Hello! Welcome back to my blog 🙂
It’s been a while since I last wrote a post, but this week I’ve been inspired to share some of my thoughts on routine and balance, and how I “stay afloat” (and get back on track) when things aren’t going my way.
Sometimes, it can be really difficult to get back to “normal” mode when something stressful, difficult or worrying has interrupted your life. Everything could be going so well for you, but it only takes one bit of sad or worrying news to change everything. It could be a health scare, a shock redundancy, a family illness, a pandemic(!)… It might even be that some frightening news has cropped up but you don’t yet know the outcome, and are having to live with the worry – perhaps you’re waiting for a diagnosis, or waiting to find out whether you will lose your job.
Whatever it is, there will be many moments in all of our lives where something difficult happens that we are unprepared for. In the past, I found it so hard to cope with these situations (it’s still not easy of course), and I would often respond in a destructive way. (FYI – when I say past, I don’t mean that I never do these things anymore, just that I can recognise them now and hopefully do them a little less).
Some things that I might do in response to shock, worry, sadness (or just an unwelcome interruption to my usual life):
- Become consumed in all of the worst imagined scenarios and fall into a mental “abyss”
- Disconnect from the positive aspects of my life as they might now seem small or meaningless in comparison to this “bad” thing
- Completely give up my usual routine
- Stop exercising
- Eat less or eat very sugary foods
- Ruminate constantly
- Indulge in my feelings (and cry a lot)
- Take less care of my appearance and my home
Back-tracking a little to life pre-shock/worry/bad news – I have learned that the two main components of maintaining a feeling of general wellness in my day-to-day life are routine and balance. And I’m no expert, but I really believe that this can be applied to almost everyone.
By this, I just mean having a general set of habits and behaviours that you carry out on most days. The idea is that they become predictable, and therefore keep you feeling safe and stable. I see routine in all aspects of life – animals have routine, even the planet has routine (night & day, seasons, the movement of tides). When routines become habitual, we can begin to do many of the behaviours on autopilot, saving our energy for more important things. When you get into a good exercise routine, you find that you stop thinking about exercise so much, or worrying about when you’ll fit it in. It doesn’t seem as intimidating because it’s just part of your routine.
I function best when I have a routine for the basics (waking up, eating, working and going to bed) and also the other “details” of my day where possible (socialising, exercising, cleaning etc). Obviously, some people enjoy routine more than others, and there is no need to be completely rigid. We have to be able to adapt to all sorts of situations, and it’s important to have times where you completely give up your usual schedule (during weekends, holidays etc). Being flexible and being able to embrace change are crucial, but I personally believe that having some level of routine is so important for your mental health. Just make sure it fits in with your lifestyle, and that you have room for flexibility.
I believe that life always maintains a balance naturally, regardless of what we try to control. When I was younger, I used to think “Why do people want to live in moderation?! They will never get to feel the amazing feelings that I feel when I do X/Y/Z”… That may be true, but what I didn’t realise was that the opposite is always just around the corner. If you fall madly and blindly in love, you’re going to have a really horrible shock when it goes wrong. If you drink way too much alcohol, you’re going to suffer the torturous effects of alcohol poisoning the next day.
I suppose my real point about balance is not that “you should live a balanced life” but that “you should be aware that life will maintain a balance, whether you like it or not”. I think that, in our modern, consumerist culture, we are encouraged to try and escape the balance and seek pleasure constantly. Advertising, shopping and all of the “quick pleasure” stuff that is sold to us can make us believe that we can live in permanent pleasure if only we spend enough money on it.
But, in my experience, if you don’t want as many lows, it’s worth trying not to seek so many highs. Try to live a little more gently if you can. I used to think that contentment and peace were boring, but they’re actually by far the loveliest places to be.
Of course, sometimes things happen and they make us feel a certain way – we can’t choose for really painful things or really wonderful things to never happen to us. But, most of us do have some control over what we do in our day to day lives. There is no need to add extra drama and pain and extreme emotion when there will be plenty of that throughout life anyway.
It’s worth mentioning that I am fully aware that what I have written above doesn’t necessarily account for all situations. I am not saying that some people do not have more enjoyable lives than others, or that we all experience the exact same amount of pleasure and pain. It’s also important to acknowledge that maintaining “balance” can be really difficult for some of us, particularly those with certain mental or physical conditions. But I think that most of us have the ability to take action, and make our day to day lives as balanced as possible, with respect to the situations we find ourselves in.
Practically speaking, I try to maintain a balance in my:
- Social life
- Physical activity & rest
I would highly recommend working out whether you can move towards balance in any of the above areas too.
If you ate a pizza last night, maybe you could have something light with meat (or tofu) and vegetables today. Doesn’t mean you can never eat pizza again!
If you have been spending every day with your boyfriend or girlfriend this week, maybe suggest having a night apart. You could meet a friend or just have the evening to yourself. Doesn’t mean you can’t see them the next day. Your mind and body will benefit from the change of scene and it will remind you that there are lots of ways you can spend your time that will make you happy. “Variety is the spice of life”…!
When something unwelcome comes along…
So, moving back to my point at the beginning of this post. Something has come up and it’s thrown you off track. Perhaps you’ve had a meltdown, or you have become quite anxious, or you are constantly worrying. Then you break your routine – you don’t do your workout, you start eating chocolate for breakfast or drinking more alcohol than usual. You stop cleaning your house, washing your hair, contacting your friends. Your thought patterns might have changed – you can’t concentrate on the things you need to get done, and you don’t have any motivation to. You’re thinking “What’s the point?”. The content of your thoughts have become negative and anxious. Life, which just recently felt light and positive, suddenly feels dark, gloomy and maybe frightening.
I used to think that’s just what happens when you’re worried or when problems arise, and that you can only feel okay when life is going your way. But that isn’t true, and I have realised that we can choose how we approach our problems. A “problem” (probably better described as a “challenge”) doesn’t have to equal despair. You may be worried and something may be on your mind, but you can use the routines and balanced lifestyle that you have built to protect you and carry you through.
It’s natural for challenges to shake up our lives and throw us off balance. But we already have so many tools that we can use to keep going, and possibly even feel okay, despite these obstacles.
- If something interrupts your life, you can use it as an opportunity to evaluate whether your routine or lifestyle could do with a change or improvement. When everything is just going ‘okay’, we can forget to strive for better. If you’ve had a health scare, you might find an opportunity to look at your eating habits. Perhaps it is a good time to focus on a new routine when it comes to food, which incorporates better nutrition.
- If you’re worried that something “bad” is on the horizon, that’s even more of a reason to make the most of every moment of your life. It would be a shame if your worst fears really did come true a month down the line, and you’d spent the last month in absolute misery and panic. It is the present moment that counts – that’s all there is. If you’re okay right now, if you’re able to work hard or eat delicious food or share a happy moment with your partner – then why not?
- Despite what all your thoughts might be telling you (There’s no point / I can’t be bothered to get out of bed / I don’t want to do anything / I feel miserable / There’s no hope / Something bad is definitely going to happen), just write a list of what you need to get done today, get out of bed and get started. If the thoughts really are true, then you can return to them later. For me, 99% (or maybe even 100% of the time), this is guaranteed to make me feel completely differently. For one thing, it gives me a break from my thoughts, which have become completely irrational and unhelpful. For another, it makes me realise that there is still achievement, productivity and joy to be found in the day, even though there are other things going on.
- As soon as you can, start getting some routine and balance back into your life. This will equip you with a healthier body and a more balanced mindset, so that you can face your challenges with strength. Give yourself a chance to face your fears and be resilient. I have realised that my fears can actually lead to an even greater sense of peace if I am prepared to face them, and carry on despite them.
You can face your challenges with strength…
The main message I wanted to give with this post is that I believe you can build strength and protection for yourself by living in a way that has some level of routine and balance, and that you can remain strong when things go wrong. It’s perfectly natural to have a wobble, or fall down, or to be worried that you will. But it is possible to get back up, keep going and find peace, even when something completely shakes you. Try to find some level of gentle balance in your day to day life to give yourself the best chance. ❤
I really hope that if, like me, you sometimes struggle to face and adapt to challenges with positivity, this was helpful in some way. I mostly just wanted to share how I have previously reacted, and how I try to react now (having discovered how differently I feel/react when using the “positive” approach compared to the “negative”).
Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts – I would love to hear them. Thank you!
Love, Chloe x
As always, it is important to mention that I am not a medical professional or a mental health expert. I am simply sharing my experiences and thoughts on topics related to mental health & anxiety, in the hope that you will find them interesting or useful. If you are, or think you might be, struggling with any aspect of your mental health, please make an appointment with your doctor. There is so much support available and it is very important that you get the right help.