“One benefit of having to quarantine due to COVID-19 is that it has forced us to slow down and be more present with each other.”
Sound familiar? This was a common saying I heard over the past year—one I even said myself! However, as life has begun to open up again and the option to return to the busy-ness of our lives prior to 2020, I have been curious what we have (collectively and individually) chosen to do next. Has the stillness of being with one another strengthened connections in our lives? Has it decreased our sense of urgency? Has it challenged a sense of control and equilibrium? Or, perhaps, has it caused increased interpersonal conflicts, a higher state of anxiety and depression or even fear? The truth is, all the above is most likely the case. What we are left with is a choice in how we will take this experience and create a new norm—a new balance.
In most every experience in life, there exists challenges and benefits. How, then, can we mindfully accept all that arose from this past year (and counting) and begin to shape an even greater balance in our lives and in the lives of our families?
Step 1: Know Yourself Intimately
Creating balance requires first digging deep and knowing YOURSELF. What are your needs—emotionally, physically, spiritually, psychologically, relationally, intellectually? (I highly recommend taking time to write each of these areas down and identify what you desire them to look like with no limitations. We often assume something is unattainable or is simply “the way it is.” Allowing ourselves to imagine our fullest potential and meet our greatest need can be life changing.) What brings you to that place of contentment and balance where your mind and body seem to move and exist in harmony?
For some, this was a new phenomenon that occurred this past year. For others, their sense of balance was threatened. It’s like the oxygen mask analogy. If you’ve ever flown on a plane, you have heard the speech of what you should do in case of an emergency—"put on your oxygen mask first and THEN help those around you”. The idea is that you must be sure you are getting enough oxygen in order to be able to help others. The same is true in creating balance in our lives. If we are constantly pouring ourselves out in order to help others and not ensuring we are meeting our own needs, we are no longer useful. We become depleted of energy, time and resources. Therefore, you must do the challenging (and rewarding) work of knowing your needs and meeting them first. This will take time and that is OK. Be patient with yourself as you will most likely be rewiring a whole lifetime of bad habits. A great book on helping you understand your needs and your boundaries is Boundary Boss by Terri Cole found at: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=boundary+boss&gclid=CjwKCAjwieuGBhAsEiwA1Ly_nUcfsYq 6N85cyYieluCfNCMJJjwnFLYmjrCmobtZ73x2vx7IMFw05xoCw5kQAvD_BwE&hvadid=501428414554&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9010798&hvnetw=g&hvqmt=e&hvrand=750836597350787614&hvtargid=kwd-1072809519820&
Step Two: Identify and Change What Isn’t Working for You
Once you have a good idea of your own needs, you can begin to address areas in your life that are not filling you up but are, instead, draining you. I would venture to say that many of these areas were or are those things that keep us so busy. Here’s a good way to figure it out:
· If you were one that felt calmer and more balanced during quarantine, ask yourself these questions: What changed? What did I like? What would I like to continue?
· If you were one that felt more anxious and stressed during quarantine, ask yourself: what was challenging? What do I need? What would I do different? Note, just because something creates anxiety does not always mean it is not healthy. Anxiety can be a tricky feeling so be sure you really assess what the root was this emotional experience.
Step 3: Evaluate and be Open-Minded
Finally, after implementing some changes, continue to go back and evaluate your decisions. Your needs will continue to change depending on various factors and so should your decisions in how your balanced life will look. Keeping an open mind to new experiences and listening to yourself can open new doors that may surprise you.
If you have children, be sure to ask them how their experience was, what they liked or would like different? We teach by example and are raising children who will carry habits lived and taught as children into their adulthood. Teaching them to know themselves, be assertive in what they need and help them create balanced living is invaluable.
Contributed by Rebekah Tchouta, LCSW