Calm amongst the chaos – finding balance in everyday life


Saskia McDonogh Mooney

A summer sunrise, a symbol of new beginnings

By Saskia McDonogh Mooney, Features Editor

Work/life balance is not a new idea, yet it still remains relevant as students, teachers and people in general struggle to do what brings them joy, and to relax, in the face of responsibility.

But in order to perform the best one possibly can in school or work setting there needs to be beneficial breaks and happiness to counteract the stress.

According to Lane Tech’s school psychologist, Dr. Jacquline Gilson, people’s breaks and hobbies are rejuvenating; and to truly figure out what will work best for the individual, they must be self reflective.

“Get in touch with your humanity, think about the sorts of things that give you pleasure,” Dr. Gilson said. “The things you’re naturally interested in, activities, ideas, pursuits that fill up your gas tank. General pressures from the world deplete your tank.”

That’s the goal — to know yourself and your needs, but when life becomes overwhelming, it can be very difficult for people to do anything that will fill up their gas tank. Mental Health America recommends that people should set manageable goals each day if they want to build up to work/life balance; throwing oneself into the deep end right away is a straight shot for burn out.

Further, Dr. Gilson said to do everything with intention. It’s created by having structure. During lunch periods she runs a drop-in clinic for students in her office, and oftentimes they end up creating a schedule together. The goal is better time management, because it gives students the structure they need to rest and pick themselves up.

“I think when you are more aware of and intentional with your schedule, you’re giving yourself the budget and the leeway to fully enjoy your breaks,” Dr. Gilson said.

This idea of having a schedule, or a general plan of when things should happen in order to make the most of one’s day, is echoed by LTAC English teacher Elizabeth Cramarosso. She is a new mother, and she said that her new priorities have created a recent structure in her life that was not previously there.

“This might sound ironic and crazy, but I feel like I’m actually better at work/life balance now because I feel like my priorities have reorganized themself in a way that I feel has yielded work/life balance,” Cramarosso said.

“Now I have more structure to my life because I have to take care of my child,” she continued.

That being said, students do not usually have these same catalysts for structure. Dr. Gilson said that good sleep, movement and social connection are needed if people want to begin the journey towards work/life balance. If one is not ready to fully pursue their favorite hobbies or does not have the mental space to discover them, meeting these aforementioned needs can be the necessary small goals to strive for each day.

“Sleep is actually the only time that you learn,” said Dr. Gilson. “During the day you’re just exposed to stimuli, but it isn’t embedded until you sleep — it’s when your body fights off infection, heals from injury, it’s the only time your body grows, it helps regulate your mood — it’s super important.”

Dr. Gilson has numerous tips for ensuring better sleeping patterns. They include attempting to sleep the same amount every day of the week; avoiding naps because long term sleep is better for the brain’s daily recovery; using beds only for sleeping; keeping your room cooler because as the brain works the body heats up; and not using your phone at least 30 minutes before sleeping.

Additionally, for those whose mind is racing and cannot seem to keep their thoughts at bay as they attempt to sleep, keeping a pad of paper and pencil by the bed can be very helpful, according to Dr. Gilson. The act of writing down whatever they are stressing about allows for physical removal of the stressors, and if need be it can be returned to in the morning. As people sleep, the brain is problem-solving, so coming back to the information after sleeping can be more effective.

In addition, the Official Journal of the Association of Medicine and Psychiatry reports that movement in general has repeatedly proven to lower levels of stress, depression and anxiety.

“It doesn’t have to be formal exercise — even walking 30 minutes a day can do a lot physically to improve your mental health, awareness and alertness and help your body work more optimally,” Dr. Gilson said.

Stanford Medicine concurs as well that social connection is vital in improving mental health.

“People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression,” according to Stanford Medicine. “Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.”

For many teens, especially after the pandemic, interactions with others can be very emotionally loaded, characterized by the fear of judgment — the eternal question being “how am I being perceived?” In these instances Dr. Gilson suggests mentally taking a step back.

“If you take a step back, and again be intentional, and you think, every teen everywhere is thinking that all eyes are on them. But all eyes can’t be on them because everyone thinks that they are on everyone else,” Dr. Gilson said.

Essentially, it is important for people to remember to breathe and reassess the situation using the empirical information around them before assuming the thoughts of others towards oneself.

“Notice that your thought patterns can be particularly judgmental and not kind to yourself,” Dr. Gilson said.

Ultimately, kindness towards oneself is the most important thing. Creating a work/life balance requires intention and creating a structure, and it does not happen overnight. Junior Ava Gates, Div. 353, said that in order to make the most of her breaks, she starts by putting down her phone.

“I think that it takes a lot of deliberate decision-making in order to feel rejuvenated, sort of putting my phone down and not falling into usual habits,” Gates said.

Creating a schedule that incorporates doing homework, seeing friends, making time for movement, sleeping and doing the things that bring joy helps people avoid falling into those habits. Especially if the intent to stick with it is there.

“If you create a plan, something that is manageable and attainable, and whether you attain it or not, you’re giving yourself some slack and some leeway and some grace,” Dr. Gilson said. “That, I think, is the biggest takeaway: create a plan, be easy on yourself, be kind to yourself and to others. Doesn’t everything lead back to that?”

Here is a website with apps that can aid in struggles with mental health: