We all have times when we feel off balance – especially now with everything going on in the world that is keeping us isolated from our normal routines. The combined demands of work and home as we adapt to and accept the new normal mean that you may frequently push yourself to the limit. Your health can take a hit if you forget to take care of yourself amid all life’s demands.
Once you lose a sense of balance, what can you do to help restore the equilibrium that is so important to your well-being and productivity?
From a holistic approach, the philosophy of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) supports the belief that wellness is based upon “Four Pillars” that support emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health. They are rest, exercise, nutrition and a positive attitude.
In TCM, achieving balance between the four pillars is crucial to good health and a sense of well-being. If you’re feeling like you’re on the verge of burnout or illness, incorporating practices from each pillar can help bring the mental, physical and spiritual aspects of your life back into alignment, leading to a healthier and less stressful way of being. Try incorporating the four pillars into your life and discover which aspects resonate with you as you strive to achieve a healthy balance.
The Four Pillars
We need, on average, somewhere between 7 to 8 hours of sleep every day. Missing precious hours of sleep night after night becomes a cumulative process - the more nights you fall short on getting the sleep you need, the higher the amount of stress on the body. In TCM theory, sleep is a yin energy (calming, restorative) activity and losing out on sleep leads to a deprivation of this restorative energy.
In chronic sleep deprivation - getting 6 hours or less of sleep each night – the lack of sleep becomes a stressor that takes a toll on the adrenal glands, creating a cycle that leads to ever-increasing fatigue. Many people try to compensate for this feeling of exhaustion, not by getting extra sleep, but by relying on caffeine to (temporarily) boost energy levels, which can lead to further adrenal depletion.
You don't need to be a hardcore workout fanatic to benefit from exercise. In fact, the best form of physical activity, and one that is right for just about everybody is walking. If you aren’t getting enough movement into your day, walking is a great first step for building a regular exercise habit. Even short periods of walking or opting to take the stairs instead of the elevator can give your health a boost.
Other forms of exercise that are great for grounding, stress reduction and balancing energy include chi gong, tai chi and yoga, all of which strengthen and tone the muscles and help keep joints healthy.
When picking activities to add to your exercise regimen TCM suggests selecting different forms of exercise in cycle with the seasons. For example, winter is the most yin season and is the best time for engaging in reflection and introspection with milder forms of exercise and meditation. In spring the Earth’s energy is moving from a yin to a yang phase and presents a good time to transition from milder to more movement based activities. Summertime is when energy is at its most yang phase and is ideal for running and aerobic activity, and fall is another transition season, where energy is moving from yang to yin making it a good time to begin transitioning from aerobic to milder forms of exercise.
Eating regularly and focusing on healthy, nutritious foods makes up the next pillar and is one of the surest ways to build a solid foundation for overall well-being.
TCM recommends a balanced intake of both vegetables and meat in the diet whenever possible. Selecting foods that are locally raised, organic and unprocessed are healthy options. Another idea to consider is eating in sync with the seasons. The diet during fall and winter (yin energy) should be fuller and heavier – think comfort food. In the spring and summer seasons (yang energy) choose foods that are lighter and cooler (adding more plant-based foods in the diet).
All stress, even good stress, impacts the body over time. Stress causes the body to undergo physiological changes, including increases in blood pressure, adrenal activity, heart rate and respiration. It also depresses digestion and elimination functions which can lead to a buildup of toxins in the body. Stress may serve as a good trigger for bursts of energy in an emergency, but long-term sustained stress can negatively impact body and mind.
In TCM, stress uses vital energy (chi) and lowers yang energy. Keeping a positive attitude is one way to help reduce excess stress. Researchers have shown that merely thinking of stressful events triggers the same physiological response as if you were experiencing the stressful event in real time. An awareness of the connection between body and mind can serve as a great motivator for developing a more positive outlook on daily life experiences.
Small Changes Lead to Sustainable Results
Adapting to life’s daily stressors and adding time into the daily routine for well-being activities takes effort. If it’s challenging for you to incorporate all four pillars of wellness at once, begin with small steps. Focus on one area and choose a change that you know is manageable. Once you master one pillar of health, choose the next you want to focus on and work with it.
Don’t let the stress of our current normal keep you from prioritizing your self-care journey. You can reach your goals of achieving balance and health through a series of small victories one small step at a time.