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The Great Balancers.

© Catherine Ripplinger Fenwick

All living things seek homeostasis, a state of equilibrium and balance. Homeostasis is the relative stability in living organisms, cells or populations regulated by feedback mechanisms. For example, body temperature is regulated by our body fluids and our external environment; concentrations of chemicals in our cells are regulated in the internal environment of each cell. When things get out of whack nature has assigned regulators to keep things balanced.

When things go wrong, as they do when we are ill, we can be thrown off balance. Like all living things, people strive for homeostasis. To be healthy, we need a sense of balance and control. Nothing seems more out of control than having cancer and wanting to be well.

Psychologists Susan Kobasa and Salvadore Maddi discovered in their research that people with high stress levels who did not become fatigued or ill, shared many characteristics. They felt in control of their lives, viewed unexpected events as challenges rather than threats, felt strong commitment to what they were doing and maintained a sense of humour.

It is important to look for balance, to strive for excellence, not perfection and stop to smell the flowers once in a while. Keep fit, eat well, get enough rest, exercise, make time for friends, have some purpose in your life that you respect and are proud to work toward, concentrate on what’s really important and check your balance grid periodically.

A balance grid is something I’ve been working on for many years. You start out by writing down the things that matter the most to you. For example, family, work, accomplishment, community service, independence, security, freedom, health, status, friends, intimacy, challenge, moral fulfillment, spirituality, love, and whatever else that matters to you.

Now choose nine of those things that you value the most and plot them on a grid that has two vertical lines and two horizontal lines (like playing Xs and 0s). In the middle square put the value that is at your centre, the core of your being. This is what keeps you grounded through the tough times. The four corner squares are your corner posts, these keep your life in balance. Then fill the remaining four squares with other things you highly value. For example, at the centre of my grid is inner peace. My four corner posts are family, work, health and community service. The other four are creativity, friends, learning and intimate other. Joy and humour are threads that run through it all. I check my grid now and then to see if I am giving enough to each area. Often I find that I have neglected one or two areas and I do a little adjusting.

All too often people focus most of their time and energy on one or two areas. When something happens in that area they are thrown off balance. If work takes up 80 - 90% of your time and energy and something happens to your job, you don’t have much else in your life to give you support. Look at you balance grid. Are you giving enough time and energy to the things that are really important to you? If not, what do you need to do about it? Do it. Get balanced.

Remember to hang on to your sense of humour and have some fun every day. Laughter helps us to keep things in perspective and face our difficulties with courage and hope. I have often written and spoken about my Laughter First Aid Kit (LFAK) scrapbooks. It is heartwarming to hear the many stories about people making them for themselves and as gifts for others. My friend Donna, at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, tells me about seeing patients and staff walking around with their LFAKs under their arms. Joy and laughter are the great balancers.


Cathy Fenwick is a therapist, author and educator. She develops and delivers workshops and keynotes on how to get more healthy humour into your life.

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