My legs dangle on either side of the seat and my hands grip tightly to the handle in front of me. I can smell sun-baked metal and freshly cut grass. I can feel a pleasant warmth under my fingers and on my skin where my bare legs touch the seat beneath me. I feel so high, like I could touch the sky. Giddy with the joy of being off the ground.
The sun is in my eyes and it forces me to glance down. That’s when my stomach lurches and I realise how far there is to fall. I look along the length of the beam, all the way down to the other end of the seesaw.
My (much bigger and weightier) brother is poised to bring me crashing back down to earth. I try to read his expression; is there malice and mischief in the glint of his eyes or harmless fun?
My heart beats faster in anticipation of the crash back down. My hands grip tighter, I can feel the sweat greasing the handles as I begin to wonder if I’ll fall. In an instant he pushes off and leaps from his seat, sending me hurtling back down with a jolt. The impact jars all the way up my spine, bringing tears to my eyes - partly from the shock and partly from the betrayal.
Back down on the ground I feel heavy and earth bound once more. It’s hard to imagine flying high and carefree as I futilely push up to try and get airborne on my own. In my childish stubbornness (which still persists today if I'm honest), I continue to jump up and down as if I can defy gravity and make the see saw move again. Refusing to admit that I can't do it on my own.
Taking power back
Often our lives feel like they’re out of our control. The flying high and the crashing back down is at the whim of things outside of out control, just like a seesaw. That can sometimes feel exhilarating as we ride the highs. It can also make the lows so crushing that we feel like we’ll never get back up.
As a woman in mid life it also means the highs and lows of hormonal changes.
Suddenly your body, which has reliably just got on with the business of daily life, seems to have a will of its own. A quick google of "hormone levels in peri-menopause and menopausal women" will show you that it's not just you.
You are not going mad. Your body is trying to adjust and find balance when the state of play keeps changing.
It's not even as straightforward as simply your oestrogen levels declining, which is a natural shift as we move out of our fertile years What causes the real challenge is the unpredictability and fluctuating. What our bodies love most is balance and your internal systems are constantly at work trying to regulate you. Suddenly, instead of a simple, predictable up and down see saw it's like one of those fairground rides that flies up and out and round all at the same time.
It's no wonder that it can be a tricky time to get through for some of us.
Reclaiming control of our own seesaw is not always easy. It can be more achievable to redefine what we mean by "balance".
The problem with Balance
People often talk of “finding balance”, as if it’s a destination that you can arrive at and maintain. I don’t think it is. In one form or another, we’re always on our way up or on our way down. Balance, that precious place where you are exactly between the two, is something we pass through rather than somewhere we stay.
Just like on a seesaw, if our goal was to stay evenly in the middle it would make for a very boring ride. It’s necessary to seek the highs and accept the lows for an invigorating and meaningful life.
When we look for balance, what we really want is to smooth the ups and downs. To make it easier to travel between the up and the down rather than striving to make things static. That dynamic flow is the same goal we're chasing during the menopause and mid life transition.
The pursuit of Balance in an unstable world
So what does it take to redefine things and pursue balance in this way, so it's a flexible dance rather than a rigid control agenda?
It starts with mindset. I don't mean in a "think pink fluffy thoughts and deny your experience" kind of a way. I mean in a "I get to choose which thoughts, feelings and sensations get my attention" type of way.
This is at the core of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) (which is the foundation of my work at Be. and the work I do with clients and organisations).
CBT is based on the idea that thoughts, feelings, what we do, and how our bodies feel, are all connected. If we change one of these, we can alter all the others.
Because of the hormonal changes in the body in mid life for women, how your body feels changes so it naturally changes how you think and behave. Plus the hormone changes have an impact on your brain. CBT works to help you notice and change problematic thinking styles or behaviour patterns so you can feel better.
It can also help you to change your relationship to the things making you feel out of balance and support behavioural change. This means hose things you want to do to help stay balanced that feel tricky can become more achievable.
Oh and as a little juicy bonus it can help with reclaiming your identity that can go AWOL during this stage of life.
It can be disorienting when how we think about ourselves changes and things that used to work or be enjoyable don’t seem to have the same impact.
So where can you start?
Here are 3 helpful start points if you'd like to begin flattening the ups and downs to feel more stable. It can be helpful to notice which feel easy and natural for you and which might need a bit more effort: 1. Know where you are right now Imagine sitting on a see saw with your eyes closed, your ears muffled for sounds and no idea of where you are. Are you on your way up? Hovering in the middle? Or on the way down?
Knowing what you're feeling and thinking sounds like a given. In reality, most of us can end up on autopilot and avoiding difficult thoughts and feelings. It's like we're living our life with mufflers on. Tuning in to what you’re experiencing is the very first step to mastering your mind and creating space for a different experience.
Cultivate a daily reflective practice: that doesn't have to mean meditating for hours. It can be just taking a few minutes to pause and reflect.
Are there times in your day when you already have downtime? A handy way to find those pockets is to think about when is your "scroll" time, the time of day when you lose yourself to the rabbit hole of social media or the internet? Can you "bolt on" to that time a routine of pausing and reflecting first?
You could try my free 'Get Started Now' mini meditation course if you'd like some handy tips to do that in a really simple (and speedy!) way. The Be. 21 Day Calm and Clarity Reset is also a great way to build small, simple and achievable practices into your day and week. It comes for free in the Be.Membership, which you can join and cancel anytime.
Journalling can also be really helpful for this. I like to journal into my notes app in my phone because it's easy and feels seamless. Sometimes I also like to grab a journal and write down whatever I'm thinking and feeling.
2. Decide what you want When my son first got his drivers licence last year, he would often get in his car and just drive. He loved the feeling of having total freedom to just go with his mood and which roads felt easy to navigate. There was no pressure and if it felt difficult he would just change direction. After a while though, the aimlessness of those drives didn't feel good. Yes, he avoided the discomfort of tricky roads but he wasn't actually getting anywhere meaningful and his driving wasn't really getting any better really.
He realised that unless you set a direction and know where you want to go, it ultimately makes the challenges of the journey feel pointless. Your life is no different. Spending time listening to your desires and aversions is vital to help you steer your course. This can feel like a tricky thing to consider when you're in the throes of navigating hormones. life events and this seemingly never-ending rollercoaster of modern life. But without it, you can miss the opportunity to build a life that feels meaningful, despite the struggle.
Knowing what you want and enjoy is a muscle. You need to flex it and build it. That's especially true if you've spent years and years looking after other people and putting their needs before your own. It can feel like you don't have access to knowing what might bring you joy or meaning.
So to start building that muscle;
start a list of the small things you like to do. It could be tiny things like sitting in the garden with cup of tea or a glass of wine. Or maybe it's putting music on that makes you want to dance or feel something bigger. Perhaps it's moving your body, walking the dog, being in nature. Whatever occurs to you, write it down.
See if you can add something to it every day for a week after your initial brainstorm.
Now track how often you create time or allow yourself to do those things
spend a week choosing one thing from your list every day to make time for
You'll be amazed how quickly you can tune back in to joy when you give yourself that space.
3. Ask yourself what you need right now Imagining what you want is great, but unless you also meet your NEEDS then they are unlikely to happen. I try to remind myself that the human brain and nervous system is wired for survival, not happiness. So it's vital to send the signal over and over again to yourself that you are safe and well.
When your body is in the mid life maelstrom, it can be a hard to consistently send the message to your body that it's safe because so much feels out of whack. The easiest way to do it is to meet you basic needs with kindness instead of ignoring them.
Take the smallest steps to meet yourself where you are and look after the basics. That really can be as simple as knowing you need to take a deep, calming breath to steady your roll.
You deserve to be considered and to have your needs met.
Choose one basic need that you have a feeling you're not giving enough attention to, like having enough water, getting enough sleep, going to the toilet when you need to go (surely I'm not the only one who ends up needing to pee for hours before I actually go when I'm stressed?!) and monitor it for a few days. This will help you get some data about how you're doing now - how consistent are you? What's the impact? What else happens?
Then set an achievable target that you'll aim for over the next week. Monitor again to get more data: see how you feel when you meet that need.
It can be surprising the difference it makes to achieve tiny improvements in how well you look after yourself. Perhaps you'll notice other small changes happen, like a ripple being caused by the extra care.
In the Be. Membership this month, we’ll be using our practices and reflections to cultivate a balanced ride.
Each week for Be.Members, I hand-pick practices from the library of hundreds on offer that relate to this theme. Combined with inspiration, journal prompts and powerful affirmations, this is your journey to grow. Taking small steps each day and week to live a life that’s rich, full and meaningful.
We’d love you to join us! And it’s just £10 per month (and accessible from a handy app) for all this goodness because I’m passionate about making these life changing practices accessible to all.
Here’s a little taster practice for you:
Laura @ Be.