Finding Balance During Stressful Times

By on December 1, 2011

By Ashley Barnes –

I started a new job recently. I had been unhappy and unchallenged in my last position for a while and I was ready for a change. What I wasn’t ready for was the adjustment in my schedule. I had been in my previous job for over 6 years. I had a steady, predictable routine, a gym in my office building to run or work out when I wanted, and flexibility in my schedule to go to stretch or take a long lunch with friends or my husband.

Don’t get me wrong, my new job is great. And I still have a lot of flexibility in my schedule. It’s challenging—in a good way—and it requires a lot of personal and professional energy: meeting and training new people, sharing my opinions and ideas, and putting myself out there. As a result, I’ve been working different hours, getting up earlier than I had been, and adjusting to the new routines and expectations. I typically adapt easily to change, but my body has been pretty fragile over the last few years and I’m learning that even slight changes can affect me in big ways. This new job has been a big change, and I’m feeling it. I am out of balance.

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Imbalance doesn’t happen all at once; it’s a gradual process, until one day you finally realize, “Something is just off.” Often, by the time you realize something is off, everything is off! Even then, it’s not always simple to figure out what’s really going on. And unfortunately, there are rarely any neon signs to help guide you. It takes knowledge and understanding of your individual body and its clues that let you know what it needs.

Yes, your body constantly gives you clues as to what it needs to function at full capacity, but most of us are too busy with life to pay attention. We wait until extreme stress or illness forces us to stop and readjust. However, there are ways to tell if you’re out of balance before you reach a critical state. The easiest is to take an honest inventory of your life and see where there’s too much of one thing and not enough of others. To help you in this process, here are 4 simple but often overlooked areas for you to consider.

Disordered sleep – This is a no-brainer, right? When you start having trouble sleeping – falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping but not feeling rested – you know something is wrong, especially if you typically sleep well. Often, chronic stress, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, and other issues with primary foods can result in sleep that is not restful, even if you’re going to bed at the same time as usual. If you’re not sleeping well, or you seem to be sleeping well but you still feel tired during the day, do a reality check. What’s been going on in your life lately? Are there any changes, new stressors, or other situations that may be affecting your sleep?

Food cravings – Food cravings are often seen as a sign of weakness, when in reality, cravings can be a sign that your body needs something. Sometimes you need minerals or nutrients, sometimes you crave sugar because you’ve been eating too much salt or animal products, but often (probably more often than not), you crave food to fill an emotional void. Something is missing, your life is out of balance in some area, and your first line of comfort is food. I experienced this while in my old job. My typical daytime snacks consist of fruit, nuts, and usually one small Ghirardelli dark chocolate square after lunch. However, as I grew more and unhappy and bored in my job, I noticed that I started multiple Ghirardelli squares in the afternoon. I started getting a bag of chips for my snack instead of my usual fruit or nuts. One morning, right before a particularly stressful meeting, I suddenly got a craving for Cheez-Its AND peanut butter M&M’s! Not only was I starting to have unusual food cravings (for me), I was looking to food for comfort. But no amount of Ghirardelli squares, chips, or other foods made me happier, less bored, or more fulfilled. Food won’t fill your void either. If you feel like you’re eating habits are unpredictable or you’re experiencing cravings, star t a simple food diary. Write down what you eat each day, especially your emotional state before you eat. You may just discover that your craving for macaroni and cheese always seems to hit after a week when your schedule is maxed out or that those extreme sugar cravings always happen right after an emotionally taxing interaction with your child.

Physical symptoms – Illness, disease, and pain have an emotional root, so if you’re out of balance, it’s likely to manifest in some physical way. It’s different for everyone and depends on lifestyle, past emotional traumas, current stressors, etc. For the last couple of years, when I’ve been stressed or overwhelmed, so have my adrenals and thyroid. I’ve struggled with physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, fluid retention, dizziness, blurred vision, night sweats, hair loss, restless, fitful sleep, and lack of concentration. I had these symptoms under control with good supplements, sensible food choices, plenty of sleep, and, of course, a careful balance of activities in my life. But since I’m establishing new habits with diet, sleep, and activities, many of my physical symptoms have returned. It’s important to note that your body (both the physical and emotional parts) is a system, and when one part is out of balance, other pieces of the system will be affected as well. You rarely have “just a headache”, as your head is part of your overall system. What seems to be a simple headache is nearly always caused by something (stress, lack of sleep, overwhelm, a food sensitivity, etc.) and, in turn, causes some other system to become compromised. What aches and pains seems to be worse for you during stressful or emotional times?

Lack of spiritual practice – I’m not talking about religion here. I’m talking about connecting to your source, to that place inside you that makes you you, however that resonates for you individually. For some this may be organized religion. It may also be nature, meditation, Pilates, journaling, EFT, breath-work, reading spiritual books, or some other way of creating sacred space for just you. Many find it in a combination of practices. Regardless of the method, we all need to connect to our spirituality on a regular basis. I realized that my schedule has been so off that spiritual practices have slowly made their way out of my daily routine. When I get up at 5am, work all day, make dinner, put kids to bed, and then go to bed myself, it’s difficult to make myself find even 15 minutes for meditation, much less an hour. I haven’t even made it to a church service in over a month because of our hectic family schedule.

It’s important that we make time for ourselves. Connecting with God is how we stay grounded in this hectic, material world, and is the foundation for maintaining peace, love, and balance in our lives. One great way to sneak in some time for you is to simply turn off the radio when you’re in the car. Ditch the distraction and use that car time to decompress and make time for your own inner thoughts and feelings. This works at home with the TV as well. Turn off the TV while you make dinner and do your evening chores. The news is mostly depressing anyway and if something big happens in the world you’ll hear about it from someone. Enjoy what little time you can set aside.

These are just a few of the many clues your body might give you that it needs something. Imagine if you looked for and listened to these clues every day, how much more fulfilling your life could be? It’s a great gift to have a body that lets us know when something is wrong. Learning to be a good detective of your body’s clues is an invaluable skill to help you stay balanced and healthy, both emotionally and physically.

The holidays—a time when stress and overwhelm are a virtual guarantee—are here. I hope you’ll take this time to investigate where your life lacks balance and to make the commitment to yourself to give your body and soul what it needs to stay balanced and healthy.


Ashley Barnes is a holistic health coach helping women learn to love themselves & their bodies through whole food nutrition, lifestyle tips, and self care. She trained with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NYC and also has an M.S. in Training & Employee Development and a B.S. in Psychology. To schedule a FREE Discovery Session, contact Ashley at (502) 889-7955 or visit

About Ashley Barnes

Ashley Barnes is a holistic health coach helping women learn to love themselves & their bodies through whole food nutrition, lifestyle tips, and self care. She trained with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NYC and also has an M.S. in Training & Employee Development and a B.S. in Psychology. To schedule a FREE Discovery Session, contact Ashley at (502) 889-7955 or visit

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Finding Balance During Stressful Times