What does someone mean when they say “live a balanced life” or “bring one’s life into balance”? What do we hear? My take on “finding balance in life” is influenced by my understanding that all spheres and systems of life are interconnected.
The physical, mental, emotional and spiritual spheres all play off one another – easy to see when we experience a fearful emotion or thought and the subsequent release of fight-or-flight hormones that trigger an increased heart rate or anxiety among other physical symptoms. Another example are how the foods that keep the beneficial bacteria in our guts happy result in an influx of serotonin into our systems, leading to happy thoughts and joyful feelings.
Within the physical body, the different organ systems also “lean on each other”, creating physiological changes that sweep through the body like the Arab Spring through the Middle East. These changes lead to both beneficial and harmful outcomes, depending on the perspective adopted, quite like a political movement. Easy examples the impact of hormonal or endocrine changes on the brain and neurological system, and the influence of gut health on lung and skin health.
A third aspect is the fact that changes are not always immediate in their impact. Choices made today may only land in the physiological landscape and have an impact on a secondary sphere or system in a future time, sometimes as short as hours to day later, sometimes decades or generations later. Think about the longterm impact of poor sleep hygiene on mental, physical and emotional health? Or the impact of a high sugar diet on one’s future risk of developing diabetes. Or the epigenetic study that found an increased risk for obesity, Type 2 diabetes and schizophrenia in the children and grandchildren of survivors of the WW2 Dutch famine.
So where does this leave us practically? Accepting that there are no silos of physiology in the body is a sobering thought. No longer can we assume that a choice made today in one part of the body or in one sphere of life will have a limited immediate range of impact in that same sphere or system. A couple years of cigarette smoking permanently influences long term health outcomes in systems outside the lungs, from the skin to the endocrine system. A couple of years of late nights and early mornings eating into healthy sleep time may advance one’s career but also increases the rate of unhealthy ageing and the risk for numerous diseases.
But this reality of interconnectedness between spheres and systems is also a liberating thought. We all have spheres or systems that are easier for us to introduce change into, to tweak, to manipulate. So given this knowledge of interconnectedness, we can use these easier-to-access spheres and systems to limit and bring balance to the less easy-to-access areas of life.
If we know we are going to a wedding and celebratory cake and alcohol are on the cards, we can use our diet before and after the event to counteract some of the imbalance created by the party, we can ensure we remain hydrated throughout the festivities, get enough sleep and try and keep our stress levels under control (around a wedding? ??♂️) by focus on feelings of celebration, gratitude and joy. If we know we have a family predisposition to Type 2 diabetes we can consume more foods and take part in lifestyle activities that support healthy pancreatic function, balance blood sugar in the moment and reduce the impact of sugar-rich treats after the fact.
The first step to “finding balance in life” is to be honest with oneself – where is life out of balance? Which spheres or systems are asking for help? Then we assess how we can directly alleviate or reduce the fallout in the sphere or system affected. And thirdly, we consider which of the other spheres or systems can support us in returning to a state of balance. No challenge is too large or overwhelming for us to not have an opportunity to intervene, correct or reduce it’s impact on our health and wellness.