Life has not always been in balance for me. I’ve experienced some major ups and downs and several traumas, just like most people. I was left feeling anxious, depressed, and worst of all, hopeless during some of those times.

I didn’t want to live like that anymore.

But I didn’t know how to live differently. I grew up in a time when feelings were discouraged, a time when women were not supposed to express emotions other than a few tears and only on brief occasions. Men weren’t taught anything better: only yelling or fist pounding was ok and only on brief occasions.

Many of us were never taught to notice feelings, to understand how they made us feel, how they physically manifested as pains in our chest, headaches, upset stomachs.

We were taught to robotically manage and suppress feelings. And we did. For years, we blinked back tears and swallowed our words. At the cost of our physical and mental health.

There were years when I was a mess and so many years when I was simply unhappy. It was such a hard way to live.

I was lucky to learn lessons from some very wise people: I had to learn how to take care of myself and live a balanced life or I would risk feeling hopeless again.

I learned how to notice my feelings, write about my feelings, talk about them, sometimes even embrace them. I learned how to take care of my body through exercise and yoga. I learned how to soothe the parts of me that were in deep despair through therapy and journaling. I learned how to enjoy nature, sunshine, fresh air. I learned how to connect with others.

It sounds easy, but it took time and a lot of effort. At times, my self-care journey was difficult, and sometimes painful. Some of my healing didn’t take long at all and some of it I’m still working on.

But it was worth it. Because I feel better, happier, healthier.

We are all suffering in some way right now. And it is really hard.

At times like these when the world is grieving for all of our losses, when families and friends are divided, these are the times when I work hardest to live a balanced life. Sometimes I get off track, but I keep coming back to the things I enjoy.

For me a balanced life is about asking myself every day, “What do I need?” and rating my options from 1-10 based on how much I enjoy them. For example, some options for me outside of work include: mindlessly scrolling through social media, reading a novel, cleaning, playing a board game, eating a snack, watching Netflix, exercise, journaling, talking to a friend on the phone.

When I rate these things, I see what brings me the most joy: social media 2/10; reading 8/10; cleaning 1/10; board game 9/10; snack 6/10 (depending on what it is); Netflix 5/10; exercise 9/10 (after it’s done); journaling 10/10 (after it’s done); talking to a friend (depending on their mood and mine) 8/10.

I try to choose at least one thing each day that makes me feel at least a 7/10. Sometimes I still have to check social media for work, or do the dishes, but I try to make sure that I do at least one enjoyable activity each day.

I encourage you to try this method. Every day try to choose something to do that makes you feel at least a 7/10. Try it for a week or two. Notice how it makes you feel.

Many people will say they don’t have time for enjoyment, but these activities are a conscious decision. We have to schedule them and fight for our self-care time.

The result is that we feel better; we feel happier, healthier.

And we get to live a more balanced life.

Michelle Weglarz, MSW, RSW