Life can be challenging, and the past year surely didn't help. How do you maintain emotional balance and navigate ever-changing social norms in times of struggle and uncertainty?
Let me share with you my experience and how I deal with it.
I think of emotional balance as achieving a healthy equilibrium between not suppressing my feelings and being able to express how I feel while not feeling controlled by how I feel.
Exploring this subject, I discovered that we tend to limit ourselves to think about what's happening with our minds or our bodies when talking about emotions. Yet, the ways we connect socially are undoubtedly a big part of finding our emotional balance.
Unsurprisingly, my close relatives, friends, coworkers, and even random people I come across throughout my day impact how I feel. Sometimes, I notice it; other times, verbal or physical cues stick with me and influence my behavior or reactions without me noticing.
I recognize plenty of literature focusing on the "mind" and "body" components already exist. Today, I want to focus on the "social" element, including how I experience it and how it contributes to my pursuit of emotional balance.
Although we all experience the same type of emotions, what stirs them up can have a lot to do with our personal journey. For perspective, let me briefly introduce myself.
My name is Valentin; I was born in France, studied in Belgium, and settled in Canada about 8 years ago. I am a co-founder at Speakbox, a software engineer by trade, and an amateur musician in my spare time. I find restoration when being by myself, but I wouldn't label myself as introverted.
I was a decent student in school but always struggled with waking up on time, and I still struggle today. In 2015, I was diagnosed with a Delayed Sleep-Phase disorder, which in other words, means that I am a nocturnal human being. This peculiarity often came with a lot of criticism and a lack of understanding.
I consider myself an emotional and sensitive person. Being logical during the day (software engineering) and creative at night (music), I try to maintain this balance in my decision-making. However, I wasn't always this way, and I struggled for a long time to maintain this balance between my feelings and my logical brain. My mind was easy to tame; my heart, however, gave me more of a challenge. So much so that I was diagnosed with depression in my early twenties.
Fast forward three years, days spent sleeping, a few broken relationships, and only a vague idea of what I wanted to do in life, I woke up one morning to find myself feeling good again. No logical reason, no explanation, I just felt right.
While I can't explain what happened, self-reflection and observation taught me a few things to help me maintain my emotional balance:
"Feelings are useful, but they aren't the truth."
"Facts are your friends."
"Assume the best, prepare for the worst."
I only started to understand this one very recently. See, in the past, my reactions were primarily driven by emotion. Anger, fear, and sadness would usually play a significant role in my behavior.
I was angry at my parents, teachers, and friends, as they would not understand why it was hard for me to wake up in the morning and often blame me or make fun of me.
I was afraid of being abandoned. My romantic relationships were the most impacted; I was expecting too much "reassuring" from my partners, which ultimately led to breaking up.
All of which was accompanied by fear, fear it would always be this way, fear the pattern would just repeat endlessly.
But I was wrong. Not because I felt angry or scared or sad. But because I believed it was the truth and nothing could be done about it.
Instead of being late because I couldn't wake up and being angry at people's reaction, I started to set expectations: found a job with flexible hours and be forward with my friends and family that planning things early in the morning is a no-go. I started accepting that fact: it is who I am, and I should embrace that.
Instead of being scared to be abandoned, I started looking at relationships differently. I started enjoying the moment a bit more, accepting the fact that it may have an expiration date and that even though it may end, the memory of this shared moment is mine and will stay with me forever.
Instead of being afraid, face challenges and changes head-on and accept what comes from them.
In summary, I believe feelings are clues. They are used by my body to signal to my mind what things to pay attention to, but ultimately, I can decide whether or not I want to act on it and how much attention I should give it.
As mentioned above: once my feelings send me the signal, I can decide what to do with it. But how do I know if I should act on it?
This one can be a little confusing, but hear me out. It doesn't mean you shouldn't listen to your feelings, far from it, but try not to react based on these feelings, but on the facts instead.
One of the best examples I can find comes from a past coworker of mine.
I worked at an Apple Premium reseller as a salesman. I did not have any sales experience, but it was the closest tech-related job I could find at the time.
One day, I arrived late in the morning because my car broke down. I was afraid of the reaction I would get since I always came "just-in-time" because I struggled to wake up. I was worried my boss, Fabrice, would be mad and give me a hard time. Once I arrived at work, the first question Fabrice asked me, very quietly, was: "What happened?". Though I was surprised by his really calm tone, I told him what happened with my car. He acknowledged and started opening the store. Curious, I asked him: "aren't you upset that I am late?". And his answer resonated with me: "I am upset, but you have a good reason, so I choose to react according to that.".
I continued the conversation asking for more details on how he managed the situation. He told me that he witnessed in the past someone being punished at work for being late, only to realize later that this person was late because someone close to them died in the morning. He imagined how bad this person would have felt and decided for himself to always ask the reason first before reacting out of anger.
In other words: he reacted to the fact and not to his feelings.
This one is advice I received from my Dad a while back.
More often than not, I find myself assuming people's reactions to something I say or do. It was such a natural thing to do when I was younger that I would avoid being picky at the bakery; for example, when the baker gave me the wrong baguette, afraid of their reaction. My Dad told me: "you should ask for a different baguette, you don't know what the baker would say, and worst-case scenario, you can always buy it somewhere else.".
He made a point.
I automatically assumed that the baker would be annoyed –probably because I would have been–, and that I couldn't back out because I entered the bakery and I would look silly to come out empty-handed. But the baker is not me. They could have felt differently about my request, probably not be annoyed at all. And they would probably not have been offended if I changed my mind and left the bakery without buying.
My way of maintaining my emotional balance is to be aware of my mind and body and be mindful of my social relationships and behaviors.
Using my feelings as "sensors," I can use them to notice things around me, but I will try to use the facts, logic, and common sense to decide what to say, how to react, or if I should say something or respond at all.
Maintain a balance of mind, body, and social awareness to maintain my emotional balance and use my feelings as guides and facts as tools to navigate the world around me.
Software engineer with over 8+ years of experience working with various startups, agencies and enterprises in Vancouver, BC and amateur musician.