Living a balanced life

I’ve got all these blog posts I’ve been writing for TINO but I haven’t really written anything for myself  lately. In the past month or so, I’ve only written two blog posts for myself. I love writing for TINO, particularly because I kinda get paid for it (more on that in a minute), but I miss writing for the pleasure of writing. For expressing myself and the strange ideas that I have, without caring about whether the articles are informative enough or well-supported enough or eloquent enough. Ah well. Rather than something personal, here’s another one of the blogs I’ve pre-written!

 

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Living a balanced life

TINO has a really great Topic page dedicated to health and wellbeing. It talks about some ways to live and be healthy, and I recommend the factsheet by Reach Out in particular. But there’s more to being healthy than just diet and exercise (though those can’t be overlooked). I’m sure there are dozens of models you could try to follow, but for me, one stands out as most helpful.

Someone once told me that there are five areas of balance in life. No matter what’s going on in your life at the moment, if these five areas are being looked after, then things in general are better. If things aren’t going so well, the sharpness of the suffering is buffered because everything else is so good. If things are going well, then you positively vibrate with the happiness and joy of how good life can be. I often reflect on how balanced my life is, and whether I’m having my fundamental needs met. It definitely works, so try it out for yourself! The five categories are:

 

Food

I’ve already written plenty about the importance of eating healthy and eating well, but it’s really important to put nutritious food into your body. You can only give as much as you put in, so if you want to be a healthier person in mind, body and spirit, a healthy diet does wonders for improving general health. Normally when I’m feeling crap I’m tempted to buy a big bucket of hot chips, but I’ve found that eating them normally doesn’t change my mood, and my stomach hurts afterwards giving me something more to be grumpy about. Even if you don’t feel like it, try eating well and notice the difference it makes in your life.

 

Exercise

Naturally, exercise is hugely important to keeping healthy and balanced. I almost always feel fantastic after I exercise, so I recommend doing it every day if you can! Go for a walk, or better yet a run whenever you get the chance! Not only does it keep your body fit, it does wonders for your mood by burning stress chemicals and releasing endorphins. Plus joining a sporting group is a great way to meet some excellent people, which segues nicely into my next point…

 

Social

Human beings are social creatures, and it’s important for us to be with the people we care about. Going for months without seeing a friend can be sucky, but going for months without seeing any friends in a fun setting can be exhausting. Make sure to schedule in time to see the people that are important to you!

 

Relaxation

Resting and doing something you love is really important. I’ve had plenty of time on my hands lately so I tend to spend quite a lot of time doing this one (I’m probably a little out of balance here, hehe), but even during times when I’ve worked full-time, plus a casual job, I’ve always made sure I’ve had enough “me-time” throughout the week.

 

Sleep

So many problems come from being tired. Think about it- when was the last time you saw someone who was fully refreshed, yet still grumpy? If you get a good eight hours sleep, life is so much better. Some people need a little less, some people need a little more, but I’d generally advise to get as close to eight hours as you can. Although sleeping twelve hours can sometimes feel great, doing it day after day can leave you exhausted. Conversely, sleeping only six hours might save time, but it doesn’t give your body and mind enough time to heal and rejuvenate.

Here are some tips for getting a good night’s sleep:

      Hide your alarm clocks. Waking up to stare at the clock is unnecessary and usually unhelpful. Set your alarm if you have to, but turn the clock the other way so that you don’t watch the seconds tick by.

      Sleep and wake at consistent times. Although it’s hard to get into good sleeping habits and you might find yourself lying awake for ages, set a bed time and stick to it. Eventually your body’s circadian rhythm will adjust until you get into a regular pattern of sleep.

      Don’t have lights or sounds in your room. Even little things like LED clocks can distract you, and as your brain is trying to process the stimuli (“What’s that light? It can’t be a star. Is it dangerous? Better stay on mild alert all night, just in case…”), your sleep is not as deep or nourishing.

      Turn off your mobile, or put it on “Do not disturb” or “airplane mode”. I can’t count the number of times I was drifting off when someone messaged me and the sudden light and buzz of the vibrate would jolt me back into awakeness. If you use your phone as an alarm clock, many phones turn themselves on automatically when it’s time for the alarm to go off- give yours a try and see if it works.

      Avoid eating after 9:30. Most people’s digestive systems begin to slow down around this time in anticipation of eight hours of sleeping. Having a heavy meal and then flopping straight into bed actually draws a lot of energy from your body to your stomach so your sleep isn’t as satisfying.

      Unwind before bed-time. Turn off the TV and avoid vigorous exercise or anything that will get you “pumped up”. Let your mind relax with gentle stimuli like reading or a warm (or cold!) shower.

      If stressful thoughts are keeping you awake, do something to de-stress. As a specific example, I often worry about the amount of study I have to do before an upcoming assessment. But over the years, I’ve come to the firm belief that time for sleep is equally important as time for cramming. That means if I have sixteen hours before an exam, I will deliberately spend at least eight of them sleeping/resting, rather than trying to pull an all-nighter and then being too tired to remember anything the next day.

To help let go of generally unhelpful thoughts that keep you up at night, try meditating (that is to say, focusing your mind on something other than your stressful thoughts), breathing deeply, counting sheep or consciously letting your body relax. This last one in particular works pretty close to 100% of the time for me- I’m usually asleep before I’m halfway through it. Try repeating “My left arm is heavy” three times, feeling it grow heavier each time, then “My right arm is heavy… Both my arms are heavy… My left leg is heavy… My right leg is heavy… Both of my legs are heavy… My arms and legs are heavy… My left arm is heavy and warm…” etc. These “progressive autogenic exercises” are based on the idea that as your body relaxes, your mind relaxes. Feel free to look up other ones on the internet!

      If you’re still having trouble sleeping after all the above (and you’ve been trying for a couple of weeks to give your body time to adjust), get up and do something completely different for a while. Sometimes lying in bed can help you to relax and fall asleep, but if it’s not working for whatever reason, don’t get frustrated about it and keep going. You can’t order your body to fall asleep any more than you can force yourself to relax- it’s a paradox to even try. Whenever I’m suffering from insomnia, I like to get up and read a few chapters of a book, or if I really can’t sleep, I’ll load up a game for an hour or two and then try again.

Life gets busy, I know it does, but stop making excuses. If you haven’t been taking good care of yourself, you can start any time you like- there’s nothing stopping you! All human beings have the same amount of time, we just have different priorities. So if you think “I don’t have time to sleep eight hours a night”, change something so that you do. I once told a friend of mine “I don’t have time to [do some task during a busy time in my life]”, and he told me “If it really mattered to you, you would make time.” And he was absolutely right. Time can be created in small pockets all over the place, and the world doesn’t fall apart if you schedule a time-out for yourself.

 

So get out there and get balanced!

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