By Jeremy Godwin.
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast/article about mental health and wellbeing by Australian author and speaker Jeremy Godwin that is about much more than just talk; every episode is full of practical advice for improving and maintaining your mental health and wellbeing.
This week we’re talking about balance – why it’s so important for your mental health and wellbeing to find balance in all areas of your life, and how to do it. Listen now in the Spotify player below or read the transcript below. Let’s talk!
Have you been feeling out-of-sorts, lost, bored, or just not-quite-right? If so, then your life may be out of balance. This week I’ll be talking about how finding balance in all areas of your life can serve to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing, and I’ll be discussing how to find more balance.
What is balance and why is it important?
Light and dark. Night and day. Hot and cold. Balance exists in all aspects of nature, and as humans we tend to lead day-to-day lives that can be at odds with the natural balance of our world.
Balance is about making sensible decisions that are in your own best interests, and approaching everything with a sense of moderation. Nobody is saying that you need to run off to join a monastery or nunnery and live a life of frugality (unless that’s what feels right to you!), but at the other extreme a life of excess is not healthy for your physical or mental health.
If you live a life that is out of balance, eventually it will catch up with you. You will burn out, or make more and more mistakes that cause issues for yourself and others, or you will cause damage to your physical and mental health. It might takes weeks, or months, or even years, but eventually it will affect your long-term health and happiness, which is why it’s important to know if you’re out of balance so that you can do something about it.
How do you know if you’re out of balance?
Let’s be blunt: If you’re self-aware and completely honest with yourself, you probably know if you’re out of balance.
If you’re prone to extreme behaviour – for example, spending three or four (or more) nights a week ingesting substances that could take down an elephant, you’re probably a bit out of balance. There’s the really big and obvious signs of imbalance – waking up in hospital because you went too far on a night out; losing your job because of excessive behaviour affecting your work; losing friends or family members over your behaviour; ending up in jail because of your actions… those are pretty major warning signs that your life is out of balance.
Often, however, it’s the smaller, more everyday actions which can add up over time to throw our lives out of balance.
Think about your work. Are you working 60, 70, 80 hours per week at your job? I mean, that’s great if that’s what floats your boat, but I have to tell you that your job is just a job and it shouldn’t take up so much of your life, because it’s not going to matter in the long run. You need to put your own needs first – your own work/life balance – because nobody else is going to do it for you.
Do you ever wake up the morning after the night before and cringe when you recall your behaviour – or perhaps you had such a big night that you can’t remember bits of it or even any of it at all? Or maybe you spend the entire day – or several days – trying to recover because you have a hangover from hell? I hate to be the voice of logic and reason here, but wiping yourself out isn’t a sign of a healthy balance in your life and it’s not good for your mental health and wellbeing. I mean, if you’d have told me a couple of years ago that I’d be sitting here advocating a life without getting yourself wasted, I would have laughed at you while downing another glass of prosecco… but since getting sober in July 2018, I’ve had to learn to think differently about what it means to live a balanced life.
Let me just pick up on the sobriety thing – that’s been my personal choice and it’s a choice I had to make because I am no good with moderation. I am not saying you have to give up drinking to find balance, because everybody is different, however let me say that if you are one of those people who can’t do moderation and stick to it, then you probably do need to take a long, hard look at whether or not you are making the best decisions for your long-term health. It’s like smoking – don’t sit there coughing your lungs up while you’re puffing away and say that everything’s okay, because it’s not.
Quite a few years ago I had a blood test come back telling me that my liver function was off and the doctor cautioned me I was on the verge of liver damage if I kept drinking excessively, so I quit drinking for three months and it reversed the issue. However, I then went straight back to drinking like it was an Olympic sport once the threat was over, because I hadn’t actually confronted the reality of just how out of balance my drinking was.
There are times in life, for some of us, when we need to realise that some stuff is just not good for us, and that we need to stop it if we want to have the greatest chance at good physical, mental and spiritual health.
Diet and exercise is another big one. Doing no exercise at all and eating whatever you like is bad for you, and so is over-exercising or taking specific eating approaches too far (like under-eating or being so restrictive that you’re missing out on essential nutrients). Anything that you take too far is going to be bad for you in the long run, whether physically or mentally or even just for the sake of your self-esteem.
Let me be clear here and say when I’m talking about excessive behaviour: no judgement; you do what you want. But… all that stuff – drugs, alcohol, food, random hook-ups, excessive shopping, not exercising, over-exercising, criticising other people online – none of that will ever help you to achieve balance, because it can’t; it’s excessive behaviour, and too much of anything is not good for you. In fact, I’m not even going to sugar-coat that fact for you – too much of anything is bad for you, just like those great philosophers of the 1990’s, the Spice Girls, told us in their song Too Much.
Seriously though… life is balance. Life is good and bad, light and dark, happiness and sadness, and it’s up to each of us to find our own sense of balance in order to live a life that causes the least amount of harm to ourselves and others. If you think you might be out of balance, then you just might be. And since you can’t change what has happened in the past, all you can do is focus on your life now and begin to bring about more balance in your life. Which brings me to…
How to create more balance in your life
I think that the first and most important step is to really consider your priorities in life. I discussed priorities in Episode 3 and I firmly believe that we all need to be crystal clear on what matters the most in our lives, then put those things first and work outwards from there. So, what really matters to you? Partner, children, pets, immediate family, extended family, friends, physical health, mental health, spirituality, community… these are the things that a lot of people tend to talk about when they’re challenged to be clear about their priorities, but of course your list will be specific to you. Take the time to become clear on what your priorities are so you can work from that foundation.
Define ‘balance’ for you. What does ‘balance’ mean to you? If you think about the notion of balance in the context of good mental health and wellbeing, you can start to build a really clear picture of what it means in every area of your life. It will likely be different for each of us – ultimately, it’s about identifying how your priorities fit into your life and how you live a life that does not cause harm to yourself or others. That’s pretty much ‘balance’ in a nutshell. Everything else is just noise.
Once you clearly understand what balance means to you, take a look at your life as it is now. Where are there imbalances? This is where you need to have a brutally honest conversation with yourself. We can sometimes tend to shrug things off or downplay just how out-of-balance we might be in certain areas of our lives because we’re trying to protect ourselves or, more likely, we just don’t want to change, because change is hard. If you know deep-down inside that you’re out of balance, it’s time to confront that cold hard fact. At this point, it’s not about self-judgement – it’s about self-awareness; don’t criticise yourself or be overly harsh, because you cannot change the past. Instead, focus on the opportunity to grow from this point forward.
Now, consider: What can you do to correct those imbalances? Only you can identify what’s going to work for you, and I’m pretty sure you don’t need me to point out that if you’re overworking then you need to get your work/life balance in order, just like you don’t need me to tell you that if you’re partying non-stop then you need to get your shit together. What it all boils down to is this: what’s more important to you; having a blast, or improving and maintaining your mental health and wellbeing? Because there comes a point where you can’t have everything, and you need to choose between one or the other.
Finally, it’s up to you to do the work to address areas of imbalance in your life. If you need help to do that, then get help. But accept the fact that nobody can do it for you – it’s up to you to do it, and that takes willpower and effort and hard work, however if it’s important to you then you can make it happen and you will make it happen. Giving up the things that throw us out of balance is a monumental challenge, and it’s often not just something that’s easy to do once and be done with it. It takes time and daily effort, and getting support from others when you’re struggling, but ultimately it’s about making a clear decision to change because you know that the things throwing you out of balance are doing you damage in the long-run. It’s very rare to just snap your fingers and be done with whatever it is – instead, break things down into smaller steps and take it one day at a time. When I first quit smoking back in 2013, I didn’t think about it as quitting so much as I thought about getting through each day without a cigarette, until eventually it was just the new normal in my life. Life doesn’t have to be about sweeping changes; instead it can simply be about taking small steps towards your goals, and if it’s proving to be a challenge to make changes then get help because you don’t have to go it alone.
As you continue on, choose to make balance a priority in your life. Balance doesn’t just happen – if you want harmony, you have to actively choose harmony. Make decisions every day that incorporate balance into your life: work and play; rest and responsibilities; friends and family; indoors and outdoors. We all have responsibilities and we all have desires, and finding balance involves doing what you need to do and doing what you want to do in equal measure. We’ve all got to pay those bills, but nobody said you had to abandon your general satisfaction with life to keep the lights on, so take steps every day to create balance in your life.
To wrap up, here are some general tips for creating more balance in your life:
- Listen to your body and your mind. If you’re constantly tired or bored or demotivated, something is out of balance.
- Consistency in your life is important, but that doesn’t have to mean repetition – balance consistency with trying new things.
- Be disciplined but flexible – don’t just set a rigid amount of time every day to do specific tasks and think you’ve got everything together on the balance front, because that’s not how it works. ‘Discipline’ means being committed to getting the important things done – submitting that piece of work on time and without a last minute rush, or paying your bills before they’re due – these are all things that we need to do to keep our life running smoothly, but there needs to be a degree of flexibility as well so that you can be spontaneous and experience the moment.
- Practice Self-care regularly – looking after yourself is essential to your mental health and wellbeing, so factor in plenty of time for self-care. I covered self-care in Episode 6, so have a listen to/read that episode for specific ideas on how to incorporate more self-care into your life.
- Have fun, but have sensible fun – I know, it sounds boring… but is it really? It may come as a surprise, but it’s possible to have fun without doing damage to yourself (or others).
- Say no more or say yes more (depending on what you need for more balance!) – sometimes we can take on too much, other times we can take on too little. Life doesn’t just happen by accident, so make choices that create a balanced life.
- And, finally: take things one day at a time. You’re not going to make sustainable changes overnight – instead, make incremental changes every day and slowly but surely you will see bigger changes emerge in your life. Keep the notion of balance front-of-mind in everything you do, say and think, and you will be more inclined to make it a priority.
Summary and three main points to consider
To summarise: balance is choice that we make to approach life with a sense of moderation, because extremes and excess can lead to extreme consequences. I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t have fun every now and then, but know the difference between moderation and excess so that you can make changes if things get out of control, because having a healthy balance in your life will serve to create more consistency – which in turn serves to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing.
To wrap up, here are my three main points for you to consider:
- Balance is a choice that you make, one that involves making life decisions that don’t harm yourself or others
- If you want to improve and maintain good mental health and wellbeing, you need to find balance in all things – balance is steady, sure and moderate, and avoids excess of any kind
- Creating balance is a choice and it doesn’t have to involve sweeping changes overnight; simply take the time to set your priorities in order, then make small decisions every day that align with priorities and improve your sense of balance
As always, let’s finish up by reflecting on a quote related to this week’s topic. This is a quote from Albert Einstein – take a moment to think about this quote in relation to the topic of balance and consider what it means to you. The quote is:
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”Albert Einstein
So, that’s it for this week! For more content, go to:
- Website: Head over to www.letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au for more information about Let’s Talk About Mental Health and to sign up so that new posts/newsletters will land in your inbox, and you can also find past episodes on the website (click here to jump to the Episodes page)
- Podcast: You can listen to the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast via your preferred platform (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and others) as well as an audio-only version on my YouTube channel
- Social Media: Connect with me on social media – you can find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamhofficial (I post extra content daily)
Next episode I’ll be talking about loneliness – I’ll be talking about the negative effects that loneliness can have on your mental health and wellbeing, and different things that you can do to improve it. I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Monday morning Australian time. On Friday I’ll be sending out the next issue of the Mental Health Talk newsletter, which is a weekly round-up of articles and resources focused on good mental health and wellbeing – sign up via the website to have the newsletter land in your inbox each Friday.
Until next time, look after yourself and make a conscious choice to put some positive energy out into the world – you get back what you give out! Take care and talk to you next time.
PS: If you enjoyed this week’s episode/post, please give it a ‘Like’ and share it. Also, if you could leave a review for my podcast on your preferred platform it would be much appreciated, because good reviews help me to grow my audience. Thanks!
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.