Angry, Sad, and Weary? 5 Steps to Balance, Without Meditating
When we feel off-balance, our emotions show it. Here are 5 ways to stabilize.
Posted Jun 17, 2020
Last week, I scheduled two clients for the same hour – three different times. I kept forgetting what day it was. And I have never been more grateful for autopay options because if left to myself, I’d very likely forget to pay all of my bills.
Clients have complained about out of control eating, drinking, sleeping, and smoking. “I’m tired all of the time,” said one woman, echoing what I am hearing constantly these days. “I mean bone tired. Exhausted.”
Others tell me that worries about the things that are going on in our country are leading to arguments with spouses, partners, children, parents. “They don’t always even make sense,” said one man of a recent fight with his wife. “I mean, we’re actually on the same side! We just seem to be picking at each other for no reason.”
What’s the problem here? Not dementia, not deep underlying anger at our loved ones, and not hidden depression or anxiety, but instead a sense that we cannot find our balance. And, as I've talked about in other posts, when we feel out of balance, our emotions get out of whack.
This loss of equilibrium has been created by events outside of our control: COVID-19, insecurity about both the lockdown and the opening up process, the recent murders of unarmed black men and women by police in the United States highlighting a longstanding system of injustice, and the ways that both crises have been handled in this country. Oh yes, and just in case we need something more to throw us off, the political arena, health care, and the economy are also currently out of whack.
We are out of balance as a country, a society, a culture. And that lack of equilibrium makes it especially hard for even the most stable individuals and families to find what feels like a solid place to stand.
Feeling unstable, or out of balance, can be both a symptom of and a result of stress, and research tells us that it can lead to many other emotional and physical symptoms, ranging from general feelings of irritability and frustration, to feeling overwhelmed, depressed, and/or anxious, to stomach problems, headaches, and other physical discomfort.
So what can you do about these difficulties, especially those caused by something outside of you, something that you cannot control?
- First, take a deep breath. Most of us are holding our breath far more often than we realize. Anxiety, depression, and stress all cause us to constrict our breathing. Stress also releases cortisol into the body, which numerous studies show can have a negative effect on both mental and physical well-being. Taking a deep breath will not undo all of the harm that stress is causing. But it’s a beginning. Some studies have shown that learning to breathe deeply and regularly can stimulate our relaxation response; and through relaxation techniques, we can help to undo some of the harm caused by stress.
- Break tasks into small, manageable portions. A friend tells me that she was feeling bad about herself because, unlike so many other people she knew, she wasn’t using the shelter-at-home time to be creative or write her memoirs. “I could barely get my normal tasks done,” she said. “But then I figured out that I could actually do something I love if I broke it down into small, manageable activities.” She is an incredibly talented seamstress, but, she said, “because I’m usually so busy, I have all sorts of projects that I’ve started but never finished.” She pulled out one project and, working on it only a short time each day, completed it within a week. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “By just doing a little bit at a time, I’ve already completed two more sewing projects!” This same rule holds true for the terrible things going on in our society. None of us can make everything better. No one can fix a broken world alone. But if we each take some kind of small, manageable, maybe even only slightly noticeable action on a consistent basis, we will contribute to the larger healing process. Whether that means having a genuinely open conversation with a friend or relative who holds a different opinion from yours, volunteering in a small way, making a small financial contribution to an organization doing meaningful work, writing, openly talking to your children about racism, sexism, and prejudice of any kind, or even reading some of the myriad of books and articles now available on these topics – if each of us takes small, even seemingly insignificant actions on a regular basis, we will contribute to a larger change.
- Let go of fantasies of perfection. In an article about balancing work and personal life, written before we’d ever even heard of COVID-19, Bianca Roberts writes that as a mother of two adventurous young daughters, with a husband and a job she loves, she has had to learn to accept that life is messy! Accepting the messiness is part of finding balance. As Brené Brown puts it in her book Daring Greatly, finding balance involves “cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, 'No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.'”
- Meditate if you like, and if it helps. But if it’s not your thing, there are other paths to balance. Try other ways to de-stress – exercise, listen to music, talk to friends, read a book, take a warm shower, watch a diverting show.
- And finally, remember that finding balance is a lifetime project, not a one-time achievement. It is an ongoing process, not a finite goal at the end of which you will have a peaceful, calm, and meaningful life. In fact, as Pema Chodron writes in her book When Things Fall Apart, it’s actually good to feel unbalanced. She says, “We think if we just meditated enough, or jogged enough, or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect.” But not only is that not possible, she tells us, even if it were a possibility, having everything “wrapped up and perfect” would not be living. Losing your balance might feel painful. But engaging in the process of finding your balance, over and over again, gives you an opportunity to truly engage in and appreciate life.
Brené Brown (2012) Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead Avery Publishing Group
Pema Chodron (2000) When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Shambhala Classics)