By Vicki Akenhead-Ruiz
The reporting profession is all about the “spoken word.” However, as a mental health counselor, I hear the stories of individuals who have struggled with some of life’s most challenging issues and strive to help them find balance and peace in their lives. I wanted to offer some of the ways to tap into that balance in life that is so essential to finding inner peace and joy. Let’s face it: With the deadlines, stressors, and face-paced life, we often neglect the most important component of balance – ourselves. This article will provide what I hope will be meaningful tools and ideas for identifying what balance might look like in your life and how to find that balance in a fast-paced, chaotic life.
TAKING THE FIRST STEP
Before you can begin to bring balance into your own life, evaluate how you spend your days. I suggest learning to be mindful of each day and each breath. While this seems simple and fairly straightforward, mindfulness is a practice, just like exercise, eating healthy, and relaxing. Being mindful of what we need to do and actually doing it can be two different things. We often race from one task to another, only to realize at the end of the day we took zero time for ourselves.
Being mindful means having a conscious awareness of the moment while paying close attention to your body and what it is saying to you while living that moment. How often do you stop during the day to take a deep breath and just pay attention to what your body is telling you. Is your heart racing? Consider if your chest feels tight; or if your shoulders approach your ears and lead to pain in your neck, back, and shoulders; or if there is numbness in your feet or hands.
Once you notice, take two or three deep breaths in and out. While breathing in, focus on breathing in peace or calm; and while breathing out, focus on releasing anxiety or stress. This is especially helpful when writing for long periods of time in the sitting position.
Mindfulness comes into play in every facet of our lives – being mindful of ourselves, our words, our actions, our surroundings, and – yes — our very lives. It is also a remarkable tool to help us slow down, stop the racing, and enjoy the only thing that is a given in this life — and that is “this moment.” I would challenge each of you to take two or three moments each day to stop long enough to think about your bodies, your breathing, and to acknowledge the beauty of breath. We often forget our breath is the lifeline to not only another moment but, if we are lucky, to another day.
I would also encourage you to research mindfulness and learn all of the ways that you can enhance your life by being more mindful of many other facets of our life: what you eat, how you spend your time, and so on. It is also an amazing tool to evaluate your thoughts and to spend time really focusing on what your brain is telling you about yourself, others, and life.
YOUR MIND: SEEK POSITIVE THOUGHTS
Mindfulness is an amazing tool to evaluate your thoughts and to spend time really focusing on what your brain is telling you about yourself, others, and life. It allows you to challenge negative thoughts and to reframe those into positive, uplifting words that make for a much peaceful way of thinking and living. The old saying, “You become what you think about” often proves true when you spend time with your thoughts long enough to hear what tape is playing about the days’ events and even yourself.
I am often working with clients who are searching for a passion in life, for something they can do that is meaningful and joyful away from the workplace and outside of their profession. We all know that hobbies and exercise can bring relief and joy when and if we make time for those things to happen. Hobbies can be anything that helps you relax and slow down. Like most things in life, this also takes a commitment of time and often, at the end of a long day, time just runs out. If this is the case, I would suggest that you make time earlier in the day so that you take time for yourself in doing something that helps you relax and is fun. We take time to schedule appointments and make those happen, so set a time for this as an “appointment with self” and make it happen. My most special time is in the very early morning hours of the day, before the dog or my husband even gets up. This is “my time.” I read, meditate, journal, connect with nature by walking in the beautiful mountains of New Mexico, exercise, and have that first cup of coffee in the quiet of my home before the day begins. If you feel like you just don’t have time in your day to slow down and do something you enjoy for at least thirty minutes a day, I would urge you to make adjustments so that it can happen. You deserve it.
Friendships and family are another area that I find so very important to life and having a healthy balance in life. While we often struggle with finding time to spend with friends, I have found they can be a lifeline to emotional health. Like anything else, making time to spend with friends and time to cultivate friendships is something that takes time. But it is time well spent.
Friendships involve laughter and laugher is so healing. If you are not taking time to laugh at least once or twice a day, you need to definitely readjust your schedule. I find special humor in laughing at myself and do that many times a day. I use the words healthy and positive to describe the type of friends I choose because as I get older. I want to be surrounded by like-minded people. This does not mean people just like me, but people who think positively, live positively, and have courage. I seek out friends who continue to learn and friends who make me laugh. Slow down long enough to reach out, schedule time with a friend, and enjoy it. The rewards are so worth it.
In this same category would be family, of course, and spending time with family is equally as important to finding healthy and positive friends. Our family members are often our friends but can bring a deepness of connection to our lives that cannot be found anywhere else.
YOUR BODY: SEEK HEALTHY FOODS AND EXERCISE
Another component of balance involves eating healthy with a focus on brain-healthy foods. We often neglect our brains. We just figure as long as they are working, we are good to go. However, we can focus on ensuring that the foods we eat are healthy and helpful in getting our brains to function at the highest level possible. Spend some time reading and learning about the brain, and you will be amazed at how little we use it.
Of course, eating healthy, in general, ensures a healthier mind and body. This takes planning and restraint, and it can often be hard when our days are so busy. The fuel we feed our minds and bodies directly relates to how we feel and function during the day so the time spent planning what we eat is well worth it.
As I look at ways I have shared that help with balance in life, I am reminded of the importance of prioritizing each day to ensure that we spend time with self. It seems odd that we would need to prioritize and schedule time to enjoy ourselves and our day-to-day lives, but this is precisely what it takes. Beyond prioritizing how to make it happen, it takes a solid commitment to schedule time to be healthy, have fun, and to feel good about each day. It takes planning.
I often tell clients that it is best to start small with changing your priorities and with changing how to spend each day. Start off with a small intention in the morning, and once you have completed that intention, end the day with being grateful for the success. Then start the next day with adding to your intentions and build on each day from there. Eventually, you will find that it gets easier to see how carving time for yourself becomes automatic and very necessary for emotional and physical health.
YOUR SOUL: CONNECT WITH HOPE
I have talked about staying healthy emotionally and physically but would be remiss if I were not to mention the importance of feeding your soul. For me, that means finding your spiritual connection with self and our universe. This can happen however you find that connection: through prayer, meditation, yoga, nature, or wherever your connection is to “hope.” Without hope for self, those we love, or, more broadly thinking, those who suffer, I doubt that we could heal from the challenges, losses, and pain that life can bring our way. This can be as simple as stopping several times throughout the day to just be grateful for this life, for our health, our families, our memories, and – yes — for “this moment.” And when we don’t find or make time for ourselves, to be forgiving and kind enough to start over and try again the next day.
Vicki Akenhead-Ruiz, RPR, CMRS (Ret.), is a past president of NCRA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.