NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, Recovering Shopaholic.
Two months from today, I will turn fifty. As I lead up to that milestone birthday, I’m periodically writing about some issues in my life and things I’d like to change. In today’s post, I’ll update you on the hair issues I wrote about last month. I’ll also bring you up to date on how I’m doing with my balance goal for 2016 and highlight some ongoing issues I’m experiencing in that regard.
I’m bound and determined to be in a better place in my life by the time I blow out those fifty candles (well, maybe just a “5” and a “0” on my cake will be a better idea). Although I have some trepidation about turning the big 5-0, I feel that it has also been a blessing for me, as it has lit a virtual fire under me and is pushing me to make some important and long overdue changes. It’s like a crash course in personal growth and for that I am very grateful.
Last month, I shared my thoughts on dealing with what I’ve termed “hair prison” and my desire to break free. Since that time, I’ve decided to transition to gray hair and have made a start on that project by not coloring my hair for seven weeks (I usually did it every four weeks). Last week, I had a couple of inches cut off and got a deep conditioning treatment that made a big difference in the health and texture of my hair. Here’s a photo of me right after I returned home from my hair appointment:
Deciding whether or not to go gray is a very individual decision (read some stories and thoughts from commenters here), but I ultimately made that choice because of my health. My doctor felt strongly that the chemicals from the frequent hair dyeing were contributing to my health issues and recommended that I stop doing it. My intense nerve pain has already noticeably decreased in the past few weeks, so that’s enough evidence for me right there. I hope that placing my health above my vanity will result in my feeling much better as time goes on.
I was also tired of fighting a losing battle, as my gray roots appeared just over a week after my color appointments and I had to use sprays and powders to hide them. My color was also inconsistent and I wasn’t happy with it much of the time. Joining gray hair transition Facebook groups (if you’re interested, check out this one and this one) showed me that the transition isn’t as scary as I thought and that it’s possible to still look attractive and youthful with natural silver locks. At this point, I’m just letting my hair grow, although I’m not ruling out highlights and/or lowlights to help lessen the line of demarcation in the future. Since the color from those processes doesn’t go on the scalp, the potential health risk would be much lower, but it could still be damaging to my hair. I’m not prepared at this point to cut my hair really short, but never say never.
I’m going to keep working on improving the condition of my hair through deep conditioning and decreasing my use of heat appliances. I think that simply not applying color every four weeks will help a lot with both the condition of my hair and my overall health. It won’t be easy emotionally to deal with the transition, but in the grand scheme of things, it will just be a year or two out of my life. I’m hoping that the choice I made to get “un-stuck” about my hair will transfer over into other areas of my life as well.
An Update on My Balance Goal
At the beginning of this year, I decided that my main focus would be on creating a more balanced life. This is what I wrote to lead off that discussion:
During 2015, my life became very unbalanced. I stayed up far too late, consumed an excessive amount of information, spent way too much time on Facebook, and devoted too great a percentage of my time to other people’s problems besides my own. I didn’t get enough sleep, fell behind on things that were important to me, got too stressed out, and my health declined considerably. I don’t know how much different my health would be now had I been more in balance over the past year, but it definitely wouldn’t have hurt. Stress can certainly negatively impact our health and I know that has been the case for me. It’s beyond time for me to turn all of these negative habits and patterns around!”
I outlined a number of balance objectives related to information overload, relationships, my health, and my wardrobe and had achieved some positive results when I gave my first update about six weeks later. At that time, I made nine additional commitments to improve upon my progress even further. I was doing great, but then as often happens, I came to a stall. I stopped doing the things I knew would make me feel happier and proud and fell into the same sort of traps I was embroiled in back in 2015 and earlier years.
Decreasing Information Overload
It hasn’t been all bad, though, so I will start on a high note and tell you about the positive changes I’ve made in regards to balance so far this year:
- I have pared down my blog subscriptions by about half and spend much less time reading blogs now than I did last year.
- I’ve gone back to reading books again and have read about one per month so far this year.
- I’m better at keeping up with my email and no longer let it get so out of hand like I did in 2015.
- I no longer have 40 or 50 browser tabs open at any given time. While I still rely too heavy on browser tabs, I now try to keep the number to less than twenty.
- I have pared down my physical files considerably. I went from three jam-packed file drawers and three jam-packed file boxes down to just two full file boxes. I got rid of a lot of legacy information I no longer needed, as well as print-outs of data that can easily be accessed online.
I feel proud about all of the above changes, especially the last one. It wasn’t easy to pour through a lifetime of information in all of those files and some of it was painful to re-live. I just finished the file project a few days ago and feel like a big weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. Although most of the files were tucked away in a closet and out of my day to day view, the information overload was still weighing me down and depleting my energy.
I’ve found that as I’ve been working through all of the clutter in my home, I’ve freed up considerable energy which I can now devote to the things that matter to me in life. It may sound hokey or “woo-woo,” but this is definitely true for me. While it was great to let go of jewelry and bathroom items earlier in the year, the file management project had the strongest impact on me. My digital files are next and I look forward to experiencing more of a release after that project is behind me.
Ongoing Balance Challenges
I’m very happy to have made the changes highlighted above, but I continue to struggle in the following areas related to balance:
- I still have too many backlogs – Included are articles to read in the Pocket app (currently at 116, mostly from 2015), Feedly blog posts (currently 48, between “saved for later” posts and unread posts from the past three weeks), and “Active Sites” (35 previous browser tabs I’ve saved to view later).
- I’m still buying too many “out and about” clothes and not enough for my causal at-home lifestyle (see my thoughts on this topic here).
- I still spend most of my time alone or with my husband and don’t have much of a social life.
- I continue to stay up too late and don’t get enough sleep most nights. This is a big one, as sleep is critical for repairing the cells in our bodies, decreasing inflammation, and improving our health (see the effects of sleep deprivation here).
- I continue to spend far too much time on Facebook and not enough time on other priorities in my life. This is so important that I will go into greater detail below, as it also impacts most of the other challenges mentioned above.
Facebook – Both a Blessing and a Curse
One of my biggest issues related to balance is Facebook. At the beginning of the year, I knew I was spending too much time on that social network, but I wasn’t sure how much. After tracking the time spent on messaging with my various friends and in the private group I created, I learned that I spent an average of 20 hours a week on Facebook activities (and this doesn’t even include time spent browsing my feed or in the other groups to which I belong)! Since I thought that was far too much (the equivalent of a part-time job!), I vowed to decrease that time by at least half. Sadly, I have not been successful with this goal.
While I have decreased my messaging time from an average of 11.5 hours per week in January to just 6 hours a week in May, my time in the group I founded has increased from approximately 8 hours a week to about 10. I am proud to have created such a supportive group of women and a safe space in which to discuss and explore shopping and wardrobe issues. I’m happy this group is there for those who need it and I know that many of the members have benefitted greatly from its existence. I have benefitted as well, but it also feels like a burden to me some of the time.
I feel anxious to even write that, but it’s true. I feel obligated to spend time in the group every day and I feel guilty that I don’t spend enough time there, especially when compared to some of the other members and my fellow group admins. No one is specifically making me feel this way, but since I’m the one who created the group, I feel like it’s my responsibility even though I created it more for others than for myself. I was hesitant to start a Facebook group because I knew that it might end up taking a lot of my time. That’s why it took me so long to do it. However, the thing that pushed me to take that action was that my blog started to get a lot of negative comments and didn’t feel like a safe space for conversation anymore.
I don’t want any of the members of my group to feel like they have to check in every day or spend a specific amount of time in the group. I want the group to be fun and a resource for those who need it when they need it. There are now so many members of the group that it’s pretty much guaranteed that someone will be around at any time of the day to answer questions or provide support. This is a wonderful thing, but I certainly don’t want the group to be a source of stress for any of its members, including me.
Since many of us have what’s been referred to as addictive personalities, it can be as difficult to moderate our time on Facebook as it is to control our clothing purchases. This worries me, but I know I’m not responsible for the behavior of others. Additionally, some of the group members may feel just fine with spending multiple hours a day reading and responding to threads. But I have to honor myself and my desire for balance, which means I need to cut back and deal with any feelings of guilt I may experience as a result. Some things in my life aren’t getting done and I’m not getting enough sleep because I’m on Facebook and that’s just not right. I have to put myself and my health above any sense of obligation I feel towards this group and the other members, no matter how much I like and value them.
This is something that has been weighing on my mind for a long time. Perhaps some of you can relate, if not in terms of a Facebook group, then perhaps in regards to Facebook in general, another social media network, or somewhere else where you spend a lot of your time. Most of the things we do in life aren’t bad and many of them are actually good, but almost anything can become a problem if done in excess. Shopping for clothes and loving fashion aren’t bad, but many of us have gotten into trouble by becoming too immersed in these things. This is where balance comes into play and it can be very challenging for many of us. My hope is that by sharing my challenge with Facebook, I can perhaps shine a light on the areas of your life in which you’re out of balance. Awareness is the first step toward change, so getting clear on what’s not working and why can help us to figure out what shifts we need to make in order to feel more in sync with our goals and dreams.
A New Practice and Renewed Commitments
One of my favorite books is “Happiness is a Serious Problem” by Dennis Prager and I enjoy listening to this radio talk show host’s weekly happiness hour. On a recent show, Mr. Prager suggested that if we all asked ourselves if something would make us happier before we did it, we would take different actions in our lives. I decided to take this on and my wonderful husband made the following visual tool to aid me in this effort:
I have only been using this tool for two days now and I’ve already started making smarter and healthier choices. I have stayed off my computer late at night, spent less time on Facebook, and gone to bed earlier. I have also been more focused on my priorities and less prone to distractions. I’m not nearly as focused and productive as I’d like, but it’s a good start. Even if using the question, “Will this make me feel happier and proud?,” is the only change I make, I feel it will go a long way toward increasing the sense of balance I feel in my life.
I would like to recommit to some of the goals and practices I set at the beginning of the year, as well as include a few new ones. Here are my balance commitments from today onward:
- Go to bed by 12:30 a.m. each night. Wind down for an hour before bed, which means getting off the computer (and preferably the TV as well, but that’s not as big of a problem) and doing something to slow down my brain, such as reading or listening to music. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night.
- Pare down all of my backlogs by the end of July, including Feedly, Pocket, my “Active Sites” folder (previous browser tabs), and email. After that, I will commit to clearing out these queues by the end of each week.
- Declutter my digital files and browser bookmarks by the end of July. This is a big project, but so was the physical file project and I got that done. I know I will feel infinitely better to have this project behind me, too!
- Get out of the house every day and engage in a social activity with people besides my husband once a week (a club meeting, a Meetup, a one-on-one get-together, etc.).
- Set 1-3 priorities for each day. Do this the night before so I have focus for the next day. Do at least one of these items before logging onto Facebook or managing email.
- Continue to decrease my overall time spent on Facebook. My May weekly average between group participation and personal messaging was 16 hours. I would like to decrease this to 10-12 hours per week maximum.
If I do all of the things above, I know I’ll feel much more balanced, which will also lead me to feel happier and more proud of myself. That will be a good way to feel as I enter into my fifties. Hopefully, as a result of sleeping more, honoring my needs and boundaries more appropriately, and decreasing my exposure to chemicals as a result of no longer coloring my hair (I will also explore my toxic exposure through cosmetics via the EWG Skin Deep database), my health will also improve as the year progresses. I will continue to work with my various health professionals on determining the causes and finding solutions for my physical symptoms, but I feel that improving my life balance will be beneficial as well.
As I get closer to fifty, I’ll share some more thoughts on how I’m doing and what I’d like to improve in my life. I will also do future balance updates later in the year. But now I’d like to hear from you…
- If you have selected a theme for the year or outlined goals for yourself, how are you doing?
- What would you like to commit to (or recommit to) for the remainder of 2016?
- What suggestions do you have for those of us who struggle with life balance or with spending too much time on social media?
I invite you to share your thoughts on the above questions, as well as any insights you have related to the topics included in this post.