Life Balance and the Consequences of Stress
Lynda Peterson, educator and author of The Healing Journal: Taking Control of Your Journey Through Cancer
As a high school teacher, I have taught my students for years about the “Balanced Life Concept of Career Counseling” which states that there are 3 parts to our lives: Self, relationships and education & life work.
The self refers to the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual parts of us including our motivations and lifestyle choices. The relationships incorporate every relationship we have: Family, close friends, neighbors, colleagues, role models and others. Lastly, education & life work refers to our interests, skills, aptitudes, personality, education, competences and perceived significance of our work and more.
Each part, while having specific, independent components, is linked to the other parts and each part is influenced by our values and our attitudes. You cannot do something or have something happen in one area that does not in some way affect the other areas, and too much time spent on one area will result in not enough time or not enough attention being spent on the others.
In order to have complete happiness, health and fulfillment in life, the 3 parts must be in balance. When that balance is off we suffer from increased stress among other things. We teach this concept to students to help them identify career paths that will support their values, attitudes, motivations, beliefs, and what they want out of life – the bigger picture. The more a person’s education and life work support their values and attitudes the happier they are, the more fulfilled they feel, the more likely they are to make healthy lifestyle choices, be involved in healthy leisure activities, feel as if they belong in their community and have healthier, happier relationships – all of which contributes to lower stress levels and better ability to manage stress in healthy ways during challenging times.
I would suggest to you that, while all three are related and dependent on the others, the most important part of this equation is the self. I would further suggest that so often in life we tend to give self the least amount of time and attention. We get so wrapped up in the commitments we have to work and family, financial obligations, meetings, deadlines and trying to make everyone else happy that we neglect to look after ourselves. The self part of our lives gets smaller and smaller as our health, both physical and mental, begins to suffer.
In my book, The Healing Journal: Taking Control of Your Journey Through Cancer, I give a personal example of this:
I can teach a passionate lesson on this topic, but I am the first one to admit that before my diagnosis I had no balance. My energy went to my family and my work, not necessarily in that order. In fact I’d say that I was on auto pilot with my relationships, doing and saying what was expected when it was expected as wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend, and while I loved them all very deeply I don’t think I stopped often enough to take it all in or appreciate the beauty they brought to my life.
My work on the other hand got all my attention. I worked late, brought work home at night and on weekends, signed up for every committee and said yes to anyone who asked me for a favor. I lay awake at night stressing about lesson plans, difficult students, career fairs, report cards, phone calls I had to make, cleaning that needed to be done, laundry that needed to be folded, bills I had to pay and one thought perpetuated another until it was time for me to get up and do it all again.
I liken it to getting in the car, putting a brick on the gas and just letting it go. Where it was going to stop and when were out of my control. I had no intention of jumping out or hurting myself, I was just out of control. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my life, or most of it. There was just too much stuff getting in the way of pure peace and happiness and I paid a high price for it, cancer.
I’m not sure the medical profession would all agree that stress was a factor but I know in my heart that it was. I know that my cancer is not my fault but I also now know that I need to come first. After my diagnosis and initial treatment I went back to work. I very rarely brought work home, very rarely stayed late, very rarely said yes and only signed up for those committees that I truly wanted to be a part of. Guess what? I’m a better teacher for it. I’m happier, more effective and enjoy my students more for who they are, than worrying about which behaviors I feel need to change. My house is never as clean as it used to be, I very rarely think about money, and when my kids phone I drop everything and just really listen to what they’re saying. When my husband and I go for walks I concentrate on the tenderness of his love as his hand envelopes mine and just absorb the beauty around me. I take time to just be. Less really and truly is more.
I am closer to the balance now than I have ever been. I am far more conscious of self and what it means for me. I take a lot of care about my diet, what foods work for me and which ones work against me. Which supplements my body needs and when to take them, how much exercise to do and the importance of sleep. I do things I want to do, allow my creative side to develop, get lost in a good book more often and am learning to meditate and to let go of the little things that cause me stress. Pre-cancer I thought that it was selfish of me to spend time on myself when I had responsibilities to fulfill. Today I know that looking after myself is the best gift I can give my family, it’s an investment in time that we can spend together.
Stress is a factor of life and I think we’d be naive to think that we can eliminate it altogether. However, by actively working toward creating a balance between self, relationships and education & life work we are going to reduce the overall number of stress instances and improve our responses to, and recovery from, stress when it does happen.
To create the balance, begin with 3 pieces of paper, one for each of the parts of life. Then using the same size font on each page, generate detailed lists of your activities over the last 7 days: Responsibilities, commitments, clubs, sports, meetings, appointments, working hours, leisure hours, family time and everything else you can think of.
Next, using different colored markers draw a circle around each list. You’ll then have a graphic representation of where your energy has gone, whether your life is in balance or not and where you need to make some changes as well as a list of everything you do for yourself and others. Take a hard look at that list and see how prioritizing, delegating, re-organizing and improved time management can help you bring more balance to your life.
It may also be obvious to you once you’ve completed this exercise that you need to make some major changes in your life. Sometimes we have to make what I call ‘quality of life decisions’. They’re not always easy and don’t come without consequences or the need for adjustments to other areas of our lives, but they’re the right thing to do. In the long run we reap the benefits – a more harmonious, more rewarding and more balanced life.
Final thought: This is not a do once and forget about it activity. This is a lifestyle behavior. Creating and maintaining a balanced life takes work, as much as eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise or successfully managing your finances. It takes organization, commitment, determination and effort, but the rewards make it well worth it – a happier, healthier and more peaceful existence.
Lynda Peterson is a two-time cancer survivor, 20 year educator, professional organizer with Professional Organizers in Canada and author of The Healing Journal: Taking Control of Your Journey Through Cancer, which enables the user to keep track of and manage all the information that will suddenly become important in their lives, including appointments, questions, treatments, contacts, medical history, travel arrangements and ‘to do’ lists along with healing strategies, resource lists, a journal section and the author’s own story. For more information visit www.thehealingjournal.ca, join our Facebook group at www.facebook.com/thehealingjournal or contact the author at info @ thehealingjournal.ca.
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