I’m an Optimism Doctor, and I Hate the Word ‘Balance’

Photo: Getty Images/Petar Chernaev
You've undoubtedly heard before that the secret to happiness is winning the work-hard, play-hard game of balance. It's a concept that's likely mocked you before and perhaps has recently brought you to question yourself as you try without avail to fit rejuvenating self-care practices into your still-hectic days. (Remember, we don't all have more time now.) That's because, in this specific understanding, at least, balance is a myth. And during the most recent virtual edition of Well+Good TALKS, psychologist Deepika Chopra, PsyD, who focuses on optimism and happiness research, revealed that joy is more attainable when using a different "B" word.

"I just don't like the word, 'balance.' I think it brings up a lot of pressure," Dr Chopra says. "It's something that, for many people, feels unattainable and impossible, and it's forever changing. But I really would like to replace that 'B' word with a different word; I think we should all really be mindful about how we're creating boundaries, especially right now."

"I really would like to replace 'balance' with a different 'B' word; we should all really be mindful about how we're creating boundaries." —optimism psychologist Deepika Chopra, PsyD

Interesting, but boundaries can mean a lot of things, and you may be thinking, Well, we're already blocked off from the rest of the world—what healthy boundaries are we actually setting? To that end, consider the huge expanse in front of you, on the very screen you're reading this. We want to set up boundaries of consumption, and be extremely mindful of everything we consume while social distancing.

"It's not just about what we're eating and drinking but it's who we're exposing ourselves to virtually," says Dr. Chopra. "Even who we're following on social media—do those people make us feel good or feel bad, anxious or calm or inspired?" The answers to those questions can help you understand how to set up healthy boundaries accordingly.

Consumption boundaries function like any other type of boundary in that they're fences, not walls. That is, shutting out the negative news cycle altogether isn't necessarily the right move because, as Dr. Chopra says, ignorance actually isn't bliss. Instead, she more so subscribes to a "knowledge is power" frame of thinking.

In fact, she has two direct reasons we should actively stay informed using reliable news sources while also exercising boundaries: You may actually be able to come up with solutions to certain problems, or your imagination may conjure circumstances that are actually much, much more severe than reality. Dr. Chopra, for one, falls into that latter category. "My mind can go there and make something up, she says. "And so I need to know the facts. So having said that, I have to set boundaries for myself."

For Dr. Chopra, that boundary means limiting her news intake to two posts per day from 10 and capping off her consumption completely at 5 p.m. Likewise, she suggests seeking out positive news to remind you that there's still joy out there.

Your personal boundaries may be different, though, and that's okay. For me, it's less of a numbers game than it is about choosing how, when, and in what tone I consume updates related to COVID-19. I can't watch President Trump's briefings because they make me physically ill, but I'll stomachs clips of them via The Late Show, where the troubling content is inevitably sandwiched between jokes. Also, 11 p.m. is the only time I can fully gormandize what's going on in the world; reading news articles while writing work articles puts me in an anxiety vortex. But that's just me.

So while balance is a myth, boundaries can be built over time in a manageable and gentle way. To stay levelheaded amid this crisis, test your boundaries to the negative, and go from there.

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