A few tips to help cultivate balance in everyday life

For the past couple months, I’ve been job-hunting. I realize this is a common part of being an adult, but in the process I’m also seeing a rather disturbing pattern in the language used to advertise jobs.

Often, the “ideal candidate” must be ready to join a “grueling, fast-paced environment,” to be endlessly “flexible” with their time and their skills. As one Atlantic article puts it, productivity in terms of output is often valued as “the default measure of accomplishment.” Sometimes this standard becomes the yardstick by which we measure our worth as a person.

But job descriptions aren’t the only place I notice this language of imbalance. From social media to TV and movies, we’re bombarded with only the most exciting, sad, or infuriating stories. This hyperbolic media landscape leaks into how the most important issues of our day are talked about—we are encouraged to see those who believe differently from us as ignorant at best and monstrous at worst.

It goes without saying that habits of imbalance can be destructive. How do we maintain a sense of personal freedom in a culture that wants so much of our physical, emotional, and spiritual time and energy? Below are a few ways I’ve found that help me seek out the balance I need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

01. Create haven spaces. 

A recent Business Insider article on American work habits notes that now more than ever before people’s home and work lives are becoming increasingly intertwined. This is due to increasing technology that allows us to easily take work home with us (ahem, phone email notifications). Because of this, we’ve probably all been given the advice to unplug from technology every now and again. But I would take this a step further. Within each day, take time away from work. This time away is more a reframing of your environment than a physical removal from it, so even a space within your workplace will do. (I’ll often occupy a small conference room away from my desk when I’m seeking quiet.) Also good is a place outside of work that you associate with peacefulness and calm, or a room in your own home that is quiet and distraction-free. For half an hour, take some time to recollect in this space. For some, this might involve just being quiet; for others, something active like reading or journaling might be more relaxing. The point is for this particular space to be associated not with the act of working, but with the act of resting.

02. Change your language. 

Studies have shown that what we say affects how we think. This happens at the cultural level (one study found that American speech patterns are more direct than those in other cultures) and on the personal level (our self-talk). I’ve certainly seen the connection between language and thought in my own life. For example, one result of unbalance in my own life—lack of sleep and workaholic tendencies—tends to be the negative thought spiral, and my thoughts influence and are influenced by what I say. When I am telling those around me that I feel tired and overwhelmed, I tend to dramatize the little molehill-sized problems of everyday life. I often give way to cognitive distortions like “catastrophizing” and “filter thinking” in which I’m choosing to blow problems out of proportion or to focus only on the negative in a situation. 

There’s nothing wrong with needing to verbally process events and emotions, but there are healthier ways to do it. Here’s one: if I’m able to add an “and” to these negative emotions, I am able to both acknowledge the difficult emotion and speak to myself kindly, as I would to a friend. This strategy invites a greater range of emotional diversity, and helps me pay attention to multiple facets of a situation. When I add an “and,” I’m more likely to think, “I’m feeling ineffective at my job today, and I’m feeling this way because I’m tired,” or, “I am stressed, and I’m persevering until I can rest at the end of the work day.”

03. Modify your inputs. 

It’s just a fact of life that media is a great influence on our lives in the twenty-first century. Despite studies that have been done on the negative effects of social media on our notions of self-worth and happiness, I believe that balanced media intake can be a positive in our lives. For example, I love having access to a movie streaming site through my local library that gives me the ability to watch international films that widen my understanding of the world. I also know, however, that I’m a sensitive soul when it comes to violent and graphic TV and movies. I try to stay away from media that heightens my emotions, because I know these influences can lead me into negative thought patterns that ultimately feed into my interactions with others. I know what inputs leave me feeling anxious, sad, or even a bit empty or jealous when I leave them; I know which ones enrich my life. My goal is to be more connected to the inputs (including real-life interactions with friends and family) that make me feel whole.

Navigating our fast-paced, high-tech, emotion-saturated society is not an easy task. Luckily, recognition is the first step in changing how we think and speak about the world around us. The second is realizing that we can change the conversation by changing the landscape around us. By choosing where to rest, what to listen to and watch, and how to respond, we have the power to create balance in our everyday lives.