Thrive on Campus//

Finding Balance When You’re “Going Through It”

I put my life into perspective with this one simple exercise.

Source: Unsplash (taken by Ali Hegazy in Aswan, Egypt)
Source: Unsplash (taken by Ali Hegazy in Aswan, Egypt)

Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

Two weeks ago I was really “going through it,” as so many people I know are saying today. In other words, my days had been rough and there didn’t seem to be an end to them in the near future. When you’re on a college campus and “going through it,” it’s hard to single out just one aspect of your life that doesn’t seem to be working well for you at the moment. I don’t assume friends mean that just their academics are hard that day or that week, because we all know the stresses of one aspect of your life bleed into the next, and then the next, and the next, and so on and so forth. These days or weeks that are rough could very easily blend into months — not that the time period matters — and before you know it, all the negative situations that have happened are the only memories overriding your thoughts.

If this sounds like you, please take a moment to take a step back. Even if this doesn’t sound like you, please continue to read, as I even thought my therapist didn’t know what she was talking about (never assume this) when she said I sounded like I needed balance in my life. I know, you’re overwhelmed and you might say you don’t have time to reflect for five minutes. Let me ask you this: Do you want to feel better about tackling all areas of your life in 10 minutes? Also, do you like coloring or drawing? You don’t have to say yes to the second one, but it’s an added therapeutic plus for this exercise. Don’t worry, you won’t have to personally draw anything — I can already sense your anxious brain telling you I can’t draw!.

Below is an easy and fun way to take stock of what is going on in your life and it’s all already provided for you! You don’t have to do anything other than sit down and color in the wheel pertaining to the questions supplied. It’s as easy as that. I recommend doing this on your own, with a trusted friend or family member, or even bringing this in to therapy and doing it with your therapist if you are interested in hearing what they have to say. You can use colored pencils or a pen or a thick black Sharpie marker to really ink these answers into your brain. There is no wrong way of doing this, so long as you just do it.

This is how it works:

You have this blank wheel in front of you, divided into six different wellness sections of your life: physical, financial, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual. Within each category, there are six different spaces to fill in, each belonging to a question that is already provided for you here. I have included the questions in this document, graciously provided by Northwest Missouri State University, at the bottom of this article, for those of you that rather not open a link at the moment (you can read the pdf for a more in-depth look at The Wellness Wheel). These spaces, all numbered, work as answers to the questions that are being asked in a percentage system. Basically, 0 percent is the middle point of the circle and 100 percent is at the exterior of the circle (close to where the number is). The circle in the middle is the 50 percent mark. After you are finished with all 36 questions and filling out your answers, you will have a nice visual look at your life in all these six different wellness sectors.


The Wellness Wheel, provided in Northwest Missouri State University’s “Balancing Your Wellness Wheel” pdf, here.

When I finished doing mine for the first time, I was astounded. My therapist was watching me fervently color in my answers as I was completing this monumental (to me at the time) task. She leaned forward toward me and said, “What I see drawn here, is not what we talk about here,” she said, gesturing toward our small, cozy room and I realized she was right. I was so caught up in “making the most” of our weekly 50-minute session, that I was only focusing on the negative situations in my life. I would wave around the good parts and get right to the parts that I needed help in or wanted to work on. This in turn is what I was focusing on throughout my week. This isn’t to say I wasn’t being grateful or finding happiness in little things during my week — I was just taking for granted many aspects that were already so ingrained in my life I didn’t think twice about them. These came to light in the questions asked in The Wellness Wheel and in my responses.

For example, after her comment, my therapist asked me some questions that helped shift things into perspective for me. The first one was, how many “100 percents” do you have? I took note that I had at least one or close to one in each of the sectors. I was very surprised since I hadn’t been able to see it so clearly before. The next one was, which ones where your lowest ones (closest to zero percent)? I quickly took stock of which numbers I had answers closest to the middle point of the circle and read these out loud again.

I was able to see what I was lacking and in which sectors and if they would bring me joy or make me feel more “full” in my happiness and mental wellness.

Here are some questions you can ask and answer yourself to reflect on this exercise:

  1. How many numbers hit 100 percent, and which ones were they? Which sectors were they in?
  2. Which numbers were closest to zero percent, and which sectors were they in?
  3. What sector do you see most filled? Which one the least filled?
  4. What were some answers that brought you the most surprise?
  5. If you had to choose one number in every sector to work on, which ones would they be? From those, which one could you work on in the next week? Two weeks?
  6. How can you appreciate your 100 percent answers today?
  7. Did this help in putting your wellness in your life into perspective?

This all took around 10-15 minutes and I have been thinking about it every day. I think it would be useful for me to take this again in the next two weeks or month, just somewhere on a continuous basis because I know my answers would have been wildly different four weeks ago. Even when my own answers made me uncomfortable, especially when I was trying to be as honest as possible with myself, I was able to appreciate that I now knew what small goal I could strive for in the upcoming week by choosing one of my “low” answers to focus or reflect more deeply on. On the other hand, I hadn’t realized some positives to my life where I only saw negatives and was able to appreciate those as well.

When you finish this and reflect for just a few minutes, I think it’s possible that you’d be able to see some areas in your life with a new light — maybe the shift that you need in order to highlight a different perspective toward that particular situation you were in last week or the confusing thoughts you have been having recently about where you are in your life. I encourage you to see what happens when you see your life splayed out visually on The Wellness Wheel!

The questions:

Physical

  1. I eat a balanced nutritional diet.
  2. I exercise at least 3 times per week.
  3. I choose to abstain from sex or sex is enjoyable and I practice safe sex.
  4. I do not use alcohol or use in moderation, am a non-smoker, and avoid street drugs.
  5. I am generally free from illness.
  6. I am a reasonable weight for my height.

Financial

  • 7. I have a solid balance between saving for the future and spending for the present.
  • 8. My beliefs/values surrounding money are harmonious with my behavior.
  • 9. What I am doing with work/school has purpose.
  • 10. I use money positively, e.g., little or no gambling or excessive massing of goods.
  • 11. I have a balance between work/school and the other areas of my life.
  • 12. I have financial plans for the future.

Intellectual

  • 13. I have specific intellectual goals, e.g., learning a new skill, a specific major.
  • 14. I pursue mentally stimulating interests or hobbies.
  • 15. I am generally satisfied with my education plan/vocation.
  • 16. I have positive thoughts (a low degree of negativity and cynicism).
  • 17. I would describe myself as a lifelong learner.
  • 18. I commit time and energy to professional and self-development.

Emotional

  • 19. I have a sense of fun and laughter.
  • 20. I am able to feel and label my feelings.
  • 21. I express my feelings appropriately.
  • 22. I have a sense of control in my life and I am able to adapt to change.
  • 23. I am able to comfort or console myself when I am troubled.
  • 24. Others would describe me as emotionally stable.

Social

  • 25. I am able to resolve conflicts in all areas of my life.
  • 26. I am aware of the feelings of others and can respond appropriately.
  • 27. I have at least three people with whom I have a close trusting relationship.
  • 28. I am aware of and able to set and respect my own and others boundaries.
  • 29. I have satisfying social interaction with others.
  • 30. I have a sense of belonging/not being isolated.

Spiritual

  • 31. I practice meditation, pray or engage in some type of growth practice.
  • 32. I have a general sense of serenity.
  • 33. I have faith in a higher power.
  • 34. I have a sense of meaning and purpose in my life.
  • 35. I trust others and am able to forgive others and myself and let go.
  • 36. Principles/ethics/morals provide guides for my life.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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