Balance is beautiful. When we find balance in our lives, our skin glows, we feel healthy and vibrant, we handle stress with ease and we sleep deeply through the night. The little things don’t bother us; the big things matter more. Unfortunately, balance is often elusive; finding it is one of the greatest challenges we all face. Between the demands of family and career and the many challenges life throws at us, trying to find time for ourselves to de-stress often seems impossible. But it’s one of the most important things we can do for our health, well-being and happiness.
Writer Margaret Roach knows just how difficult it can be to find balance. At one time she was the editorial director of Martha Stewart Living. After years of hard work, she had nearly 200 people reporting to her in her busy Manhattan office. “I don’t think I ever sat down to eat a meal unless I was in a restaurant,” she says. “My best friend said I was one frozen organic entrée away from a nervous breakdown.” »
Eventually Roach left her fast-paced job in the city to be in her country home full time, and she managed to find peace. She even wrote a book called And I Shall Have Some Peace There: Trading in the Fast Lane for My Own Dirt Road. “Now I work when I feel the call, sleep when I am tired, eat when I am hungry, and I do all of it surrounded by nature, in a quiet rural setting,” she says.
Unfortunately, we don’t all have the option of leaving our stress behind and high-tailing it for the countryside as Roach did, but her story can help guide us all toward finding some peace of our own. Taking a “time out” — a moment to find balance and harmony — isn’t about being lazy or unmotivated. It’s about doing something good for yourself and those around you, too. When we are grounded and centered, we can perform better at the many roles we play in our world, while positively affecting our entire being, from our skin to our soul. Read on for some tips for managing stress and finding balance in your own life.
Balance in Nature
As we try to find balance in our lives, we should look to nature as an example. Just like our own lives, nature “has busy times and down times, it surges and then it slows,” says Roach. Winter is a time of rest, and spring is a time of renewal. Just like nature, we need our own downtime in order to re-energize.
Taking a break by spending time outdoors can be therapeutic. Maria Rodale knows firsthand the benefits of nature. The CEO and chairman of Rodale, Inc., author of three books, including Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, and mother of three, says that fresh air is her saving grace. “Connecting directly with the earth is what gives me the strength, perspective and energy to do what I do,” she says. “Ironically, the more time I take to meet my own needs, the better I can meet everyone else’s,” she says. Make nature part of your life and you’ll be one step closer to finding a sense of calm and balance.
A Moment to Meditate
We’ve all thought it at one time or another: there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. But if we relegate some of the time we spend browsing the web or watching television to activities that help ground us, we’d reap the rewards — mentally and physiologically.
Sally Kempton, a yoga teacher and the author of Meditation for the Love of It, suggests using that time for meditation. “Close your eyes and tune into your breath,” she says. “Even when you’re waiting in the checkout line, you can stand tall, feel your feet against the floor and breathe into your belly. By taking time to stop, ground yourself and re-balance, you tap into your own deeper field of energy. This has a number of positive effects on your brain’s state, your physical health and your capacity to perform at your highest level.”
Research shows that meditation can help restore a sense of calm and inner peace. A study that appeared in the January 2011 issue of Psychiatry Research found that those who meditated for 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region in the brain connected to stress. A 2009 study showed that meditation reduced blood pressure. To learn more about meditation, try picking up a book or taking a class. Practicing a few minutes each day will bring the mind back to the present, helping you let go of jumbled thoughts that may cause anxiety.
The Power of the Breath
While meditation can help us find a sense of inner calm, learning how to manage stress can also help restore a sense of peace. Stress has been shown to not only impact us in the short term, but to also cause metabolic changes that contribute to poor health down the road. Stress increases the level of the hormone cortisol in your body, leading to higher blood sugar, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and feelings of anxiety, according to Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D., an internal medicine physician and author.
Balance, Dalton-Smith believes, is not about eliminating stress from your life, but about finding a system that helps you stabilize your response to it. She suggests that we focus on the things that bring us joy and jettison those that occupy time without providing happiness. “A balanced life requires addition and subtraction,” she says. In her own life, which includes managing a demanding career and raising two sons, she finds that balance means being truly present in the moment.
To help you return to the present moment, try deep breathing exercises. Place your hand on your belly and close your eyes. Inhale deeply and feel your stomach expand. Exhale and feel it relax. Focus on breathing in and out for a few minutes. Doing this can help you find your center during a busy day.
Stress and Your Skin
The effects of our crazy-busy lives can also show up externally, on our skin. Stress can aggravate conditions that we may already be prone to, such as eczema, acne, cold sores or dull skin. Unfortunately, such flare-ups can make us feel even more anxious. Try adding a balancing beauty routine to your day as part of your “me time.” It will help restore calm and clarity to your largest organ — your skin.
Patricia Pol, holistic esthetician at the Weleda Spa in Palisades, NY, says that cortisol, the same culprit Dalton-Smith mentioned, can affect your skin by causing an increase in oil production. “When your body is chronically stressed, your skin becomes out of balance and your protective barrier breaks down. This allows bacteria to get in and moisture to get out, causing the skin to lose its natural radiance.”
Less is more when you’re trying to restore balance to your skin, says Pol. “Using many different products in an effort to combat an increase in acne or the loss of radiance will only make the problem worse,” she says. “Stress makes your skin more dry, sensitive and reactive. I recommend that my clients use Weleda’s Almond Soothing Facial Care during stressful times to help bring the skin back into balance and restore its protective barrier.”
Pol says that some skin soothers don’t come in a bottle, like yoga, dancing, singing, meditation and laughing. These activities will cause your body to produce endorphins that lower stress hormones, helping your body soothe itself. She also recommends creating routines that are about slowing down and being present, such as waking earlier so you don’t have to rush through your morning routine. “A stressful, harried morning sets that tone for the rest of your day,” says Pol.
In the evenings, establish a calming nightly routine with Weleda products like the Gentle Cleansing Milk. “Take five minutes at night to wash your face, massage it with Almond Soothing Facial Oil and apply the harmonizing Wild Rose Smoothing Night Cream,” she says. “Take the time to pamper yourself with products that stimulate your senses. Enjoy this moment.”
Part science and part soul-seeking, balance is about nurturing yourself in the frenetic, fast-paced world we live in. We may not be able to escape from the city like Margaret Roach did, but we can find our own inner country home through meditation, deep breathing and calming daily routines. The importance of balance doesn’t just lie in the blessing it brings to ourselves — it reverberates to those around us. And it can all begin with a single deep breath. -Gloria Dawson