I think we can all agree that life gets faster. For a brief moment in time, Covid-19 slowed us down. However, we are back on track to the speed of things, everyday demands imposed on us, and our expectations of others. How do we feel if our car-sharing ride arrives 5 minutes later than stipulated, if our food in a restaurant comes 10 minutes later than stated, or if our food to our doorstep arrives 15 minutes later than the app promised?
Generally, stress tips us out of balance. The pace of life correlates with the stress that we feel. Stress isn’t so much about what happens to us; it is how we experience it (what happens inside us, so to speak). A stressor can be a thought or an event, whether real or imagined, and activates the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis to produce the stress hormone cortisol.
Individually, we experience cortisol in different ways. In other words, stress finds an outlet in its way; for some people, it may affect their sleep, headaches, abdominal pain, and frustration.
To some extent, we are aware of how stressed we are during the day. It becomes dangerous when we are unaware of our stressors and feels drained when we give more than we receive. We may not realise how much of a load we are carrying daily.
Another reason for unexplained stress is that some people do not have the emotional vocabulary for stress. When we do not have the language to label our feelings, it is hard to experience them. We call this alexithymia which is an inability to define our own emotions.
Let us consider a server at a wedding banquet who might have the solution as a life lesson. I am always impressed when I see the server serving food to the table, often carrying multiple plates spread across their arms, somewhat effortlessly. They tilt their arm at an angle as they move across the crowded room, focused on getting to your table; the larger plates are closer to their arm and the smaller plates closer to their hand. If we use the plates as a metaphor for your responsibilities, are you aware of how you balance your different responsibilities across a crowded day?
With your daily demands, you can expect to feel out of balance. Here are five tips to get you into more balance.
Tip 1 – Write a “List-I-do”
The point of writing is simple. When we think, we can have a million thoughts running around, but we can only produce one word at a time when we write.
This is not a to-do list but a list of things you have done. Write down even the menial ones, even those you think are meaningless. Assign a time that it took for you to complete the task.
At the end of the week, look at the list and highlight three things that have not significantly improved your life. Decide if you want to get rid of the item or reduce the time you took to take action on the item.
Tip 2 – Acknowledge your Presence
Where you say you are, there you will be. Most of the time, we can be floating in our heads, and time passes, ending the day before we know it. A simple way to acknowledge our presence is to repeat this mantra – Here is where I am (breathe in and out). I am experiencing this ____________ (feeling, thought, sensation) (breathe in and out). This moment is passing (breathe in and out).
When we acknowledge our presence, we are more mindful and reduce stress and increase calm.
Tip 3 – Appreciate more
Set a time in your schedule or a reminder on your phone to take a few minutes to appreciate what you have. Be creative. You could, for example, take a string and wrap it around your toothbrush to remind you to start your day with appreciation every morning.
When we express our appreciation or gratitude, the neural circuitry in our brain releases dopamine which makes us feel good. The anterior cingulate cortex in our brain also releases serotonin. Serotonin enhances our mood, our willpower, and motivation. Neuroscientist Dr. Antonio Damasio says, “We are not thinking machines that feel, but emotional machines that think.”
Tip 4 – Creativity breeds happiness
It does not take a lot of time. It does, however, need you to take the first step. Even with five minutes a day of doodling, colouring, being creative with cooking, or playing with your children, you could see tremendous benefits in terms of positive emotions and a reduction of negative emotions.
It is also essential for creativity to find judgement-free zones. Stay away from people who may critique you too quickly or find a space where you can spend time on these activities without judgement.
Tip 5 – Rally your supporters
Connect to your supportive friends. Some have good intentions but may carry their own biases; therefore, if you do not feel supported, stay away from the person. Trust yourself to make the decision.
The art of balance has to have a strong foundation (support). If you feel that you have tried some of the above tips and remain somewhat discouraged, consider speaking to a mental health professional. The demands of everyday life are real and affect all of us to different extents. With the proper support, you can go a long way to experience fulfilment and enjoyment in a balanced life.
Merrill D’Cruz is a mental health professional and has spent the last 15 years in academic and clinical practice in Singapore. Please visit www.merrilldcruz.com if you would like to connect with him.
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