If you look up the word balance in the dictionary, you will find various descriptions such as those below:
an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.
a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.
an apparatus for weighing, especially one with a central pivot, beam, and two scales.
I know that if you get yourself a good personal trainer or decide to talk to a wellness coach you will probably hear a lot about balance but perhaps you don't fully understand exactly how you can achieve it in your life.
So here is my take on balance and why it is so important at midlife. From the descriptions above the most relevant to this topic are 'something to remain upright and steady' and 'different elements are equal or in the correct proportions'.
Most women will have quite a lot experience of what it feels like to have their hormones out of balance or not in the correct proportions during their menstrual cycles throughout their lives.
Certainly anyone living with teenage girls will tell you that there are times when a seemingly placid, sensible girl can suddenly transform into a wild creature, prone to turn from anger to weeping over the smallest things.
This is evidence of our different elements (here hormones) no longer being equal or in the correct proportions and it can take many years to adjust to or learn to accept and live with these cycles.
So how do we aim to remain upright and steady during a time of such emotional flux as we transition through the hugely tumultuous yet entirely natural life event that is menopause?
Well after nearly 8 years of this journey I have come to accept that it is all about working out how to balance everything that makes up your own individual life.
Will this mean making adjustments to the way you live, how often you go out to socialise, what you spend your free time doing, what you eat, how much alcohol you drink and when you go to sleep every night?
Well yes, it probably will...
But does it mean you have to give up everything you love? Do you have to stop seeing friends and socialising? Do you have to quit booze completely? And do you have to go out and slog your way around a run 4 nights a week just to keep that weight down around the middle even though you hate every second of it?
Well no, it doesn't necessarily have to...
Every woman is unique and will have her own set of symptoms of perimenopause. Some will affect her far more than others while others she will learn to live with and adjust to as she had with her cycle over the years.
This means there are no hard set of rules that every single woman must live by, no exact foods that will every woman must eat, no particular alcohol that will make her feel better or worse, no exact bedtimes and amount of sleep that will magically make that crushing fatigue disappear.
But what every woman can and should find is balance. Balance to allow her to still do the things she love, to still eat what she wants to eat on occasion and to exercise in a way that lights her up.
How have I achieved balance that I am happy with?
It has been a long journey of trial and error but these are my own findings. Maybe they can help you too if you are stuck on this crazy rollercoaster of perimenopause, menopause and post menopause.
TOP 5 AREAS I HAVE FOUND BALANCE AND WHY THEY HELP ME AT MENOPAUSE:
1. BREATHE WELL
I know that I feel better and less stressed when I take a few moments each day to be fullly present, to breathe deeply and to stop all other distractions.
BUT I also know that I can't sit cross legged on a mat for an hour deeply meditating.
Believe me, as a yoga teacher, I have really tried!
So for me it looks like this.
I start every morning with 7-10 deep full breaths as I lie in bed before I get up and face the pre-school carnage and drop offs.
I take one of my cups of tea during the day to the window or outside and enjoy a few slow sips savouring every mouthful, inhaling the smell and breathing deeply.
I do 2/3 deep stretches before I get into bed every night while taking 5 deep breaths in each pose.
The rest of the day you can normally find me rushing about, creating and editing videos, doing neverending admin, walking the dog, cooking, planning and teaching classes - I teach a minimum of 8-10 classes each week online and in person in different locations. I often don't sit down for more than 30 minutes the entire day.
So balance for me is those few precious deep breathing moments daily to keep me on an even keel.
2. EAT WELL
I know that I am incredibly fortunate to already love fruit, salad and vegetables so for me eating well can be easier than perhaps it is for others.
This doesn't mean that I am perfect by any means however and I have had to work out a balance with my food and alcohol intake that works for me at this point in my life.
In my 20s my diet was appalling - I ate so many Dominos pizzas that when my husband and I rang them, it would come up on their phone and they would literally answer with
"Hello Mr and Mrs Brown - is it the usual - a large meat feast and a large pepperoni passion?!"
It is fair to say that I was somewhat overweight and decidedly lacking in energy. But it was a fun time and I could certainly get away with it more than now as it didn't contribute to anxiety or sleep disorders which are my two biggest battles at perimenopause.
After a number of years I have worked out a way to eat and drink that works for me and helps me feel more balanced during the turbulent times during my cycle.
I know that too much alcohol can make me incredibly anxious and if I drink late in the evening then I am likely to lie awake for many hours during the night with a pounding heart unable to drift off to sleep again.
So for me I now try to live by 3 rules - no more than 3 glasses of any alcohol, no more than 3 nights a week and never on 3 consecutive nights - this helps me to keep balanced.
Do I break this?!
Yes, of course, I am only human and on special occasions I will drink more than 3 glasses but I accept that this means I will sleep badly, my heart will pound and race during the night and I will be anxious and grumpy the next day.
Do I do it often? No! The trade off is not worth it regularly for me but on occasion it is fun! Balance....
Food is the same.
If we have people over, we will always have a big bowl of crisps and dips open.
But do I eat crips every day? Absolutely not!
Do I binge on whole massive chocolate bars? Probably only once or twice a year at Easter when the temptation is everywhere!
But do I still eat chocolate?! Yes, most nights I eat two small pieces of 70% dark chocolate with a cup of herbal tea.
Do I eat pizza? Sure, but not normally more than twice a month and usually half of my plate is filled with a lovely salad.
3. LIVE WELL
This one is probably what I have found hardest to work out balance in.
I am what is commonly termed a ‘people pleaser’.
I have spent literally weeks of my life joining committees, selling things I didn't care about, helping people and doing things that have really not brought me any joy at all.
I have had friendships that have sucked almost everything out of me, been there for people for years as they have lived through all the dramas in their life, only to discover that on the rare occasions I needed some support in return they were nowhere to be seen.
I have wasted many nights lying awake worrying that I have somehow inadvertently upset someone and wondering how I can possibly go about rectifying it and making them love me again.
When your own health becomes compromised, as mine has done over the last few years, you have to stop and re-evaluate where your energy is best served. And vexatious friendships or people that take away your light, leaving you feeling confused and questioning yourself as a person are not worth it.
You are not going to be able to please everybody in your life and not everyone is going to like you. The sooner you make peace with that and surround yourself with those that accept you and all your glorious flaws as you are, the happier you will be.
As well as living with some pretty hideous perimenopausal anxiety over the last few years, I also suffered from a very debilitating bout of long covid for a good 18 months when some days teaching one class was pretty much all I could manage and the rest of the day was spent on a sofa or lying in bed.
Having a long-term, yet largely silent illness can lead to some pretty big introspections and I soon learnt who was really there for me.
I also had to have a long look in the mirror and admit that I definitely wasn’t helping myself by saying yes to absolutely everything in friendships, schools, work and life in general. Nobody was getting the best of me and I was exhausted ALL THE TIME!
So how have I found balance?
I have left a number of committees – maybe not forever but certainly as I navigate these choppy waters.
I have learnt to say no – the world will not end if I turn down an invitation to go to the pub or no longer teach energetic evening classes 3 nights a week that while fun, often make my heart rate implode and stop me sleeping all night.
I have let some friendships drift away and I have learnt that true friends will also understand that if they don’t hear from me at weeks or even months at a time, it is not that I don’t love them or think of them but that I am just trying to survive my own life trials and tribulations.
I have sought professional help and am not afraid to admit that after 40 years without really needing any medical intervention, I now need HRT and antidepressants to help me live well and keep on top of acute anxiety and severely debilitating insomnia and panic attacks.
4. MOVE WELL
What worked for me in my 20s and 30s in terms of exercise doesn’t work for me anymore and I have now found a perfect balance of movement that makes me feel good, still challenges me but also supports and nurtures me.
Gone are running, very high intensity workouts and hours of training in the evenings. I used to thrive on these things BUT I never prioritised stretching, posture, flexibility etc and I was frequently injured.
Now I walk daily, stretch and do yoga a couple of times a week and do a number of more challenging barre workouts a few times a week.