Do you ever get the feeling the world is spinning faster and faster? That events are getting away from you. That like the mouse in the wheel, all you can do is run, only this time someone’s installed a motor.
Don’t we all.
In the modern world, the pace of change is at breakneck speed. Who can keep up with the latest cultural norms and political news? Or even the lives of your friends, as they appear out of the never-ending scroll of social media. We spend our lives glued to these screens. The black mirrors. Drowning in information, anxiety sets in. Are we missing out? Have we got enough?
Why did no one tell me?
Trapped amongst the electric noise, the blur of news and social media, we lose sight of what’s important. Worse, we forget about it entirely, only rediscovering what matters when the world goes to hell; when our lives fall apart. Too little too late, some say. But, better late than never.
Yet, too often do we slip back into bad habits. Our momentary diet from time-wasting junk cast aside in favour of a good binge. Next thing you know it’s four in the morning, you’ve binged a show, drunk too many beers, and find yourself at your desk wondering what you’re doing.
So, how do you make it stick? Is there a blueprint for a balanced life? Like a pie chart of foods, can we slice our lives into categories? And decide how much of each bit we need on our metaphorical plate. Is there such a thing as a healthy week?
The Five Portions
To help create our blueprint for a balanced week, let’s break up how to spend our time. So, later we can portion it out in a healthy amount. These groups are diet, exercise and rest, social, personal, and spiritual.
You Are What You Eat
First, we have diet. While some of us live to eat, we all eat to live. Food determines our physical and mental health. Our diets don’t just dictate our daily lives; they define our calendar as well. A meal around a table or for a special occasion is imbued with deep social meaning. While we think about food all the time, rarely do we recognise how much of our lives are built around good grub. Food marks celebrations. What’s Christmas without turkey? Easter without chocolate eggs. Or Eid without a creamy bowl of sheer khurma.
Food has a symbolic quality, unlike anything else. Yet, at most meals, we stuff our faces. We buy expensive ingredients, then fail to appreciate the finished product. Try to savour every bite. Especially the first few, they always taste the best. Take time. You won’t regret it.
However, if we’re not shovelling it down, we’re developing an almost pathological obsession with diets and regimes. Gone are the days of just eating a balanced diet. Today, we concoct shakes and vegetable detoxes. We hunt for the superfoods and try to replicate recipes as complicated as they are tasteless (I’m looking at you bean salads). Or we’re shelling out for fancy foods, that we pretend we enjoy.
We’ve turned eating into another chore.
Take a leaf out of the Mediterranean’s book. They eat food, like they take their days, slowly and enjoyably. Eat a little bit naughty, but only a little. Don’t confine yourself to convoluted recipes, to counting calories. Instead, follow three simple rules: keep your plate small, buy unprocessed food, and make sure every meal is half fruit and veg.
It’s that easy.
Plus, if you stick to recipes involving only four or five ingredients, cooking will be infinitely easier and cheaper. Your taste buds will be as grateful as your wallet. Plus, you won’t spend hours slaving in the kitchen, or not bother at all. It’ll be fun! Cooking with others is great fun too.
Oh, and drink more water. Everyone should drink more water!
Pumping the Iron
Next up is diet’s twin, exercise. Whether you earn your sweat on the pitch or on the court, in the gym or on the road, exercise is vital for our health. Without it, we lack a foundation for everything else. However, we seem to fall into two camps: way too much, and way too little. Once again, we can’t do things by halves.
But exercise doesn’t have to be a dreaded hour of pain. Make exercise fun. Join a team or pick up your favourite sport from your school days. Walk to work if possible. Or break up the exercise throughout the day. If you’re sitting in traffic, squeeze your abs and release. Little and often can yield impressive results. But commit. It’s hard at first, but if you do it every day, it will get easier.
The most important way you can balance your week is by staying in bed. No seriously. Around 40% of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep. It’s little wonder with so much to do. Plus, many people’s jobs expect long hours, and then when we get home, we stay up too late. We binge on TV.
Yet, we don’t get more productive by merely being awake. We just end up doing the same jobs badly. Sleep is vital for our health. Poor or inadequate sleep is linked to higher body weight, overeating, decreased concentration and productivity, poorer athletic performance, a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, depression, as well as cancer. Sleep restores our body; it soothes our minds. No week is balanced without it. So, make sure you get eight hours. The more you exercise, the more you need your sleep. Work hard, rest hard.
Life is for Sharing
Between eating and sleeping, working and exercise, it’s hard to find time for our friends and family. One fantastic way to make time is to combine activities. It frees up time in your week, slows your pace of life down, and also provides incredible bonding experiences with your loved ones.
If you’re going for a run or you play team sports, invite your friends along. Together you’ll maintain motivation and come away not just physically fitter but socially nourished too. If you’re cooking food, try doing it with your loved ones. Baking is always fun with someone else – even when the cake flops at the end. And a meal isn’t truly complete without the old-fashioned table experience. It gives everyone a chance to talk, to find out about each other’s weeks, and to unwind from your own. Think of it like a debrief for your day.
Your loved ones are there to support you. Let them. If you don’t make time for them, ask yourself, what am I working so hard for? Schedule a couple of meet-ups a week, get the family around the table on a Sunday evening, or meet your buddy at the gym.
A Little Bit of Me Time
While it’s crucial to spend time with your loved ones; it’s also essential to spend time alone. To collect your thoughts, clear your mind and foster your talents. Solitude helps your brain unwind. It lets you discover who you are, without the expectations of those around you.
Pick up the instrument you’ve been toying with for years. Write that story you’ve always wanted to. Or simply, run yourself a bath and relax.
Give yourself a bit of me-time.
But make sure to remove the distractions—no smartphones. No buzzing. No work.
As Joseph Krutch put it, ‘To have passed through life and never experienced solitude is to have never known oneself. To never have known oneself is to have never known anyone.’
Spirituality isn’t just a Fuzzy Word
Maybe you consider yourself spiritual; maybe you think it’s a load of mumbo-jumbo. Either way, taking time to reflect upon your life and your place within the world is vital towards living a balanced life. If life is like climbing a mountain, spirituality is the view from the top. Without it, why bother?
Meditation and yoga have been developed over centuries to elicit calm and clear-headedness. They relieve stress, balance emotions, and aid in reflection. But if you’re religious, prayer can be a form of meditation too. If this is all too woolly for you, simply try writing a journal. Formulating your thoughts is intrinsically contemplative.
While you perform these activities, think about everything in life you are grateful for. Throughout our busy days, we continuously moan or complain about everything that goes wrong. But imagine how much goes right! There’s nothing wrong with a good moan; it helps destress. But everyone has something for which they are thankful. Their loved ones, their job, their home, their upbringing and life in a stable and prosperous country, the beauty of nature. Whatever it is that matters to you.
So, take a moment to contemplate. Ideally, do it at the bookends of the day. It’ll help you carry through the goodwill to all you meet. Calmer and more relaxed the week will flow by like honey.
Balance your week with five portions of these essentials, and you’ll be living healthier and happier in no time. Plus, they all help to destress!