burnout, health issues, mistakes, damaged relationships and even feeling dissatisfied with your life.
According to Here to Help (which is a fantastic mental health resource from British Columbia in Canada, and I’ll link to it in the transcript – see below), feeling out of balance can:
- Add to poor mental health and make it difficult to concentrate, make decisions, feel confident in our abilities, and handle problems or difficulties
- Negatively affect our relationships
- Negatively affect the way we act—we may avoid or lash out at loved ones, use alcohol or other drugs to cope with difficult feelings, or avoid stressful situations
- Negatively affect the way we work at school or at our jobs
- Contribute to a mental illness and add to difficult feelings we’re experiencing
- Contribute to (or even cause) many physical health problems
At its core, finding and maintaining balance is about living a life that feels right for you; a life that feels rewarding and satisfying, and one where you feel grounded and motivated.
So how do you do that? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this week’s episode…
How to incorporate more balance in your life for better mental health and wellbeing
So, like I said earlier, I covered aspects of this topic back in Episode 14 where I encouraged you to be clear about your priorities (something I explored in more detail in Episode 3) and I urged you to make balance a priority in all areas of your life, so I suggest that you check that episode out for a more broad conversation about balance. Today I’m going to be looking at those six areas of health I talk about all the time as well as how all of that fits in with balance at work.
All six main areas of health — physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and financial — are connected, and they are each influenced by internal factors as well as external factors. It’s important to remember that what ‘balance’ looks and feels like will be unique to you — it’s not necessarily an even six-way split on each of those things (or seven-way, if you want ‘work’ to have its own focus on that list, which is totally up to you — shortly I’ll discuss why I don’t).
Let’s quickly clarify what each of those six areas of health are all about:
- physical: what you do with your body and what you put into it
- mental: what you put into your mind and what you do with your thoughts (i.e. We all have thoughts that pop up out of nowhere, but do you buy into them and then turn them into feelings, words or actions?)
- emotional: how you manage your words, actions and feelings, how you deal with external events (including other people), and how you cope with challenges and setbacks
- spiritual: how you live a life that feels purposeful and meaningful, and how you connect with something more than just yourself (which has nothing to do with religious beliefs; you don’t have to be religious to be spiritual)
- social: your ability to create and maintain meaningful relationships with other people as well as how you adapt in social situations
- financial: your ability to support yourself (such as paying your bills) and potentially also being able to achieve financial goals that are aligned with your priorities
Just a further note here on mental vs emotional health; I came across a great paragraph in an article by Pyramid Healthcare that said, “Part of mental health is how well your mind processes and understands information and experiences. In contrast, emotional health involves your ability to manage and express the emotions that arise from what you have learned and experienced…” source: https://www.pyramidhealthcarepa.com/pyramid-healthcare-assessment-center/pfbh-assessment-center-blog/what-is-the-difference-between-mental-health-emotional-health/
We’ll explore this in more detail in a minute, but the first step I want you to focus on is to reflect and then set clear priorities for each of the six areas of health. Like I keep on saying, this stuff will be unique to you and only you can truly know what matters most to you in this life… so that’s where you need to begin in order to then identify what balance means for you. Look at each of the areas in turn and identify what your priorities are. I’ll share a few of mine to get you started:
- Physical: reach and maintain a healthy weight, and manage my tendency towards emotional eating in times of difficulty.
- Mental: to maintain good mental health day by day.
- Emotional: be less reactive and more patient with other people and with myself.
- Spiritual: do work that feels meaningful, and continue to explore the mysteries of the universe and my place in it
- Social: maintain mutually-rewarding relationships, let go of one-sided relationships, and also challenge myself to do things outside of my comfort zone
- Financial: support myself doing work that I enjoy
So perhaps that was over-sharing (but that’s what I do here) however I thought it was worthwhile just going through that and giving you an idea of how I approach turning my priorities into things that I need to do to find and maintain balance. When you look at all of your priorities you can begin to see overlaps, and you can also see where there might be areas that you’re not paying enough attention to — these have the potential to throw you out of balance, so it’s about choosing to draw your focus back to all of your priorities and then taking action to create and maintain balance. This is about being aware of potential gaps or issues well before they become major gaps or issues — the earlier the better. When there’s a problem the best time to resolve it is yesterday; the second-best time to resolve it is today… in other words, it’s never too late to make a positive change (which in this case means realigning your life to your priorities to create more balance).
I’d also encourage you to take a look at how your overall time is being used. There are 168 hours in a week; we know that it’s recommended we get 8 hours of sleep a night (and don’t @ me, you know you need about 8 hours a night; just the same as you know you should be drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day!) which leaves 112 hours. So how are you using those 112 hours and how are you incorporating all six of those aspects of health? Let’s assume you’re contracted to work a standard 40-hour week and you have a one-hour commute each way to work (working a five-day week), so that’s 50 hours taken out (although yes I know that you can use your commute to do things like reading a book or catching up on podcasts — hi to anyone listening to this on their way to or from work! — but it’s not always possible so let’s consider that ‘bonus time’ for this example); that leaves 62 hours a week. Since 32 of those hours will fall on the weekend, that leaves you with 30 hours during the week which is six hours per weekday. So what are you doing with those six hours per day (longer on weekends) to find balance in your physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social and financial health? Make sense? So take some time to look at how you’re spending your time, and then compare this with your priorities and the six areas of overall health. If something is missing or just not getting enough attention, then you can look at different things you might be able to do to build better health in that area.
OK, so with all of that in mind let’s look at some ideas for how to address the idea of ‘balance’ in those six areas (and then I’ll talk about work).
Creating balance in your physical health: this is about doing things in moderation and taking care of your body. That means maintaining a healthy diet, taking moderate exercise, being responsible and thoughtful when consuming things that are not healthy (such as sugar, saturated fats and alcohol), minimising or preferably avoiding unhealthy substances like drugs, and ultimately remembering that each little action you take adds up to a bigger result… so that cheeseburger and fries may not seem like a big deal on its own, but if you take a step back and look at all the food you consume over a week or a month you can see that eating these types of foods regularly will have a much bigger effect on both your waist size and your overall physical health. Finding balance involves moderation in all things.
Creating balance in your mental health: this is about doing things like being careful about what you consume intellectually. Just like with your physical health, what you put into your mind will have a direct effect on your overall mental health, so make decisions that are grounded in balance and which are thoughtful and conscious choices.
Creating balance in your emotional health: this is about how you deal with your emotions, so look at internal and external factors here. If you’re easily triggered emotionally, then it’s up to you to do the work to manage your emotions more effectively. If external events trigger you, then it’s up to you to find ways to manage what is within your control and let go of what is outside of your control.
Creating balance in your spiritual health: this is about how you spend time exploring the idea of being part of something bigger, and recognising that this existence isn’t just about you. That doesn’t mean you need to worship a deity or sign up to a specific organisation; at the very least, it’s about being aware that you’re part of a human family and that you are intricately connected to nature. When you focus on things other than yourself, it makes it easier to do no harm, be kind and give more than you take because you realise that life is about more than just you and your wants.
Creating balance in your social health: this is about finding ways to maintain the balance between connecting with other people in mutually-beneficial ways and taking regular time out for yourself. That involves setting and maintaining boundaries (something I’ll be exploring next month), and addressing issues where relationships might be unbalanced (check out Episode 38: Relationships for more on that subject).
Creating balance in your financial health: this is about finding and maintaining a solid balance between your need to pay the bills and meet your financial goals while also having balance in all other areas. If money is an issue, I encourage you to reassess your relationship with it: I know I keep saying this and I know not everyone will agree with me, but money is a means to an end and not a reason for living. Treat is as such.
And then my final how-to point is about finding balance with your work. I left it until last because I hope by now that you can see how all the different areas of health I’ve talked about actually align to all aspects of your life, so I really don’t see that we need to have ‘work’ listed as its own topic: most of us need to work to pay the bills, and regardless of what you earn it’s your decision what priority work takes in your life. For some, balance at work means leaving at their finish time every day so they can maximise their out-of-work time; for others, it’s about having flexibility to do their work at different times so they can fit it in around their other commitments. Do what feels right for you, but please just remember that the key here is balance and on having clarity on what really matters in your life: nobody ever said on their deathbed, “I wish I had have spent more time in the office,” so make sure you actually live your life for you rather than spending it earning money for someone else.
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to finding balance and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: 2020 has reminded us of the importance of our loved ones and of finding ways to not just survive during challenges, but to thrive. As we slowly head towards a post-COVID world (even if we still have hurdles to deal with before we get there), it’s up to each of us to think seriously about what we want our lives to look like going forward. By focusing on what really matters to you and then creating balance across all areas of your life, you’ll be better placed to handle setbacks while also taking positive steps every day in the interests of your own wellbeing… and that is something to be excited about.
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by Wayne Dyer again, and it is:
“Getting in balance is not so much about adopting new strategies to change your behaviors, as it is about realigning yourself in all of your thoughts so as to create a balance between what you desire and how you conduct your life on a daily basis.”Wayne Dyer
Next week I’ll be talking about choice. Continuing October’s theme of foundations of good mental health here on LTAMH, next week I’ll be exploring how the idea of choice fits in with wellbeing (since it’s another one that I talk about a lot!). I’ll be talking about what choice is, why it matters for good mental health, and how to approach choice more thoughtfully for better mental health and wellbeing.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Monday morning in Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region; Sunday evening in the UK, Ireland, Europe and the Middle East; and Sunday afternoon in the US, Canada and the rest of the Americas.
You can find past episodes and additional content at the website which is letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au. You can also find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamentalhealth, and discover additional content on the Let’s Talk About Mental Health YouTube channel (click here) — if you haven’t already subscribed to the YouTube channel please do as there will be a lot of extra content coming to that platform very soon.
If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to leave a five-star review on your preferred podcast platform and tell someone you know about the show (because word of mouth really helps new people to discover the program).
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Because the more we talk about it, the easier it gets.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2020 Jeremy Godwin.