Emotional balance, much like physical balance, gets better with practice. In both, unexpected events can make us temporarily lose our balance, but the more we work on our strength (muscular or spiritual), the quicker we can get back on our feet.
When I am working on balance with my personal training clients, I often use the example of Olympic figure skaters. Occasionally, they fall on their own or because they didn’t quite land from a jump or from being tossed in the air. However, because their bodies are so fit and limber, it seems less than a nanosecond that they are back up on their skates and twirling, dancing, and jumping. Someone who is not quite as conditioned might just end up laying there on the ice until someone can come and rescue them or give them a hand up.
With my life coaching clients, I use the same analogy to illustrate the importance of conditioning, balance and strength, except that we are then discussing emotional or spiritual balance, which helps lead to contentment in life. In some cultures, this balance is taught with as much rigor as physical strength through meditation and mindfulness training. In others, it is never mentioned at all.
I remember when my father’s father passed away. I was 26 years old and just devastated. I couldn’t imagine my life without my grandfather’s stories and presence. He had seemed invincible. The idea of a Christmas without him tossing gifts to the 29 grandchildren seemed unfathomable. This hiking, gardening, piano –playing FBI agent could not also be mortal. How would I go on?? My dad seemed to be handling it much better than I was…you just go on, he said. You just keep going. You remember the stories and the laughter and the good times. When you feel sad, be sad. But set a time limit on it and then let the sadness go. Stay engaged in your life. Be present.
I started to consciously work on this emotional balance then, this inner strength. I have to say, after decades of practice, I still get knocked off my feet sometimes, but I bounce back up much more quickly than I used to.
Here are some of the things I do each day to stay emotionally fit:
- I made a gratitude list every single morning. I write the date and the words “I am grateful for,” and then number 1-5 and write down the first 5 things that come to mind.
- I think through my day as I drink my coffee and write my gratitude list. This reminds me of all the wonderful people that I will see that day, and if there is an event that will be particularly challenging, I can work through that in my mind, visualizing it working out as well as possible.
- When something bad, sad, upsetting, unfair (see also “life”) happens, I see if there is any action that I can take to make myself or the people involved feel better…some way to improve it. If there is, I take that action. If there is nothing I can do about it, I can still write about how I feel, visualize a time when this particular thing does not hurt as much, and think about what activity might re-engage me in my happy life. Sadness happens. Loss happens. Happiness happens. None of these stay for longer than they are meant to, but they all cycle through. We can be grateful for the happiness and understand that the sadness will dissipate.
- Physical activity and/or creative activity can be just the outlets to disrupt the negative or overwhelmingly sad thoughts. They don’t change the circumstances, but they can give you a clearer perspective and change your ability to deal with the circumstances in that moment.
- And then…more gratitude as you notice that this day was not as challenging as the day before. This is hope-training. If today was even infinitesimally better than yesterday, then maybe tomorrow has the possibility of further improvement. If we slip back a bit? No worries. We now have the experience of climbing back up so we can have the confidence to know that while this is bad, we have the ability to face tomorrow with our shoulders squared and chin up. And until then? Let the people who love you, help you. Walk or run or paint with them.
It takes practice. The good news is that you can fail every day and still get up tomorrow and try again. You’ll get better at it over time. Fall down. Get back up. It gets easier. Tell stories. Laugh. Love. And be kind to yourself. Place the oxygen mask over your own mouth before assisting others. And laugh again. Need help? Just ask. I’m right here.
Wishing you a life that allows you to bounce back quickly, friends reaching out to lend you a hand, and belly laughter that makes your cheeks hurt from smiling.