Balanced Life: Defining It and Restoring It When It Has Been Lost

College can be fun and exciting, providing opportunities to try new things, expand your mind, learn about yourself, meet new friends, etc. However, it is not uncommon to feel a bit shaken sometimes by change, especially when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory. 

When Your Foundation Feels Shaken

When you are faced with challenges and are pushed outside of your comfort zone, it is easy to feel disoriented and off-balance. You might neglect important aspects of your life while becoming too invested in others. Some people find that they are studying so much that they forget to make time for fun and socializing; others may find that the opposite is true, and their studies are neglected. Some people may spend so much time with others that they lose the opportunity for quiet and contemplation; others might spend too much time alone until their isolation leads to loneliness. 

A foundation of self-care that balances the needs of both mind and body is necessary for health and happiness. 
 

Remember the Five Mind-Body Basics

Because the mind and body are connected, there are five elements of self-care that are crucial for restoring balance and mental health. 

Sleep
A regular sleep cycle that leaves you feeling full rested and rejuvenated each day, ideally about eight days each night.

Nutrition
Three nutritious meals a day with healthy snacks in between. A good rule of thumb is to shop for whole, natural foods that are typically lining the shelves on the perimeter of the grocery store - the kinds of foods your great grandmother would easily be able to recognize; foods without a long list of ingredients that are hard to pronounce.  Also, be sure to stay fully hydrated - drink lots of water each day.

Exercise
A mix of different forms of moderate, daily activities that are fun and energizing. Cardiovascular exercise - the kind that would lead you to break a sweat and get your heart rate up - can be especially good for combating depression and anxiety.

Fresh Air, Sunlight, Being Outdoors
Reconnecting with nature and being active on a regular basis, especially when the days are shorter and darker in the winter months.

Social Contact
Making time to be with friends and family who are encouraging, supportive and invested in seeing you thrive; looking for opportunities to connect with others, contribute to the community and environment around you, and practice compassion for yourself and others equally.
 

Aiming for Moderation and the “Middle Way”

In many ways, to find balance is to work with the laws of nature. A pendulum may swing from one extreme to the other, but it never comes to rest until it settles at the balance point between extremes. To be in tune, a musician needs to find the middle – neither too sharp nor too flat. In Taoist Philosophy, it is believed that balance is achieved through a blend of opposites, yin and yang.

Our bodies are also designed to find a natural balance, a state of homeostasis: we have an optimal pH – neither too acidic nor too alkaline; we also have an optimal temperature of 98.6° F – neither too hot nor too cold. When it comes to mental health, it is important to avoid black-and-white thinking; you can find yourself stuck when you limit yourself to extreme positions; instead it can be wiser to consider the gray area in the middle.
 

Create a Plan for Time Management

Familiar routines and structure can be a source of security. When structure breaks down, balance needs to be restored.

To develop structure and balance in a routine, it can be helpful to create a written schedule for yourself – an hour-by-hour, day-by-day plan to help ensure that you can juggle priorities throughout the week. The plan should not be so rigid, packed, or ambitious that you feel trapped or confined by it. Rather, it should leave you feeling as if you are reserving enough time to honor your values and move toward your goals.

Being able to see it all mapped out on paper can help to create a sense of control and organization. Often when you have covered all the to-do list items and priorities, it can feel liberating; you will probably find that you still have more free time than you realized. 
 

Here are some things to consider when you are designing your schedule:

  • You might start by creating a predictable schedule for sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
  • You will want to plan for class time and hours to study.
  • Maybe you have a job shift that needs to be part of your schedule.
  • You might want to think about reserving time to get regular errands and chores done each week.
  • You could strive for balance between time spent alone and time spent with others.
  • You might have to reserve time for both family and friends.
  • Maybe you have some hobbies you want to pursue.
  • Maybe there is a spiritual practice that is important for you to maintain.
  • Don’t forget to leave time to reward yourself for hard work and to have fun!