By Brooke Carson, MSW, LCSW
“Healthy balance” sounds like a really good thing. Balance is a word often associated with health and well being. Question: “Do you have healthy balance in your life?” Perhaps your answer is “Yes! (I think).”It may be hard to know how we are doing in terms of balance for the very same reason that many people’s lives become out of balance; We are often creatures of habit, doing some of the same things over and over without stepping back for a broader look. That’s why many people find it helpful to deliberately consider the various aspects of well being as well as an array of ideas about how people can meet those needs.A good starting point is self assessment of what you’re currently doing. You can make a pie chart and decide how much time you are spending in each dimension of healthy balance. Although there is certainly some overlap, we can divide our areas of need for well being into five categories: Physical, Emotional, Relational, Intellectual and Spiritual.There is definitely no need for the chart to be perfectly balanced. As a matter of fact, we go through seasons of life where some areas become more important than others, given our current circumstances, responsibilities and priorities. However, we want to consider any areas that are given very low or no priority and time.As people, we have needs in all of these areas. If we consistently neglect one or more of these areas, we will miss out on life enhancement that comes in those areas. We will also be neglecting parts of ourselves. This can take a large toll on self esteem. In neglecting part of yourself, you are sending messages to yourself that parts of you are unimportant and not valuable.
Physical wellness may seem like an obvious area. This includes getting exercise, eating healthy, avoiding unhealthy habits like drugs and alcohol and seeking/participating in appropriate medical care. It also involves finding ways to relax. It’s good to check in with yourself about if and how and how often you engage in relaxation. If you believe that you may be neglecting this area, it is highly recommended that you set aside some time to try some new techniques or to retry ones that you haven’t used in a while. There are many free apps for guided meditations and progressive relaxation or instructions in mindfulness and grounding techniques. The key is to actually try them to give yourself time to experience what it’s like to become highly relaxed. At first, it may not seem worth it to do a relaxation activity every day for a week. But if you try it, it’s much more likely that you will see the benefit.Another important part of physical well-being is body image. If you are taking care of your body, you are much more likely to have a positive body image. People who take regular care of themselves are sending themselves daily messages that their body is cared about and valued.Regardless of weight, people can have a sense of strength and attractiveness. Despite their health issues, people with illnesses ranging from diabetes to cancer who take care of themselves can have a sense of wellness.Conversely, people who have diabetes who don’t take care of themselves are not only hurting themselves physically, but also sending themselves messages that they and their bodies are not of value.Even our hygiene and the way we adorn ourselves with clothing or makeup can have powerful influences over our body image and all around self esteem.
Emotional wellness involves finding ways to connect with the full range or our emotions and to take care of ourselves with our emotions, including being able to express them to others. We can ask ourselves how well we do at being aware of/paying attention to our emotions and allowing ourselves to feel our emotions. We have four main categories of emotion that are relative to our perceptions of what happens to us in terms of our values. When we are close to or anticipate being close to someone or something we value, we feel joy/pleasure/love. When we have lost, have become separated from or anticipate loss or separation from someone or something we value, we feel sadness/sorrow. When our values are thwarted or we don’t like something relative to our values, we feel anger. When one of our values is up in the air and we don’t know how it will work out, we feel fear.Emotions are not good or bad, although some can be very uncomfortable. They are often meant to be uncomfortable as a source of information and motivation. When something happens that is difficult relative to our values, it is also validating for us to feel uncomfortable. For instance, it would not be validating to my feelings about my best friend if I felt good when she moved (sorrow) or was waiting for a medical test result (fear) or was being bullied by her coworkers (anger).We can ask ourselves how well we are doing at allowing ourselves to feel each category of emotion. Emotions are like waves. If we allow ourselves to feel them, then we will process them and experience a release. Avoiding or “stuffing” emotion leads to difficulty managing emotion and low self esteem.People can learn to connect with their emotions in many ways. Some people help themselves to connect through journaling, art, meditation or music. Learning to express emotion to others is another important way to both connect with emotion and get support with emotion. Deliberately trying to notice your own emotions and talk to others about them is a good start. Attending therapy or support groups can help as well.
Relational wellness involves the presence and quality of our interactions with others. We can ask ourselves how open our communication is with others. Do we express ourselves assertively and authentically and try to resolve difficulties? We can also think about what we are contributing to our relationships in other ways like listening, being honest, forgiving, showing respect, giving support and being grateful. Another aspect to consider is how others in our lives are treating us.We can also consider the quantity of our relational experiences. Although there are strong individual differences in how many friends different people need or want, having at least one to two people in our lives who know, understand and support us is important. We also want to consider whether or not we have some on-going ways of meeting new people.
Intellectual wellness involves using and stimulating our minds. We all know that we can find a huge variety of material by browsing the internet, the library, a book store or the TV/movie listings. The key here is to question ourselves about how often we are learning about something new. If it has been a while, we may forget how empowering and transforming it is to learn new things. Learning about new things also tends to have the heuristic effect of inspiring us to continue learning about other new things.Another way to learn and stimulate our minds is by listening to others’ ideas and perspectives and discussing ideas with others. This can be part of the benefit of taking a class, attending a lecture or joining a book club or other discussion group.We also want to keep in mind how well we are doing at generally stimulating ourselves. One aspect of this is about the degree to which we are paying attention to our experiences vs distracting. We can be in a lot of places while “spacing out” and take in very little of what’s going on around us. We want to consider whether or not we are exposing ourselves to a variety of experiences. We can ask ourselves how often we go to new places, check out new scenery, try new things or interact with new people.
Spiritual well being involves connecting with a sense of meaning and purpose. What do you find valuable and meaningful in the world or what do you believe are the most important or special aspects of the world or life? For some people this involves a religious tradition. For others it involves connection to family, friends, people in general, animals or nature. Your spirituality may also be about some value or principle like helping others, social justice, inclusion, brotherly love or environmental conservation.We may hold these values but we also want to consider if we are spending time connecting with them. Taking the time to walk in nature, pray, volunteer, attend a religious service, call your grandmother or throw a ball with your dog can be very rejuvenating and provide perspective.The main take away here is to take some actions to lean into the various aspects of balance. All of these areas are intrinsically validating and supportive because they are universal areas of human need.If we stray from supporting ourselves in one of these areas, we will have the tendency to forget or not realize how restorative to our sense of well being and self esteem that meeting these needs can be. We are also sending ourselves the message that part of us is not valuable/important. By leaning into all of these areas we have a clear path to increasing self esteem and well-being.