The Problem With Balance in The City That Never Sleeps

Living in NYC is hard. Being deemed 'The City That Never Sleeps' is accurate and enticing for visitors looking for an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime trip. But what about us New Yorkers who live here, who eat, breathe, and sleep this chaos. 

When there is constantly a million options available to us from what to do, where to go, what to eat, and who to see, it can become overwhelming. 

And how do typical New Yorkers deal with the stress? They try to do it all. Here's what a typical 30-something professional's schedule could look like here.

6:30am: Wake up, get ready for the day
7:30am: Out the door to get to work early
8am: Get to work (begin the craze of go-go-go)
1pm: Realize that you didn't eat lunch so scarf down something real quick
7pm: Leave for the gym
7:15pm: 1 hour gym class (pseudo-relaxation time)
8:15pm: Leave the gym to meet friends for drinks and dinner
8:30pm: Drinks and dinner (and already thinking about the next day)
10pm: Dinner winds down
10:30pm: On to the next thing (maybe a date, more friends, something exciting)
12am: Head home because its a work night
1am: Home and needing to do things before work the next day
??am: Squeeze in some sleep

Now, this may not surprise you. This may actually look similar to your schedule whether you live in NYC or not. Think it's healthy? A desirable schedule that allows for maximum use of time?

As a therapist, the major problem I have with this type of schedule is that it's not sustainable and does not allow for any sort of balance.

Perhaps living this way one or two times out of your week could be maintained, but I see this type of schedule with my clients all the time.

They attempt to sustain the constant demands that the city places on them and adopt this hectic schedule due to not knowing any better. Then they eventually reach a breaking point and seek out therapy because something is not working. 

I know slowing down is the antithesis of what people in NYC live for, but like all good things balance must be invited in for this lifestyle to be livable. 

If you are ready to begin re-evaluating the sustainability of your schedule, here's where you can begin:

  • Consider what you really need to accomplish in the week to feel good
  • Practice saying 'no' to the things that do not add value to your week
  • Allow the extras to be optional if you are feeling up to it  
  • Add at least one thing per week that is just for you and makes you feel good (ideas: walking on your lunch break, reading before bed, a solo-date, cooking food, seeing a friend you don't normally see)
  • Stop yourself from playing the should game (i.e. "I should really be doing more")

Like all good things in life, this might not come easily. Give it a week or two to experiment how it works for you. If you hate it, go back to your old ways. But if it brings you less stress and more peace of mind, stick with it.

Remember, balance is not perfectly 50/50. It could just be one small tweak to make your lifestyle more manageable. 

If you need a little boost in support, contact me about individual sessions & group retreats focused on just this!

3 Ways to Find Your Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is a term that I hear used frequently, yet it is as elusive as the word happiness. It means different things for different people and is certainly not a one-size-fits-all deal. There is no formula or recipe for the optimal balance in your life. It takes a little bit of effort to first figure out what balance means to you and then the hard part: making balance happen.

I talk about balance like I talk about mindfulness (a lot). I do this because I truly believe they are both key components to having a fulfilling life. That being said, I fully recognize that they are each somewhat difficult concepts to put into practice. However, we all know that great things are usually worth a decent amount of effort so let's dive into this.

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Combating End of Summer Blues

We only have a few precious weeks of summer left and everyone is already freaking out. Maybe we did not get to accomplish all that we wanted to or maybe we had too much fun and we are not ready for it to be over. Either way, spending any more energy on dreading summer's end is taking time away from your enjoyment of these final days. 

I come from the land of the perpetual summer: Florida. There's no change in temperature year round other than brief occasional "cold fronts" aka 70° for a couple days. Regardless of this, there was still an essence about summer. Freedom, travel, special activities, time with friends: summer brings out wonderful things that we seem to lack in other seasons. 

Perhaps it begins in our formative years where summer means no school, camp, and fun. This, of course, means that summer closing signifies the end of all of those great things.  Well, we are adults now and save for the few friends that are school teachers, all of us work throughout the year. Yet, summer still has this magnificent hold on us. And I wonder why?

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Steps for Preserving Vacation Mode

If you are not already aware, I am returning to the U.S. this week from an incredible five month journey in Europe. This blog could not come at a more crucial time because I want to remind myself the ways in which I preserve my "vacation mode." I also want to share this with you since it is summer time and many of us are traveling or beginning to wrap up our summer escapades.

There are reasons why vacations are so relaxing. We are in new places, usually free of the responsibilities of work and "real life," and doing fun things. Once we return to our routine-based lives, we may keep riding the high for a few days or maybe a week, but generally we let everything that was great about that vacation start to slip away.

I totally get it! It is easy to do, especially if you are not intentionally hanging on to some of that magic vacation energy. So why not try? Why not implement a few things to keep you feeling great and create a life that you do not constantly need a vacation from?

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FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out

Have you ever been in a situation where you are doing something but wondering if there were something better you could be doing? Even if you are having a good time, there may have been another option for the night or friends who had invited you elsewhere when you already had plans. And now you are thinking about whether you would be having a better time somewhere else. Maybe you have had difficulty making a decision about something because there were too many options, especially too many options that looked interesting. No matter the situation, the issue is the same: FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out.

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Finding the Balance Part II: Stillness

Last week I began discussing the balance needed between movement and stillness with tips on how to bring more movement into your life. This week's post will discuss reasons to do the opposite. My personal impulse is to constantly be in motion. While this is not necessarily a poor trait, I acknowledge that it might not be the healthiest thing to do all the time. I fully recognize and admit that I need more stillness in my life. I am guessing that some of you may be in the same boat.

I thrive on keeping busy and feeling "accomplished" aka tired at the end of my day. If I have thirty minutes free between clients or while waiting for a train to arrive, my first impulse is not to sit patiently and wait. If I am being honest, it is not even my second. At first thought, it may seem like a personality trait or that you are hard-wired to be on the go whenever possible.

If you think about it, I bet that constant movement, often mindless and disconnected from the present moment, is not an inherent trait, rather a learned one. We have been programmed to multitask at most hours of the day. This can make unwinding, relaxation, and even sleep nearly impossible. Yes, multitasking for many purposes is functional, beneficial, and even healthy. However, that is not always the case. 

This blog was inspired by the lyrics "taking steps is easy, standing still is hard." As I have already admitted, stillness is not the easiest thing for me. It often comes as a reminder or an active choice that I need to be still, be in the moment, and slow down. 

Here are some ways you can find the best balance for you:

  • Check in with yourself during down time. This is important for daily self-care. It allows you to scan your needs and give your body and mind the movement or stillness that it is asking for.
  • Slow down to absorb and appreciate any changes and progress you are making.
  • Still your mind for an energizing boost. Let this help you have time to organize your thoughts and feelings.
  • Think of stillness as a cool down after a work out. Being still in your body allows for relaxation and peace. It gives you the chance to absorb all the great energy you are creating.

Remember that you are aiming to find the sweet spot that is unique to you. Balance an adequate amount of physical movement and mental momentum mixed with a healthy amount of stillness for optimal mental and physical wellness. Despite my own struggles with stillness, know that I am working on practicing what I preach. I hope you will practice standing still with me.

Finding the Balance Part I: Movement

Like all things in life, there is a yin and yang and the beauty is finding a balance of the two. I love the relationship between opposites. The next two posts will be about the importance of both movement and stillness as necessary practices for a healthy life. I find it natural to constantly be in motion. So much so that I often plan my days, weeks, and even my vacations to be jam packed. My mind often reflects the same movement and it is not uncommon for my wheels to be turning at all hours of the day and night. To some, this may sound exhausting. I agree! It certainly can be which is why it is imperative to find the balance.

The philosophy of one of my favorite exercise classes, Circuit of Change is "movement will heal you." Think more broadly than just physical movement. Think mental, physical, spiritual, energetic movement. Whatever it may be that ails you, movement certainly can heal. Movement is akin to growth and progress. Whether it is forward motion or not does not matter. The important thing is to get in motion. This is what I love about my walking sessions. The fact that walking alone generates a different state of mind is incredible and can be achieved with very little effort.

Being stagnant or inactive in our bodies and minds differs from being stillness in that stillness comes with the intention to be still and at peace. Stagnation of our physical and mental states rarely opens up positive things. For example, staying in the same place hour after hour, or even day after day, without any change can become depressing. Similarly thinking the same thoughts or staying in the same thought patterns day after day can often be self-defeating. 

For these reasons I recommend adding a little movement into your day. Have you ever been stuck on something only to see the answer 5 minutes later after you take a break? This is what I am talking about! Physically, the simple act of taking even a brief walk is shown to have a major positive impact on your body. Even a simple change in scenery can do your body and mind good. This technique works well with feeling stuck, angry, frustrated, and even sad. Allow yourself some space from the emotion or thought and chances are, you will feel much better once you come back to it with a clear mind. 

Mentally, you can allow your mind some refreshment by listening to a new type of music, working on a crossword puzzle or even watching funny videos. Mental movement can release tension and open up space for fresh thoughts, feelings and ideas to flow. Studies show that engaging in new thought patterns and challenging your mind with diverse activities helps relieve stress and can even help you live longer. 

With all these positive outcomes, it is easy to see why I am a proponent of movement. The challenge, of course, is finding your perfect balance between movement and stillness. Like all things in life, the scale should not tip too far to one side. I look forward to sharing some thoughts on stillness with you next week!

 

Practicing Yoga Principles Daily

I love incorporating yoga into my fitness routine, but it is the yoga-mindset that I carry with me throughout the week. You do not have to go to a yoga class to enjoy all of the benefits. There are principles of yoga that have nothing to do with poses or flexibility. Concepts like being in the present moment, having awareness of your thoughts and feelings, being connected to breath, and living without self-judgment and comparison are all practices anyone can benefit from.

Research shows that yoga can help decrease stress, improve heart health, manage chronic health conditions, and improve mental wellness, among many other benefits. There are several components to a yoga class: movement through poses, connection to breath, and mindfulness. You can have your own yoga practice at home or incorporate these concepts into any other fitness routine you may have. The important thing is to get up and get in motion as often as you can.       

Perhaps the most important place to start is connecting to your breath. Breathe deeply and slowly, in and out of your nose noticing how the air feels going in and coming out. If that is difficult try only focusing on your feet as you are walking. Literally just feel your feet. Your mind will naturally wander, but bring your concentration back to your feet. Checking in with yourself in this way can be a calming experience. It can also bring to light how often you are not connected to your breathing, on autopilot or multitasking.

Once you are comfortable being connected to your breath, you can deepen the practice by breathing deeper and more intentionally. This is an excellent tool to get calm, centered and focused. . It can even help lower your heart rate. An easy breathing technique that you can do anywhere is inhaling for three seconds and exhaling slowly for three (or more) seconds. You can begin lengthening your inhale and exhale for further relaxation.

Mindfulness is the practice of being present, connected, and non-judgmental in your daily life. This sense of connectedness serves to ground your mind and body and should be used in conjunction with other yoga-based practices like deep breathing.

When in a yoga class, you are often prompted to take inventory of how you are thinking and feeling and then you are asked to acknowledge those thoughts and sensations and release them. To do this in daily life, try doing a scan of your mind and body by checking in with everything going on in that moment. Maybe you notice that you are slouching, that your shoulders are tense, and you are thinking about an upcoming project. Then imagine letting all of that go and focusing on whatever you are doing right in that moment. Worrying about the future or fretting over the past can be incredibly draining and usually does not serve a positive purpose.

Grounding literally means connecting to the ground. This practice can help us to remember that we are connected to the ground, the earth, this planet that we live on and often forget about. It helps to have that counterpoint that we are all connected to something bigger than just us as individuals. To use grounding in day-to-day life, whether standing or sitting, feel the points of your body that are connected to the ground. While feeling that connection, bring your awareness upwards and feel the lengthening in your spine. Use this whenever you need a shift in perspective and ideally, in conjunction with mindfulness and deep breathing.

My personal favorite reminder from yoga class is to live without self-judgment or comparison. Today’s yoga carries an intimidation factor with it. From the outside, it can appear that people in class are far more advanced than you might be. That disconnect can create discomfort which potentially can prevent you from ever stepping into a class. I get it and I would be lying if I have not been intimidated too. However, I remind myself that my practice is in no way related to the practice of others. Think about it; how does one person’s flexibility relate to your own? I find that a gentle reminder that comparison is not necessary helps to take my practice to a more productive, internal place.

If you are ready to work on more yoga-specific movements and poses, I encourage you to start with a sun salutation. Doing this sequence of movements, especially in the morning, is energizing and can help create a peaceful mindset to start your day. If you are ready to go to a yoga class, explore the various types of yoga until you find the right fit for you. Check out this infographic if you need some guidance in choosing the right yoga style.