There’s no single definition of what a balanced life is going to look like for any given person. When I think of a balanced life, I think of physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, and a sense of belonging within a social/familial network. Living a balanced life can be a struggle for a person suffering from depression. Sometimes the “imbalance” causes the depression, and sometimes the depression causes the imbalance. However the imbalance in our lives comes about, we need to try and remedy it as best we can so that we can heal.
Let’s look at the individual components of a balanced life:
Physical Health. I’ve talked about the importance of proper nutrition, exercise and sleep in gaining and maintaining a healthy body. Physical health helps reduce our stress levels, gives us the energy to deal with the circumstances of our lives, and helps to raise our overall sense of wellbeing. It’s also something that we generally have a fair amount of control over. Some of us do have physical limitations, and maybe we can’t go out and run a marathon. But there’s usually something we can do to improve our health.
Caring about our health is sometimes difficult when we are feeling bogged down with depression. It’s a bit of a catch: when I’m down I lose my energy. The last thing I want to do – or feel I can do – is to get myself up off the couch and start moving. The mental weight of sadness and despair and hopelessness feels like a physical weight holding my body down as well as my mood.
If I am feeling stressed out, it becomes difficult to sleep, and yet good sleep might just be what I need to help reduce my stress. Or I may face the flip side, sleeping too much because I don’t want to get up and face the day. And the avoidance can lead to guilt, greater despair and feelings of helplessness, which then make me want to sleep even more.
Proper nutrition is equally complex. Eating well requires putting some thought and effort into what we choose to consume. Yet in our depressed condition we may lack focus and commitment to doing something to better our health.
A lot of the solution to enabling ourselves to eat, sleep and exercise properly is just overcoming the initial inertia. If I do pull myself up off the couch and do something physical, if I do put something nutritious into my meal plan, if I do monitor my sleep, it doesn’t take long to begin to feel the benefits. And once we see the improvements taking place, it becomes easier to continue the good habits.
Mental Health. It is so important to realize that depression, in most cases, is not going to simply go away if we ignore it. A lot of times we feel the need to just “tough it out.” That might work for a while, but to be healthy and balanced, we need to address our depression head on. The help of a competent therapist may be needed. Proper medication may be called for. Even just talking it out with someone may be beneficial. Mental health leads to self-esteem, feelings of self-worth, and acceptable levels of stress. And it’s not just for "everybody else." We can all be proactive in improving our mental health.
Spiritual Wellbeing. I wrote about spirituality in a previous post which you can read here. I think of spirituality as being part of a larger Whole. Whether that wholeness is God, Nature, the Universe, or whatever entity or quality you choose, it is important to find some connection with Life. In AA, and other 12-Step programs, they talk about a Higher Power which one can define in any way he or she chooses. While I think of my Higher Power to be something intangible, I’ve heard of people selecting things like door knobs to be their Higher Power. One person selected a light bulb, which worked fine until one night when the electricity went out. Hmmm. At least the door knob will always be there…
Social/familial Connection. We need other people in our lives. We’re social creatures. I will be the first to admit that when I am depressed, the very last thing I want is to be around a bunch of people. But isolating is not the path to balanced living and health. Maybe we don’t have the most beloved family, maybe we haven’t made a ton of friends in our lifetime, maybe we’re out of work and don’t even have coworkers to relate to. It can be hard sometimes to find those connections. But there are therapeutic settings where we can speak to professional mental health specialists, or we may find we fit in with groups of like-minded people, like self-help groups or non-profit organizations that offer services related to our specific needs. We may even find communities online that we can reach out to. Carefully. There are billions of people out there. Chances are we can relate to some of them.
So balancing life involves fitting together all the components that lead to a healthy, well-rounded life. Balancing life with depression means pushing ourselves to seek out and participate in healthy activities and practices even when we don’t feel like it. It can be a challenge, but it can be immensely rewarding.
I don’t mean to make it sound like life becomes one huge ordeal just because a person is depressed. We all find it challenging to strike a balance in our lives at times. And being depressed does not exempt us from having a healthy, fulfilling life. Maybe we just need to be a little more in tune with ourselves to keep our lives from becoming skewed.
So perhaps the next time I am feeling out of balance, I might just consult with my Higher Door Knob. Who knows, it may open the door to all kinds of possibilities.
I think I hear opportunity knocking.