Building Balance

I’ve been staring at the blank page of this blog post for a while, wondering where to begin. (Update: I wrote this post and then let it sit in my drafts for a while, that’s how unsure I was of posting it.)

When I dove back into the blogging Instagram world, I was quickly reminded of the effect that it can have on one’s psyche. There’s so many pretty pictures out there of pretty people doing pretty things, and it can, sometimes, be a bit overwhelming.

It has gotten me thinking a lot about balance. And, in honor of National Mental Health Awareness month, I thought it best to share a bit of my own story. Forgive me if this is rambling, or redundant, but this is also a little leap of faith as I open up about something I don’t often do: namely, my relationship (or, my previous one) with food.

Trigger warning: this post deals with eating habits, restrictions, and dieting.

Now, there’s obviously a lot of different types of balancing acts. It seems like these days, we have to juggle so much, whether it’s our health, our jobs, our social media usage. Where is it that you find the sweet spot of feeling like you’re doing enough, but not too much? How do you know when to take a break, without doing too little?

It’s taken me a while to figure it out, and I won’t even pretend like I’m an expert at it. I think that balance comes as you grow and get to know yourself better, and I also think that balance can mean different things at different stages in our lives.

For example, once upon a time (aka, my freshman year of college) I decided to go “healthy.” I was determined to avoid the Freshman 15, so I rerouted that determination towards only eating healthy foods, work out regularly, etc. The only problem is, I went way the other direction. I skipped eating mindfully and started to pay too much attention to what I was eating, and working out regularly became like a drug: if I didn’t get my run in that day, I felt miserable, and not due to lack of exercise. If I didn’t get to work out and I ate something “bad for me,” I felt worse than miserable. Granted, I did indeed save myself from gaining the Freshman 15… I lost it, instead. And then some.

Needless to say, I wasn’t so healthy, even though, in my mind, that’s all that I was. Ironically, it was my mind that wasn’t.

I remember coming home from school that summer and my mother reminding me, gently, to be careful. I knew what she meant, and though I was stubborn at first, I eventually eased up a bit. I started being okay with the extra slice of cheese on my sandwich, with not knowing what I was going to eat for dinner until I ate it, with skipping a day or two at the gym. Eventually, I found my true balance again, and by the time I went back to school, I regained my balance with food again.

Besides, that sophomore semester, I had a goal, one I needed to be happy and healthy for: I was going to England.

I left for England the January of my sophomore year of college, and I spent the next seven months having the literal time of my life. (I’ve written, talked, and reminisced on that time more often than not, so there’s no need to rehash the wonderfulness of it now, just know that it was incredible.) It was the first time in a long time that I literally did not think about food or worry about how I looked. I just wanted to experience everything, and experience I certainly did.

I came back from being abroad heartbroken to be home, and upset with the number on the scale. But I was so afraid to fall back into my freshman year habits, so I took it one step at a time. I started junior year with a resolve to be better about exercise, but maintain my England-driven attitude towards food. And it worked, at first, but as all exercise-only diets do, I plateaued after a while. Then I dropped the exercise and started to only eat “healthy foods.” That, again, worked for a bit but stalled after some time. I couldn’t seem to get back into healthy habits I had once had.

The rest of college was a struggle to get that balance back. I’m not saying it was an unhappy struggle, though there were times where I would get discouraged or upset. But who doesn’t? I tried to make the most of my junior and senior year, because if England taught me anything, it was that the time spent in that atmosphere was short, and I didn’t want to take it for granted.

The idea of true “balance” came when I was out of college, as I think it does for many of us. Suddenly, I no longer had the excuse of too many classes or a looming thesis deadline. At the same time, I was living completely on my own, for the first time ever, and learning so much about myself in the process.

And of course, lot of my story is, of course, so strongly about faith. Don’t think for a second that I think I could have gotten to where I am today had I not unrelentingly turned to God for guidance. I have Him to thank for the courage to get through it, the support He put in my life, and the strength to find that balance. In fact, I can honestly say that I didn’t feel the full power of regaining my own balance until I fully pulled Him into the equation, and for that, I am incredibly grateful. He showed the true force of His stable, loving hand as he guided me through this journey.

This journey that, in time, helped me figure out what balance means to me.

Balance, to me, is working out 4 days a week and being an utter slug the other 3. Balance, to me, is eating eggs for breakfast and a salad for lunch, and pizza for dinner. Balance, to me, is a hard workout followed by a bagel breakfast. It’s running 3 miles one day and just weight lifting the next. It’s having a wine night only to wake up and hike the next day. It’s putting a stone in the “healthy” side and a stone in the “happy” side at the same time. It’s making sure the scale stays even.

That said, I’m not saying that this is what balance looks like for everyone. For some, maybe it’s a daily workout and a strict vegan diet, because that’s what makes them feel their best. Because, really, that’s what it’s all about. Once you figure out what makes you feel happiest, and feel healthiest, then you’ll be able to get into that cadence more easily. If I’ve learned anything as I built my own structure for balance, it’s that there’s no one way to do it.

Balance looks different for everyone, and everyone has their own story for getting there.

PS: If you’re struggling, please don’t be afraid to reach out for help. The National Eating Disorder Awareness Helpline is a wonderful, life saving resource.

Put The Phone Down

I will be the first to admit that I am a little bit addicted to my phone. Ask anyone who knows me — they will probably agree, and I don’t mind if they do. I know I’m not alone in this addiction, not that such a fact makes things any better. But it is a fact, nonetheless, and an inherent truth about the generation in which I was raised. I grew up alongside the smartphone, I evolved as it did, and now, it seems literally impossible to live without it.

Now, let me clarify something. When I say “impossible,” I mean that quite literally. So much of our lives — personally, professionally, what have you — depend on our phones. Think about it. How much of your life would be dramatically impacted if you had to leave the phone at home? For one day! One 24 hour period!

It’s hard. It’s downright near impossible.

And that is really unfortunate.

The more aware I’ve become of my phone addiction, the more it bothers me. Now, I know that the true key to breaking a bad habit is to quit cold turkey, but as doing so would massively impact my productivity, I don’t know if that’s a feasible option right now. That said, I have been challenging myself lately to find times where I can go without.

Now, there are of course already certain times where having my phone anywhere near me is entirely out of the question. I put it away any time that I’m at church or writing in my journal or reading the Bible. I put it away for family dinners and other “important” events. But what’s to say that I shouldn’t deem every dinner important, every event worthy of my full attention? Especially things where it feels so natural to have my phone with me because, frankly, I always have.

Take date night, for example. This is one that I’m especially aware of because it feels really unfair to keep my phone out. I generally try to keep it in my purse, but I am guilty of mindlessly scrolling while we’re driving, or waiting to be seated. The boy is incredible with how little he uses his phone in general. He, I’d say, is definitely not addicted. So I try to pay him the same respect when we have dates. There are even some dates that I put the phone away altogether. I’ll switch it off (but not before texting my mom and my best friends that they can reach me via him if she needs to, because that, too, is a state of the world in which we live… being unreachable is unthinkable).

Or, just lounging around the house. Back when I did my 40 days without Netflix, I also started to challenge myself to put my phone out of reach when I didn’t need it. If I’m reading, I try to keep my phone on the charger, out of arm’s length. If the boy and I are cozying up to watch Pokemon, I’ll put my phone on a different table.

Now, I’m not saying I’m great at doing it all the time. In fact, more often than not, I must admit that my phone is still glued to my hand, but I am certainly attempting to be more conscious about it… which, inherently, leads me to be more conscious about life, in general. And I love that.

So, I’m curious. Do you have a phone addiction? What steps do you take to break away from the screen?

The Sweetest Thing

Millennial friendship is such an anomaly, if you ask me. On one hand, we still very much have the “keeping up with the Jones’” competitive attitude of generations past – look at my new job, new fiancé, new baby, new dog (but no new house, as we are too busy buying avocado toast). On the other hand, we’re the generation throwing convention to the wind, and known for being excruciatingly supportive of it – oh, you want to quit your job to go drive around the US in an air stream trailer? TOTALLY, I’m so into your free spirit!

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Photo taken at the Art of Ice Cream Experience.

That said, millennial friendship can be hard to strike a balance… to find the sweet spot, if you will.

Friendship is a balance of giving deep life advice with an edge of realness, and advising that you buy plane tickets you can’t afford just in the name of life experiences.

It’s a sweet spot somewhere between chatting about work over wine and charcuterie, and diving into a ball pit a The Art of Ice Cream Experience for the sake of an Instagram.

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Photo taken at the Art of Ice Cream Experience.

It’s being real when it counts, and offering to take a million photos to get the “picture perfect” shot when it doesn’t.

It’s about showing up when you’re expected, and even when you’re not, while also respecting the inevitable boundaries of our always-on, career-driven millennial culture.

Friendship knows when to blindly support and when to offer a word of caution. That said, it’s also respecting where and when your opinion is warranted.

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Photo taken at the Art of Ice Cream Experience.

It’s a game of chance. It’s not easy, but relationships between humans inherently aren’t. It’s just as much about finding the sweet spot and recognizing our own humanity and humility, and that of others. It’s knowing that we are all going through life, which is full of twists and turns and mistakes and glorious moments, and knowing how much sweeter it is to do that with a few good friends by your side.

40 Days Without Netflix: An Update

If you remember, I decided to give up Netflix for Lent this year. It was an effort to stop zoning out and be more productive with my 24 hours.

I’m proud to say that I succeeded… mostly. There was one night that the boy got stuck working really late and we had plans, so I curled up with a glass of red wine and Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and (ugh) Ross.

Besides that, though, I successfully stayed away from Netflix for the duration of Lent. And, honestly, I didn’t really miss it. (That said, I did definitely turn it on today just because I could.)

Anyways.

Instead of coming home, working out, and flopping down on the couch, I did exactly what I intended to do. I spent time doing things that are more “productive.” I read several books; I wrote a lot, both for the blog and the novel I’m working on; I spent time in the Word and made my way through a Lent study. And while it did all feel good, there were days that I was so brain dead that I just wanted to do nothing… but I’m really bad at legitimately doing nothing. Hence where the Netflix binging comes in.

Overall, it was a good experiment. In the end, I’m glad I did it and I think it will motivate me to watch less mindless TV. After all, I didn’t really miss it, except for when I was exhausted. But at the same time that I learned that I certainly can be more productive with my after work hours, I also realized that sometimes, it’s perfectly okay to zone out in front of the TV, and that doing so shouldn’t always be looked at as “unproductive.” Just as with eating chocolate vs. eating carrots, there’s a balance involved. Some days, if you’re feeling the productive energy, avoid the TV. Other days, if you’re just burnt out, the sofa is exactly the spot to be.

That said, tonight, the couch is calling my name. I wish you all a very happy Easter weekend! I hope it’s filled with chocolate bunnies and celebration of the miracle that is Easter!

Staying Healthy When Things Get Hectic

I really like being healthy. That’s probably a silly thing to say, but I just genuinely enjoy how my body feels when I’ve been giving it the love, attention, and movement that it needs. That said, I’m also totally that person who will let stress drive me to the edge, particularly the work-related kind. It’s so easy to do, especially when you’re in that phase of your career where “proving yourself” can often feel like the most important thing.

When that happens, I either go one way or the other: I either can’t stop working out and obsessing over eating “healthy,” or I decided to say forget it, and sit on my couch with a glass of wine and something delectably indulgent. Needless to say, neither one of those things are necessarily good for me if they happen too often.

Now, I’m a huge advocate for exercise being a great stress relief, but I also know that sometimes it can become something else to focus on and obsess over. I’m also a big believer that chocolate solves everything, but I’m also incredibly aware of how totally neglecting the nutrients I need makes me feel even worse than before.

Through all of this, I’ve learned one thing: balance is key to staying healthy. And health goes beyond just making sure you’re working out at the right times… it goes into ensuring you can keep a good balance of work life and personal life, for sanity’s sake. Too many young people seem on the road to burnout in their early twenties, which is the unfortunate nature of the fast paced world we live in. I’m all for grinding it out in the early years of your career, but I also think this is an important time for all of us to establish what is important in life, and for me, balance is at the top of the list.

Generally striking a healthy work/life balance can be difficult, but I think it’s the key to maintaining a good mindset. I’ve rounded up a few things that help me stay healthy in my mind and body when things get hectic:

  • Make a workout schedule. Like I said, exercise is stress relief for me, so I try to do it regularly. I have a little “weekly to-do’s” section at the top of every week in my planner. Depending on what my week looks like, I figure out how many times I can reasonably expect to go to the gym and I write in when I plan to go, making it clear that it’s a set plan. If I schedule the time, 9 times out of 10 I’m way more likely to actually go. I usually set out how many time I’ll workout during the work week, and then, if I do miss one, I can always squeeze in an extra workout in over the weekend… or I can do that anyway and feel really good about myself.
  • Take breaks. Sure, there are nights when I end up working until 8 or later, but I’ve learned that I can’t do that straight through. I go crazy, and I get unproductive. Once the 9-to-5 workday is done, and if I feel I’ve hit a bit of a lull, I take a breather… sometimes it’s to drive home, other times it’s to get that workout in, and even more often, it’s a chance to sit and sip some wine and recharge before diving back into whatever I’m doing.
  • Set boundaries. Now, this could just be the nature of my business, but I’ve learned that it’s incredibly important to set boundaries of when I’m “working” and when I’m “client-facing.” With the exception, of course, of major things like emergencies or big projects, I try not to email clients after 6 pm. First of all, nothing is that urgent (unless, of course, it really is… then make an exception) and secondly, most of the time my head is not quite clear enough to send that over after 10 hours of work.
  • Turn off notifications. It didn’t take me long in the working world at all to realize my number one cause of unnecessary anxiety was that little red number on my email app. I turned off my notifications early on, and I haven’t turned them back on. Granted, this does mean that when I’m out and about for work events, I have to check the app more regularly. But it also means I’m not distracted during those events, and it means that the times when I’m not working, going into “work mode” and perusing my inbox is a deliberate action. That makes it much easier to switch “off” when I need to, because otherwise, I’d watch that little red number creep up and it would make me so stressed out on Sunday that I’d spend time catching up that should have been spent sleeping.
  • Treat yourself. Whether it’s a Starbucks on Friday, or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s after a long day, or even a fresh new set of pens (does anyone else get as excited about office supplies as I do?!)… sometimes, rewarding yourself for your hard work is 100% deserved.

We live in a world of always-on communications, which can be both good and bad. I’ve learned that forcing myself to switch off, take a break, and get my blood moving can be the number one key to staying healthy when things get hectic.

Current Mode: Resting

This summer was a whirlwind.

Granted, it was a beautiful, amazing, happy whirlwind… but a whirlwind nonetheless. I figured out that in the 12 weeks of what you might call “traditional summer” (June, July, August), I was home for a grand total of 3 of them.

The best part? I didn’t plan it that way. It just sort of… happened.

And, full disclaimer: I have zero complaints about traveling that much (except, perhaps, that I didn’t get to clean my apartment nearly as much as I might have liked).

I love to travel. I love to be on the move. I love experiencing everything from the most touristy spot in Times Square to the random little coffee shop across from the Eiffel Tower to the best-kept secret resort in the Ohio River valley. I think travel is one of the most rewarding experiences we can have as human beings, and I absolutely plan on continuing to make it a priority.

But this summer also taught me about something else, something entirely unexpected, and something equally as important to maintaining a balanced, fulfilled, and healthy life:

Rest.

It seems that, especially in the social media age, being exhausted and overbooked has become trendy. I’ll admit that I feed into this phenomenon, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing. In fact, I’ve read many articles about the dangers of glorifying exhaustion (check some out here, or here, if you’re interested). While many of these articles talk to the plight of an overstretched college student, I have definitely seen this trend rolling over into my adult years, and those of my friends.

Between work, networking, overbooked social schedules, and an attempt at staying fit (or whatever other activities are peppering our planners)… we’re all just entirely too exhausted for twenty-somethings.

And, sometimes, I fear that it will do exactly what some of those articles say, and lead to an early-life crisis.

I ask you: what’s the glory in that?

When I was younger, I used to get so annoyed that my mom only let me have one sleepover per weekend. And, sometimes, if she thought I’d been too social lately, I wasn’t allowed to have any. I thought it entirely unfair, in my surly, stubborn, teenager-y way. But now? Now I live for the weekend nights where my boyfriend and I get to do nothing, where we sit on the couch and marathon Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean… and I appreciate my mom’s logic in keeping me home occasionally more than ever.

I’m not saying that I have to, or even want to, do nothing every weekend.

But I am learning to appreciate the weekends that I get to do exactly that. It’s the perfect chance to hit pause, recharge, and just appreciate all of the travel and times that have brought you here, to this moment of much-needed rest and relaxation.

After all, it’s all about balance. You won’t appreciate travels if you’re far too exhausted to enjoy them, just like you won’t appreciate rest if you’re too bored to think straight.

This summer has brought into perspective, more than ever, the idea of balance, and how key it is to truly enjoying the finer things in life. And now, even as I eagerly anticipate the upcoming onslaught of holiday happenings that will commence come October, I’m more than happy to take a few weeks to just… r e l a x.

I encourage you to do the same.

Happy resting.