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January 2, 2024

Ask Lisa Podcast - Episode 151

How Do I Find Balance in 2024?

Episode 151

Happy New Year! As we turn to making New Year’s resolutions, Dr. Lisa would like us to approach 2024 in a fresh way: instead of trying to “optimize” ourselves by making the most of every minute, she suggests that we focus on restoration. Why? Because the inevitable stress of daily life can actually help us grow if we get serious about how we recover. Dr. Lisa and Reena dive into why we need to prioritize restoration, how restoration differs from coping, and why guilt-soaked restoration doesn’t work at all. Tune in for actionable insights and research-based guidance on how you and your family can prevent burnout and thrive in 2024!

January 2, 2024 | 33 min

Transcript | How Do I Find Balance in 2024?

TRANSCRIPT | HOW DO I FIND BALANCE IN 2024?

Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 151: How do I find balance in 2024?

The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

The following transcript has been automatically generated by an AI system and should be used for informational purposes only. We cannot guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of the information provided.

——

Reena Ninan
We made it to 2024, Lisa!

Lisa Damour
We did. Last year was a big year, a lot happened. I am glad to be starting fresh again.

Reena Ninan
Yeah, I love the new year because you get to start fresh and rethink things. And I also always love our New Years podcast, the first one that we put out in the top of the year, because we focus a lot on the parents and what they might need.

Lisa Damour
Yeah, no, I think caring for kids involves caring for the adults around them. And so taking time to reflect on how we take care of ourselves goes a long way towards all the good things that happen in family life.

Reena Ninan
Took me a long time to understand the importance of that. So I want to kick it off with you. We decided not to do a letter in this episode, but instead just sort of focus on how do you get your family to thrive and yourself to thrive? How do you need to rethink the new year? So I guess I want to start off and ask you this. So what do you think we should be focusing on?

Lisa Damour
I’m really glad to be talking this through because I think let’s actually start with what not to focus on. Because I think there’s such a heavy, you know, New Year’s resolution making oneself better and 400 ways that I actually want to try to pull people’s attention away from that. And one of the things we have been thinking about a lot is the term optimization, I think there’s a really heavy push in the media around us to try to optimize ourselves or optimize our children. And what I mean by that is to try to, you know, use every moment as effectively as possible to be the best possible version of who we can be and who our kids can be. And this is well meaning there’s nothing ill intentioned in this. I think that New Year’s resolution time can be prime time for thinking about optimization. And I would like to say in the place of optimization, why don’t we focus on equilibrium and maintaining a sense of equilibrium?

Reena Ninan
Okay, how do I do that? Because I feel like my life is in a thousand directions, I can never completely cross off my to-do list. How do you even get there?

Lisa Damour
Okay, so I’ve been thinking about this a lot. You know, over the years, I’ve been talking to people over last year, I’ve been, you know, thinking and thinking. And I think there’s a two-part process to trying to maintain a sense of equilibrium. So the first part of it, I think, is what I will call routinized restoration. Okay? So bear with me. Here’s the deal, Reena. Life is stressful. Our days are stressful. That is a done deal. No matter what we do, especially if we’re doing anything important or interesting or worthy. We’re gonna find it to be stressful, right? Caring for kids is a stressful thing. Working to you know, bring home the bacon for one’s family is stressful. doing, doing any combination of those things is a stressful thing. So I think we go into this first with the understanding that living a life is an inherently stressful thing no matter what you’re doing, and that it’s really critical that there be opportunities in a routinized way, part of the routine to restore oneself. And the model I want us to be working with here is thinking about strength training. Right?

Reena Ninan
Okay, I love this because I love strength training. I love lifting heavier weights. It wasn’t until my mid 40s that I’m in now that I realize you have to be lifting, especially as women, I mean, you don’t have to have 100 pounds. But how do I make this happen?

Lisa Damour
Yeah. Okay. So if we think about strength training, the way strength training works is you deliberately stress yourself, right, it’s an interesting model, right? Strength training doesn’t work. If it’s not stressful, it’s designed to be stressful. But strength training is a two part process, right? You know, this, you deliberately stretch your muscles, you push them past the point of comfort, if you are not pushing them past, when it comfort, you are wasting your time. And then you marry that with recovery, that the muscles have to repair that you cannot lift on the same muscles every single day without getting injured, right, that’s, that’s a recipe for injury. And so in strength training, we accept the idea that you deliberately stress yourself and then you follow that with a period of rest to be followed by another period of deliberately stressing oneself. And that what you create over time is actually increasing capacity where you gain strength, but it hinges as much on the opportunity to restore and let oneself you know, the muscles repair as it does on what happens in the gym.

Reena Ninan
Okay, I love this analogy, but I’m very confused. Because I get it one day, I’ll do upper body weights. And then the next day I’ll do lower body. But how do you how in life, distressing yourself out more lead to equilibrium because I am stressed to the max and I don’t feel like the more I get stressed, the better things get.

Lisa Damour
Okay. But if Reena, you had adequate restoration, if you worked very hard during the day, where we’re very busy. But every single night, you got a great night’s sleep. Or every single day, in addition to I think a great night’s sleep is baseline, right? I think when I talked about routinized restoration, sleep is like number one top of the pile. So let’s say that Reena, you’re doing very, very demanding work. And every single night you get a great night’s sleep, that’s part of the routinized restoration. And also two or three times a week, like I you know, go for a walk with a friend, but that is built into my routine. And that helps me you know, kind of talk about the things that are weighing on me get stuff off my chest solve problems, that’s routinized restoration. Exercise, for me is also really essential. In addition to walking, I tried to do something on the days I’m not walking. If Reena, you were working hard, hard, hard. But every day you were exercising in a way you wanted to every day you were eating foods that you found nourishing and pleasurable. And every day, you were getting an awesome night’s sleep, you would do nothing but build capacity. What do you think?

Reena Ninan
I’m still confused. So when you talk about in life, stressing yourself out but then making, you know, having opportunity to recover. I find in my daily life, I never have that day off to recover. So how am I? It just doesn’t, it’s just not realistic to me.

Lisa Damour
Okay, fair, okay. So think about it this way. You can have too much stress, no matter what, no matter how much recovery, you have too much stress is going to be bad. And to beat the strength training analogy to get to death, right? If you go in the gym, and you try to lift 50 pounds on your biceps, and you’re not some huge, you know, you’re gonna get injured, like that is a done deal. So the stress in of a day, some of which is just inevitable. It’s okay to have stress in a day, if it’s within a reasonable range, right? If it’s within a reasonable range, that’s not going to do harm. That is something that we you know, will help us grow and push capacity, but it’s actually not going to harm us. So one question I have, right, and you’re sort of thinking this through your stress levels may have actually been in the, you know, to heavy levels, right? Yes, more than Yes. Okay. So part of what’s going to be involved in helping you to feel a sense of equilibrium and growth and capacity growing over time, is getting your stress levels to growth-giving levels as opposed to potentially injury levels.

Reena Ninan
I love that get your stress levels to growth. What did you say?

Lisa Damour
Growth-giving levels, right? And again, just use the strength training metaphor, right? Like what’s a heavyweight but not so heavy, that you’re going to injure yourself, right. And that’s how we want to think about stress. Now, of course, not everybody has this kind of say all the time. other stressors to be sure. But if we think about this as the two part process, one is getting your stress levels to the, you know, growth giving, but not damaging, but that still has to be paired with adequate restoration. Because if your stress, stress, stress, stress stress, we call that chronic stress. That’s one of the toxic kinds of stress. But I’ll put it this way, Reena, I feel like I can work really, really hard and sustain it, so long as I am sleeping well.

Reena Ninan
So that is your thing. And I will say, this is true to you, because I’m talking to you all day long and texting you lots of eggs all day long. But at night, you shut down. And you always told me, I value sleep.

Lisa Damour
It’s huge. And here’s why I will say this. And this is I think what’s so essential, I can sustain a surprisingly large amount of work so long as I am sleeping. As soon as my sleep degrades, which I will tell you at 53, it has become much more fragile in a way that I find very frustrating. As soon as my sleep degrades, the wheels start coming off my bus. So it’s not the work level. It’s the failure of my restoration systems that is actually causing problems for me. So this is what I want us to think about. And you know, I and I like how you’re helping me sort of really test this against the realities of our lives. But I think so often we focus on the stress, right? It’s the stress that’s getting to me, that so often the stress is unavoidable, right? There’s nothing to be done about it. And what I would say is, what if we pivot our attention and say, okay, the stress may be a done deal unavoidable or even important to us, right? Like I like sometimes pushing myself like to see how much I can accomplish. What’s going on with the restoration is adequately protected? Is there enough physical activity in a way that feels good? Or whatever constitutes restoration? Is there enough time spent with other people that is routinized. And I think that’s the key thing is built into the daily routines, so that you don’t have to reach for it or try to schedule it when you’re already feeling super taxed.

Reena Ninan
So Lisa, we’re talking a little bit about how do we maintain equilibrium. And one of the things I think I walked away with from you in the first half of the show is you’ve got to figure out what restores you. And for you, you were saying it’s sleep. For some people, it’s exercise, some people, it’s getting together with friends. But how do we take whatever that restoration is, and get it to be routine.

Lisa Damour
So let me just refer it back to you, we have to take whatever restoration is and make it routine, because otherwise the wheels will come off of everybody’s bosses. But the way we want to do this, I actually think is to be very mindful of the language we use for what I want to call restoration. I think sometimes we talk about it as like taking a break or needing to check out or downtime. And if you think about those phrases, we know they have a kind of you know, acquitting quality to them. Right? Like I’m pulling myself out like I you know, I’m not optimizing in this moment, I’m, I’m checking out. And I think that even that framing has around it the sense of somehow a negative quality. Whereas if we say no, it’s restoration in the same way that days out of the gym are essential to healthy strength training, I think that that can help us to recognize it. So if you instead of saying like, Oh my gosh, I just need so much more sleep and talk about it like I should need less, or this is somehow me coming up short, if instead, we took the attitude of you know, sleep is absolutely key to my restoration, I need to get certain notes, certain number of hours, everybody’s different. Most adults are somewhere between seven and a half and nine hours. This is how I restore myself in the name of being able to come back tomorrow, do the kind of work I want to do be the kind of paranoid I want to be. But if we move away from this idea of like this is somehow lazy or greedy or disconnected, to want time to do the things that restore us. I think it starts to move us in a direction where we might then try to really build it into our routines. And the thing I think that is so critical about routines, our routines reflect our priorities, whatever is in our routine, we’re saying matters. And that’s where I want us to really watch because if it’s not in your routine, you’re saying it doesn’t matter. But we are saying we know, restoration is critical for equilibrium in the day to day and I will say thriving over time.

Reena Ninan
You know, I think a lot of people like right before the holidays, I made sure. I think it was a coping mechanism. I got together with my girlfriends and had a drink before we kicked off the rest of the holiday season. How do I make coping or how is coping different from restoration?

Lisa Damour
Okay, so this is sort of a two part piece. So I think in terms of thriving, going forward, restoration just has to be treated like a non negotiable in the same way the days out of the gym, if when you’re doing serious strength training, or a non negotiable, then no matter what we do, even if you have fantastic restoration, like say that like magically, we are all suddenly able to like work hard during the day and and sleep nine hours at night and see our friends and get plenty of exercise and do all the things that make us feel good. That’s great. There’s still going to be stuff that comes along. That is not good, right? We’re still going to run into curveballs that make us feel bad. You know, there’s going to be you know, horrible news, there’s going to be a bad situation in our family, we’re going to get you know, information, like maybe a health scare or something like that. This is where the second part of my thinking comes in, which is coping. So restoration is what you use to maintain in the day to day coping is what you need when something goes wrong. Okay. Well, you know, one of the things I started thinking about a lot in the pandemic, as we were sitting through the pandemic and watching it unfold, I started to say to anyone who was who would listen, I would say, Okay, how people come out of this a lot in terms of what they can control, it’s going to come down to how they’re coping. If they’re using healthy coping, I think most people are going to come out of this, okay? If they turned to unhealthy coping, if they start using drinking, if they start using withdrawal from people if they start being a jerk to people to cope, that’s what’s gonna leave a mark once the pandemic ends. So I think coping and coping well and having good coping is absolutely critical to overall functioning.

Reena Ninan
So you know, at the start of the pandemic, some people drink a lot. It was sort of a you know, and some people realized, I’m not going to do this anymore. And kind of refigured things out. How do you deal with coping, when tough situations come and you’re just trying to keep your head above water without creating bad habits?

Lisa Damour
This is a that’s, that’s the magic word like keeping your head above water without creating bad habits. So one of the things I think each of us should be reflecting on. And as we think about what might make for a good, you know, New Year’s resolution is, how do I cope? Like when, like, entered a picture, like a moment of like getting a really upsetting piece of news say that you get an upsetting piece of news about anything? Then the question is like, what’s my instinct in the moment, right is my instinct in the moment to like, pour myself a glass of wine, or is my instinct in the moment to call my friend and be like, you gotta hear what I just found out like this, I’m really upset. And, you know, the first is not the worst thing in the world. But if you do it every time, it’s going to turn into a problem. The second the idea of good social support and reaching out, you can do that indefinitely, right? Like that’s a healthy model. So as we think about what we might resolve, in 2024, the kinds of resolutions I’m gonna lobby for are not how can I be the most optimized human being on the planet and my children, instead be like, I am going to be really serious about building a routine that has adequate restoration. And I’m going to stop calling restoration breaks, downtime, checking out, or even me time, me time has a selfish quality to it, I will call it restoration. So I can leave it. Okay, good. So that’s love it. And then the second part of the resolutions, maybe I’m gonna resolve to get really serious about incredibly healthy coping, and many people are already there. I mean, many people’s instincts are down the healthy coping line where they’re, you know, they’re upset, they’re watching a happy TV show, they’re upset, they’re reaching out to a friend, they’re upset, they go out in nature, right, like anything that brings relief and does no harm, either in the immediate or down the line is under the healthy coping umbrella for me. I think Reena, if we focus on those two things, routinized restoration and healthy coping when we need coping. I think that’s how we maintain equilibrium in the face of whatever comes.

Reena Ninan
I have never had this presented to me that restoration is equally as important as your to-do list and crossing everything off.

Lisa Damour
It’s really, we’d never talk about restoration. We talk about stresses and trying to reduce stresses, which is definitely sometimes necessary. But I don’t think we talk about and this is the way I want to sort of push our thinking, but we don’t talk about his stresses are okay. And they can even be growth giving if they’re moderate enough, only so long as when they are paired with adequate restoration. And here’s what I want to focus on for a minute. Like, I’ve watched you over your career, right? Like, you have gained capacity over your career, right? If you think about your early days on TV, right? What was hard in the first year wasn’t so hard in the second year, because you had done a lot of it right that you get better and better. We talk about the stress, we don’t talk about the recovery. And it’s the two together that actually make for thriving.

Reena Ninan
Oh, I love this so much. But can I tell you I’m really done at 44 with any sort of growth giving, like, I don’t want any more stress, I don’t want any more growth than giving of stress. Like I just want to be done with it. But how do I how do we move away from optimization? Will we and our children ultimately accomplish less.

Lisa Damour
But this is I think why people get really into the idea of optimization. Like it’s this sense of like, this is where you know, the action is this is how we’re going to be the best versions of ourselves. So I think part of how we move away from optimization is we watch what is coming across the transom on social media. And I’m hearing about stuff right now like online about like the five to nine before your nine to five, right? It’s like what you can accomplish from 5am to nine yes to set you up for a very like productive nine to five. That makes me bananas. I’m like that is so optimization centered. It is not yes, comfortable for me, right?

Reena Ninan
I’m guilty of that. Because sometimes I will say, you know, sometimes when I don’t get stuff done, I wake up at like 4:45 to be able to knock out when I have a day that I just I get up early to get it done before the kids get up. But I fall into that trap of believing that’s what you need to do to have a successful life.

Lisa Damour
Well, and okay, so but just to think through our model, it can be so long as you’re able to then get enough sleep to keep the wheels on the bus right that it you know, you can get up on work hard, I have no problem with people working hard. It’s really really about making sure that there’s enough restoration to make this a sustainable system. And the reason I get cringy about optimization is like I’m like that’s not sustainable. If you’re doing 9-to-5 or 5-to-9, you know have high productivity before your 9-to-5 of high productivity, that is not a sustainable system. That is your absolute right. And so it may, in the short term, accomplish more in the long term. You’re looking for burnout, you’re seeing burnout coming to prevent burnout, which is in many ways I think about like the equivalent of like, a strength training injury to prevent burnout, there has to be not too much stress and adequate restoration.

Reena Ninan
So as we think about restoration, what are things? When people think about restoration that you might suggest we look at as opportunities for restoration? You mentioned sleep as one of them working out?

Lisa Damour
Yeah, I mean, and I will say, I think you got nothing without sleep. Right? I think that sleep is the universal that there is nobody who will be able to sustain high levels of activity and high levels of stress over time if they are not sleeping adequately. So I would say, if people do nothing else, is they’re thinking in this way. The new year’s resolution is adequate sleep like that, like that one alone. I mean, we know it, but we don’t do it. That one unknown is alone is a total game changer. Yeah, then beyond that, it’s what works for you. Some people will paint some people want to be out in nature, some people will want to travel, some people will, you know, want to like curl up with a novel, right? I think this is where it’s really key. Like, it’s personal, like what’s working for somebody else isn’t going to work for you like what would be like your top two or three, Reena?

Reena Ninan
Honestly, I in this is really random. But I once had a membership to this gym where they had this amazing sauna. So I was thinking if I had a sauna in my room, in my home, that’s what I would be doing every day, there’s something about it cleared the lungs, it just made me feel good. And the five minutes in Asana was great, I don’t have that. So I think what I am going to focus on, I think you sleep hugely, because as also women, it just really affects us in a huge way. The older you get to I think it’s so important to sleep, and then I think maybe reading something to shut off my monkey brain at night.

Lisa Damour
Okay, and so here’s what I would say. And this sounds so simple, but we don’t do it. So like we have to really focus on it. You know, when you articulated that for adequate restoration, you need to get serious about sleep. And probably one thing that would help that is reading something prior to sleep, maybe Is that what you’re saying?

Reena Ninan
Yeah, I’ll shut my brain off.

Lisa Damour
Okay, so get serious about it, like, get serious about like, the time you get in bed, when you start reading, like this is the routine, how long you’re going to read, and how you’re going to protect your sleep. And again, I mean it, you know, as I say it, I’m like this is so like nothing sophisticated about it. But I think sometimes we go reaching for these complex solutions, when something that will help us feel so much better is sitting right there.

Reena Ninan
Yeah, it’s not that it’s not sophisticated. It’s that nobody has ever put it this way that we need to focus on restoration, if we are to recover from those tough days. And it has to be in your daily life. Like you’ve got to budget for it in your time every day.

Lisa Damour
You’ve got to make a plan, like you’ve got to commit to it, the way we commit to other things. And, and so I just hope, right? If we frame it as restoration, not as you know, abandoning the family to go getting better leave with my book, right? That we might feel we have more of a right to it and really see it as essential for ongoing thriving, ongoing growth, creating a sustainable system. And then, you know, Reena, above all modeling for our kids. Yes, what it means to actually be a person who is fostering growth over time, as opposed to seeing how much optimization can be crammed into a week.

Reena Ninan
You know, this is going to be a dinner conversation for us, because I’m curious what they think is restorative for them at the end of the day, probably video games and texting with friends, but…

Lisa Damour
Here’s the other thing that they are making me think about. So maybe it is video games, let’s say there’s a kid who for you know, him or her or they come home and video games are where it’s at. There’s no problem with that. As long as we’re not spending too much time on it. Right. And the content is not, you know, too awful. I think a lot of times I think this happens for kids. I think it happens for adults. We go actually intuitively towards restoration. You know, you’re like, Oh, I gotta go watch a show or I want to watch the video again. You’re getting the restoration that is deserved. warranted critical, helpful, but feeling guilty the whole time.

Reena Ninan
Yes, yes. Is this like a Western thing? Because you just feel bad about everything. When you’re trying to do things to make yourself feel good?

Lisa Damour
You do. I think it’s very common. And here’s my view on it: Guilt-soaked restoration is not restoration.

Reena Ninan
Ah, that’s good.

Lisa Damour
So say that one of your kids says, You know what, for me, it’s video games. You know, when I come home from school, if I can just have a half an hour of video games or you know, whatever it feels like an allowable amount. That’s what helps me feel better. Honestly, I would have your answer be like, excellent. Go all in, enjoy it fully take that restoration that is really smart. If that’s what helped you then turn around and hit your homework. Fantastic. I think for ourselves and for our kids, there’s work to be done, on pushing away guilt around the fact that we intuitively do go towards restoration, and we all need restoration.

Reena Ninan
This episode should be called how to take your girls weekend that you do every March and turn it into a daily routine for restoration. That’s what the episode should be called.

Lisa Damour
Yeah no, I think I think if we take it seriously, I think that this is what makes makes for thriving over time, right? I mean, this is not about doing less is actually being able to do more in a sustainable way. And do more, because we’re growing, our capacity is gaining, because we’re taking good care of ourselves.

Reena Ninan
Never thought of restoration as growing your capacity. That’s really something new. Really appreciate that, Lisa, and I’m going to check back in we’re going to check back in and we’re going to ask this week on our Instagram, what are you doing this year that could help be restored. And maybe that way, we can all sort of pull ideas this week as to what really helps. So check us out at ask Lisa podcast on Instagram. So you can see the other ideas because I think I want to learn more of what people are doing. That could be daily restorative opportunities. So what do you have for us, Lisa, for Parenting to Go?

Lisa Damour
Well, I wonder as we’re talking about it, if part of the routine and this might be a stretch is that families come up with something that restores everyone at once, right? In the pandemic, we got into a habit. Cleveland is surrounded by these gorgeous metro parks. And we as a family went every week to a metro park for a hike that just became something we did. It can be hard with kids and certainly with teenagers to get them to commit to something that is, you know, we do this every week as a family to help restore ourselves. But I do wonder, as we think about the year ahead, if we can make a commitment as a family, from time to time that we have something planned on the calendar, so routinized that’s gonna help everyone feel like they’re bouncing back a bit.

Reena Ninan
I love it. It’s such great advice. And by the way, you hit on sleep a lot. We’re gonna have someone before the end of the season on the podcast to talk to us about sleep. It’s such an important issue that you flagged to us.

Lisa Damour
Well, it really is the glue that holds us together.

Reena Ninan
So important to hear that I can’t hear that enough. Well, Happy New Year, my friend, I’m so excited to be back at this and got a lot of great shows coming up the rest of this season. So I’m excited about about what’s ahead.

Lisa Damour
Me too. It’s going to be a great year.

Reena Ninan
Looking forward to it. And by the way, next week, we’re going to talk about how do you keep social media from really harming your kids. I’ll see you next week.

Lisa Damour
I’ll see you next week.

The advice provided by Dr. Damour here will not and does not constitute - or serve as a substitute for - professional psychological treatment, therapy, or other types of professional advice or intervention. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

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