By Gayla Grace
When our family moved to Conway, Arkansas, I wrestled with an imbalanced life for several months. With three children in tow, and pregnant with another, I felt emotionally and physically spent. Our children struggled to adjust to elementary school after leaving family and friends behind in another state. I was finishing a Master’s degree that required completing two classes at the University of Central Arkansas, while studying for comprehensive exams covering two years of course work.
My husband worked in Jacksonville, adjusting to a new job that included long hours and a lengthy commute. Balancing my responsibilities became a daily struggle. Although I couldn’t change the circumstances at the time, I knew I had to do something different.
Balance is defined as “stability of body or mind” and “harmony and proportion.” Balance creates an environment for better health and allows for higher productivity. Without it, we experience instability and dissatisfaction.
Women wear many hats: mom, wife, employee, chauffeur, nurse, home manager, counselor, school volunteer … just to name a few. It’s easy to become overwhelmed unless we find a healthy balance, mindful of our time and responsibilities.
When we strive for balance, it’s important to look at how we spend our time in relation to what is important to us. We can ask ourselves, “Am I devoting enough time to the activities I am most interested in or simply going along with what I think has to be done? Am I reacting to last minute demands or planning ahead?” It’s necessary to establish our priorities and set our goals accordingly.
Learning to say no is the easiest way to take control of our time. There are a lot of wonderful organizations and activities we can be involved in, but if we are seeking a life of balance, we must choose to participate in those that are most important to us.
Healthy balance also includes proper diet and exercise, along with adequate sleep. A study on lifespan reports, “People who maintain normal weight live an extra 11 years. People who exercise regularly live an extra 2.4 years.” While these are general figures for a large group of people, they illustrate the significance of proper diet and exercise.
Proper diet includes consuming more high-fiber foods, increasing our intake of fruits and vegetables, cutting down on too much fat and sugar, and lowering our salt consumption. Choosing foods with low-calorie density can also help with weight control. Low-density foods have high water content, allowing a larger portion size with fewer calories. Examples of low-density foods include low-fat dairy products, broth-based soups, beans, and fruits and vegetables.
Regular exercise also contributes to balance by regulating mood swings, increasing energy levels and aiding with a variety of health issues. Research has shown that exercise reduces stress and improves our thinking. Even a small amount of exercise goes a long way toward improving our health and helping us feel better.
Adequate sleep is a key to balance that is often overlooked. Good sleep habits result in clearer thinking and sharper judgment. And some good news recently published: a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology reports that women who get adequate sleep (seven or more hours per night) are less likely to gain weight than those who don’t. Lack of sleep appears to negatively affect the hormones that regulate our appetite. What better reason to get to bed on time?
Another factor to consider as we look toward balance is spirituality. Joining a Bible study or participating in a prayer group can bring us a deeper sense of wholeness and harmony, as we grow spiritually. An interesting book written by Dr. Jeff Levin, God, Faith, and Health: Exploring the Spirituality-Healing Connection, describes the connection between faith and health. His research gives numerous examples of the positive effects of faith as relating to health and wellness. One reviewer of the book, Janet Quinn, Ph.D., R.N., states, “…Levin reminds us of what we can no longer afford to ignore: that our spiritual life matters mightily to our health and well-being at every level.”
Lastly, we need to remember the importance of leisure time as we strive for balance. Coffee with a girlfriend, date night with our husband, or reading a book in a secluded place (away from the computer, PDA, and pager) may be the perfect solution to a long day. Making time to do what we enjoy recharges our energy levels when we return to our daily commitments.
Life with balance allows us better health, greater happiness and more productive lives. As women, we may always lead busy lives, but if we are intentional with our time and responsibilities, we can live a life with balance.