Five Tips to Keep Your Balance When You Don’t Know Which End is Up

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do. – Eleanor Roosevelt

We prevail over problems when we react well and make the best with what we have. I may not be the ruler of this world, but I am responsible for what I do with my time here. With each sunrise comes a fresh palate; an opportunity to re-frame, rejuvenate and regroup.

  • Twenty times I’ve moved from one house to another, including an international move to Japan with my husband and five children. Purging items, packing boxes, saying goodbyes, opening boxes and assessing damages, acclimating to new jobs, new grocery stores, and even new languages have become my ‘normal’.
  • Somewhere in there, and no time is ever convenient for such things, I had a tumor that required serious surgery followed by a lengthy recovery.
  • All of my children were born by the time I was 26, and none of them are more than eighteen months apart.
  • My husband’s job requires travel around the world, often requiring me to wear my single-parent hat.
  • People I loved very much went from this world into the next and left quite a void.
  • I’ve rolled in money, and in the dirt outside of the poorhouse.

Here are 5 tips I’ve found help me land on my feet:

One – Stay tethered to your anchors.

It is easy to pull away from things that are dear to you when you are faced with a crisis. Crawling under a rock until the storm blows over may make the situation worse, especially when a number of people in your wake are looking for answers.

  • One of the biggest mistakes people make is to try to handle problems alone. Communicate your situation with people whom you trust. Ask for help if you need it, and let others return the favors you’ve shown them. Let others carry your burdens if they are able. Humbly let them shine and praise them for their work, knowing that their defining moment may come when they have to step up to the plate for someone else.
  • Selectively seek counsel from those who are wiser, especially those who have experienced similar circumstances. Talking to your hair stylist might make you feel better, but it usually won’t solve your problems.
  • Tailspins often involve relationships. Perhaps the situation requires that you change your relationship with the people who matter most, but do keep them within arm’s reach in case you need to rely upon them for strength… or to seek forgiveness from them.
  • Stick to your principles, even if you are being pressured to abandon them for a quick fix. The anchors in your life will keep you from drifting away from who you are as a person. They will keep you stable and sane when the wind howls in your ears.

Two – Organize and prioritize.

When I was a preteen, my father was unemployed for an extended period of time. We lost our house. For nearly a year we slept in sleeping bags on a concrete floor and lived out of suitcases. Although we did not have luxuries like beds or dressers, we made it a habit to neatly fold our clothing and put them away and to keep our bedding rolled up and stacked in a corner instead of scattered underfoot. From this experience, I learned the value of staying organized in the midst of chaos. Even though my field-of-view was upside-down, I still knew where my socks were and could rely on them being there when I needed them. There is comfort in having stability in little things.

In trying circumstances, you may not feel like keeping things in order. You might kid yourself and think that you’ll straighten your affairs and items later… when there is moment of clarity. If one is visually surrounded by chaos, however, it is even more difficult to respond quickly when it matters most. By the time you realize the moment of clarity may never come, opportunities may be already be lost.

Three – Have fun.

It sounds kind of odd to go to the movies with your children right after your spouse is in a car accident and still in the hospital, but after visiting hours there isn’t much you can do. Life can be especially draining when worry is indulged.

Breaks allow your brain to relax and have a fresh perspective when you clock back into crisis management mode. Positive memories can be made in the midst of a problem when you choose to have fun instead of stew or fret. Bake some cookies with your best friend, dip them in some milk, and talk about things you both are thankful for. Ride a roller coaster with your hands in the air and feel weightless for a minute. Go to a concert and dance to the music.  Just because it is the worst of times, does not mean that it can’t also be the best of times.

Four – Take care of yourself.

When you are trying to be part of the solution and to quickly get things done, it is easy to give and give of ourselves to others without regard to our basic needs. Children who are dragged around shopping by inconsiderate diva mommies over nap time, without lunch and with very delayed potty breaks, get to be pretty cranky. Wise parents attend to children’s physical needs in the midst of necessary marathon excursions so that goals can be met without meltdown.

  • If you’re on the phone with the nursing home making decisions for your grandfather’s care, quietly eat a bowl of soup instead of skipping lunch.
  • Stay up until 2am the night before won’t make a 9am appointment go away.  A rested mind will think more clearly and calmly.
  • Go for a jog or choose a healthy snack instead of eating a whole bag of M&Ms. Many problems are caused by excess in the first place.  Sabotaging our best efforts is not usually the result of practicing moderation.
  • Love those around you enough to care for yourself in a way that will equip you to give them your utmost care.

Five – Pay it forward.

In the midst of a crisis, we tend to get the sensation the whole world revolves around us. It never has and it never will. There are millions of people, just like us, who are facing crises of their own.

Instead of thinking selfishly that things will never get brighter, be a light in someone else’s life. Help them out of the tunnel where they have been stuck. Shovel the snowy sidewalk for your elderly neighbor. Make a meal for a friend who just had a baby. Anonymously pay the rent for an acquaintance facing eviction.  Send a “thinking of you” card to your sister whose husband is deployed.

You of all people should know that encouragement — both in words and deeds — can go far when your feel like giving up. Encouragement is the electric energy that gives us hope when it seems there is none. It gives us the stamina to try one last time, often helping us to find the solution at the 11th hour.

Helping others, and seeing the reward of making a difference, can remind us that the deeper meaning to going through trials is not about how great we are or even the resolution of crises. It is about using the tools we have for the good of those around us. With each victory, you will grow a little stronger so others can lean upon you. With each failure, you will be better able to put yourself in another’s shoes. With each heartache, you learn the value of love — but, you cannot see the love in this world if we are only looking out for yourself.

And love?

Love is everything.

Love is the reason to pack a parachute in the first place.

Image: kyle steed
16 Responses to “Five Tips to Keep Your Balance When You Don’t Know Which End is Up”
  1. Sarah, this is great advice. But the point that resonates with me most is, “Stick to your principles.”

    It’s surprisingly easy, when going through a rough transition, to give in to your most base instincts. I’ve done it more than once myself. It’s a nasty habit and the most damaging thing you can do, and it will ensure that, once the dust settles, you’ve created an even bigger mess than you started with. And you’ll hate yourself for it.

    Easier said than done, but I’m making it a point going forward to follow advice like this. ;)

    • Lindsey,

      Couldn’t agree with you more.

      When we feel vulnerable, for example, we often resort to the need to protect and defend ourselves, even if it is at the expense of others. Gossip is one example of abandoning principles for a quick fix. It may even make us feel vindicated for a bit, to be sure everyone knows OUR side of the story, especially in the heat of the conflict, but the consequences of words carelessly spoken can last for years to come.



  2. And (you can see this struck a chord) but this reminds me of Rilke’s advice to the young poet. Moments of great sadness are almost always transitional, and if we’re patient through the pain, and permit ourselves to be changed by it, the payoff is great.

  3. Lisa

    How did you know that I always go for the M&Ms when I am stressed out? :)
    This post is full of so many wonderful suggestions. I also find that having a schedule and some order in the midst of chaos is very soothing. And I agree that helping someone else can really make a difference when I am at my low point. In terms of the M&Ms, well, I’m working on that. Sometimes I actually remember that when life feels out of control, there are still things I can manage — getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, eating well, exercising. Sometimes taking control of the small things can make a big difference.

    • Lisa,

      M&Ms are definitely a comfort food of choice. When we were kids, we used to divide them by color and pretend they were fruits and veggies… and then insist that WAS exactly what we were eating when mom said we were done eating CHOCOLATE! ;)

      Taking control of small things can definitely help make a difference. Some crazy disasters – like experiencing a house fire, for example – leave us without anything TO organize. Sometimes we are so low and distraught that we don’t even know where to begin.

      Marla Cilley, better known as “The Fly Lady”, went through a complete mental breakdown that required hospitalization. In her book, Sink Reflections, she wrote that one of her daily assignments, when she was taking baby steps, was to simply brush her hair. It was so hard for her then! She didn’t feel good enough to even brush her own hair. :( But, she did as she was told. Gradually, she was able to get herself dressed. Then, she was slowly able to take care of herself again.

      Just as going through a crisis helps us to be stronger when the next one comes around — and they always do! — each ounce of life reclaimed, even as small as brushing hair, brings us closer to being whole again.

      Thanks for your comment :)


  4. I can’t begin to tell you how much this post has opened up my eyes to things that I never knew was possible. Thank you so much for the wonderful and practical solutions, and thank you for writing in such a graceful manner it made reading so enjoyable :D

    • Pelf,

      I clicked on the link to your blog and was reading through your a few of your posts. I’m so very sad to read of the loss of your friend’s sister. How tragic that she passed just before she would have been discharged!

      You mentioned the experience of going to visit your mom in the hospital when you were younger, only to have just missed her. It’s interesting how little things like that are almost test-drives… little samplings of a feeling… evoked again during bigger events in life.

      Hugs to you as you walk alongside of your friend.

      Life wouldn’t hurt so much if we didn’t care.



    Thank you so much for this! Really enjoying Real Zest and your posts so far. =)


    • Love, love, LOVE the Real Zest community.


      Looking forward to interacting with you here.


  6. Great advice comes out of experience, thanks for sharing yours. Solid post.

    • Alex,

      Thank you for your lovely comment!

      I’ve enjoyed reading your blog this morning. You express yourself, and the observations of life quite well.


  7. What an open-hearted and generous post! One that only someone who has lived the advice could write…

  8. Great tips for this time of year as well as wll year. I am telling my community blog reader about the great suggestions.


  9. As a caregiver, I sometimes can’t help but keep feeling stress out, fear and worry. And Sarah, your article reminds me of the quote : “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” (Lena Horne). You suggested some great tips to keep the balance. I especially like #3. It’s because this is the worst of time, you even need more time to chill out, relax and refresh. Thanks Sarah~

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