By Julianne Winkler Smith

With each New Year come new resolutions – for many of us, these involve weight-loss or health goals. “I will lose 10 pounds.” Or, “I will go to the gym three times a week.” And these are indeed commendable ambitions. But what if we adopt a more expanded view of our “health” for 2017? This year, let’s redefine those health goals to embrace our whole self, incorporating the multiple facets of who we are. This year, consider a new resolution that will not only address your physical wellbeing, but also reduce stress, sharpen your focus and nourish your joy. For 2017, let your New Year’s resolution be simple: Establish and maintain Self-Balance. 

The Many Facets of You
First, it’s important to define the concept of “Self-Balance” by establishing the myriad puzzle pieces that make you, well, you. 

    • Physical - Your body; includes exercise/movement and nutrition

    • Emotional - Your feelings; includes emotional awareness and control

    • Mental - Your mind and thoughts; includes learning new things and self-talk

    • Spiritual - Your relationship with God; is defined differently depending on culture/beliefs, but involves having a higher meaning  

    • Vocational - Your occupation/calling; can be working outside the home, from the home, or in the home

    • Relational - Your connections with others; involves your interactions with family, loved ones, acquaintances and strangers

According to psychologist Dr. Kristen Wynns, owner of Wynns Family Psychology in Raleigh, “When we go through our daily grind, day after day, without a sense of balance in these areas, our stress level goes through the roof, which is ultimately detrimental to our overall health and happiness.”

Achieving Balance

Life-balance is not a new concept, and it probably rings true to you. The issue is not in its validity, but rather in the application. But you may be thinking, “I can’t stick with my go-to-the-gym resolution past February! How I am I supposed to manage six areas of self-improvement?!” Achieving self-balance does not have to be overwhelming, because every step you take equals a real accomplishment…the very means to its attainment is its ultimate end.

Here are three ways to successfully engage in self-balance.

1. Expand Your To-Do Timeframe. Oftentimes when we create goals for ourselves, we believe that each day is its own marker. That is, if we “succeed” or “fail” on that particular day, we have either succeeded or failed in general. When these daily “failures” start adding up, frustration ensues…and abandoning your goal completely may not be far away.

    “I think trying to balance these areas on a daily basis is unrealistic for most of us,” explains Dr. Wynns. “A better approach would be to have a weekly or even monthly goal of self-balance. When you can incorporate balance within that bigger picture,” she continues, “the results can be incredibly satisfying.”

    This tactic allows for a “war vs. battle” mentality – in a kinder, gentler way, of course. The idea is to embrace this expanded timeframe as the mission, not necessarily the daily achievements. To this end, your self-talk moves from, “Shoot, I failed miserably today,” to “Wow, I had a great week of self-balance!” 

2.    Be Intentional. Most of us live by our favorite calendar app. We schedule meetings, doctor appointments, kid activities, etc. Some of us even schedule our workouts – and that’s a great thing. So incorporating intentionality when it comes to self-balance won’t be a difficult stretch.

    Dr. Wynns expounds on this. “Life has a tendency to trample over our desire for self-balance, so it’s imperative to create the habit of integrating intentional activities into our schedule.”

    As you plan your week or month in advance, find and block out self-balance activities that touch on the six areas denoted above. And here’s the important part: Make these activities just as valid and essential as every other item on your schedule. It may take awhile to let this concept settle down into the fiber of your being, but let it! Block out those 20 minutes a day to read that book on WWII (Mental). Nope, you can’t drive carpool on Wednesdays because it’s your time to journal about having a thankful, optimistic outlook (Emotional). Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-6:45am? Powerwalking with the new neighbor (Physical and Relational – Boom!) This is all about saying “No” to the good and “Yes” to the better.

3.    Integrate Spontaneous Bite-Sized Pieces. Sometimes blocking out big chunks of self-balance activities is just not possible amid the craziness of life. So another approach to self-balance is to seize little opportunities throughout the day. For example, when you’re in a waiting room, turn off your phone and strike up a conversation with a fellow “waiter” (Relational). Or, if you have a daily commute, make that a quiet time to meditate or pray (Spiritual). Perhaps you find yourself with 10 minutes between “to-do” items; go outside for a brisk stroll in the sunshine (Physical).

    You will be astounded at how these small bites of balance add up to shift your overall sense of wholeness. After all, whether you eat that cupcake in tiny nibbles or stuff the entire thing in your mouth at once, you’ve still eaten a cupcake. The same thing is true of incorporating self-balance activities…and the results are delicious and oh,
so satisfying.

Technology: A Subversive to Self-Balance

It’s time to address the technological elephant in the room. You know what I’m talking about…your devices, your iThings. It will come as no surprise that the No. 1 enemy to living a life of self-balance is the constant intrusion of all things techno. Dr. Wynns concurs. “There’s a 24/7 ambush of technology that sucks up an inordinate amount of our time,” she explains. “It keeps people from being able to spread out their time and energy across the important areas of life, leading to increased stress and decreased contentment.”

    And just as technology is an obvious culprit, the most effective weapon to thwart this time- and energy-sucker is just as apparent: Unplug.

     Oftentimes we use time on social media sites like Facebook or Instagram as a means to unwind. And it can be an effective mental vacation…until you glance up to the corner of your screen and realize that 45 minutes has passed. And what’s been accomplished? You’ve watched a couple of cute puppy videos, “liked” photos of somebody’s kids, and maybe even had a visceral upheaval of anger when that political post popped up on your wall. The key is to admit that “unplugging” through social media is not the kind of unplugging that is vital to healthy self-balance.

dr. wynns; photo by joe reale

dr. wynns; photo by joe reale

    “Unplugging from technology allows us to nurture our relationships with family, friends and our partner,” Dr. Wynns explains. Too much technology, be it social media, gaming, or general internet use, squelches the brain’s creativity. And there is significant research into the effects of too much screen time. “The increased exposure to device screens supresses melatonin,” Wynns continues, “which is wreaking havoc on our ability to sleep deeply and soundly.”

    Despite the expectation – of bosses, friends, and, well, everyone – that we will be available 24/7, we must be intentional about turning off our devices. Start simply by muting or powering off your phone every time you’re in the car. And so you won’t be tempted to pick it up “only at the stop lights” (wink, wink), put it in the glove compartment. Seriously. Turn on the radio and sing along. Or, here’s something novel: have a conversation with your passengers! Maybe, as you drive to your next destination, you can sit back and enjoy that sweet, rare sound of silence.  

    Simultaneous to instituting a “no-device drive”, try it at home (or out) during meals. Through the ages, breaking bread together has always been a time of connection and an opportunity to foster relationships. But in recent years, dinner conversations are accented by constant “dings” and “buzzes”. And don’t think those shifty screen glances go unnoticed. Take your phone off the table. Better yet, turn it off. Use this precious time to connect with your children, your spouse or your friends. Even if you’re eating a meal alone, if you eat device-free, you’ll actually take your time and taste your food…perhaps digesting not just the food, but also an appreciation for the nourishment it provides.  

    The truth is, it wasn’t that long ago when we didn’t have 24/7 technology. We talked more. We didn’t have a constant bombardment of global catastrophes. We went outside to play. We wondered and wandered more. It’s certainly not about turning back the technological clock, as the benefits of ever-advancing IT are incredible. But it is more vital than ever to take control over technology, so it doesn’t overtake you.

Happy New (Balanced) You!

You can do this. Balance. Little spontaneous bites. Big intentional chunks. For your mind, heart, body and soul. For connection – with others and if you are spiritual – with your God. And the cool thing about any balancing act is that it’s never about perfection. You’ll wobble this way and that, and maybe even fall on occasion. Resolve today to create self-balance in your life. It’s a process…and every step – whether forward, back or wobbly – is an integral part of your successful journey.  

Helping Your Kids Unplug

Parents today know that kids spend too much time with their eyes on a screen – be it their phone, device, computer or TV. And it’s impacting their ability to practice healthy self-balance. Dr. Kristen Wynns, of Wynns Family Psychology in Raleigh, offers this advice for parents to help their kids unplug:

Technology is a privilege kids earn. It’s not a given! You can help them incorporate balance into their lives by making tech time something they earn after homework, physical activity, chores, etc. So before they even reach for technology, they’ve already touched on various aspects of self-balance.

Set limits and stick to them. For example, create a “no gaming” rule for weekdays. And be sure that all devices are plugged in to charge in another room (kitchen or parents’ bedroom) at least an hour before bed. 

Technology is not “unwind time”. For our brains (especially a child’s developing brain) to relax and recuperate, we need to play – both physically and using our imagination.

Institute "Forced Family Fun" day. This technology-free time allows for the whole family to put down their devices and enjoy simple activities together. Try going for a hike, playing a board game, or doing a community service project together. This is about parents saying, “We are going [here] now! Phones down and let’s go!”

Model unplugging behavior. Parents, the best way to help your kids learn to the importance of disconnecting from technology is to do it yourself. 

Dr. Wynn’s Raleigh practice is located at 9207 Baileywick Rd, Ste 203, Raleigh.


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