On Finding Balance

On Finding Balance

I thought of two ways to describe  the phrase “finding balance.”

First, finding balance means, on the one hand, thinking about which decisions and actions will help you create the kind of life you want to live, and on the other, not doing this so much that you spend your day in a perpetual state of micropanic about your impending future.

Or, second, finding balance means living somewhere between YOLO and FML.

It can be challenging in college to live comfortably  between these two extremes. There is every temptation to “live in the moment”: you have easy access to friends, fun things to do with those friends, and the ability to shrug off responsibilities without hurting too many other people. If it snows, and you and your friends decide, instead of studying, to try and build a to-scale replica of The Wall from Game of Thrones, you can do that.

On the other hand, college is prime time for worrying. For example, it’s easy to worry both that you’re not studying enough and that you’re not sleeping enough. And then you end up feeling paralyzed, since you can’t concentrate on studying, and you’re too anxious to go to sleep. This doesn’t even get at the bigger looming questions of what you’re going to do with your life, how you’re going to pay off your loans, or who you are.

You can even worry that you are not YOLOing enough: are you wasting your weekends? Are you doing all the crazy things that you’re supposed to do in college? (For example, it’s possible to worry that you’re not having enough fun on New Year’s or Cinco de Mayo, or any of the other occasions on which it seems like you might be a failure if you don’t end up with a good story.)

I’ve always been frustrated by the kind of advice people give about staying balanced and happy. “Live in the moment” sounds nice, but sometimes it’s important to remember that you told your mother you would call her, and you need to stop what you’re doing and keep your promise. On the other hand, if you’re always worrying about the future, then your mother is apt to wonder why, whenever she calls, it seems like you’re not paying attention.

Our bodies, it turns out, stay balanced by continuously monitoring feedback from (among other things) muscles and nerves. Note the “continuous” part: if your body were rigidly attached to one particular way of existing in space, then you couldn’t do anything without falling over. Instead, the body keeps checking in and performing little adjustments.

Feeling balanced isn’t so different. It requires two things: feedback and response.

Feedback is about checking on your own thinking. This is sometimes called metacognition, mindfulness, or reflection.  Whatever word you use, the point is to pay attention to what you feel, when you feel it, and which things and people encourage you to feel that way.

Your observations could be about anything. That a friend tells a lot of one-up stories, and it’s annoying. That you like chicken wings, but every time you eat chicken wings, you need a 6-hour nap. That you have an inexplicable urge to climb the nearest tree and build a nest and not come down until next semester. That you like pizza, but you don’t like eating it in front of other people.

Observations like these are half the process. Like your body’s balance system, you also need to respond–to  make corrections based on what you observed. Some things you can change on your own. Maybe pull your friend aside and say, “Hey, you know you tell a lot of one-up stories? Not cool, bro.” (Okay, maybe “not cool, bro” won’t convince him—you know him better than I do.) Eat a few less chicken wings. Make a conscious effort to study more. Make a conscious effort to study less. Maybe use some of the resources here at UNH offered by Health Services: get a massage, or try light therapy, or meditation, or yoga, or attend a UNH Relaxation Station, or talk to a wellness educator/counselor. (Protip: 3 Bridges Yoga, which has a studio here in Durham, has an absurdly good student rate.)

But other things aren’t so easy. For example, building in a nest and living in it for the rest of the semester  might help you escape a problem, but it won’t help you solve it. Plus, you’d need to know something about weaving sticks together, and I hear that takes years to learn. So in that case, you might have to do something courageous: tell somebody. For example, you might make an appointment at the counseling center. It’s important to remember that going to therapy doesn’t have to mean you need help; it might just mean you want to do some work to change your situation. Also, Health Services offers counseling and education on a huge range of issues, from nutrition to stress management to coping with emotions.

Trying to find balance isn’t easy. It can actually be pretty tough, depending on what’s happening in your life. But maybe it’s helpful to know that balance isn’t something you have or don’t have. Instead, it’s the process of learning to be kind to yourself and negotiating your relationships to the people, things, and places in your life.


Photo: Jeremy Gasowski, UNH Communications and Public Affairs