Ilona L. Tobin, Ed.D.

Licensed Psychologist

These days, almost all of us have so many demands placed on our time and energy, life can feel like a three-ring circus. And if you’re not up there on the tightrope, you’re down on the ground in the midst of tigers and lions, in charge of keeping a couple of dozen plates spinning in air.

Maintaining balance isn’t easy. It requires holding steady with the many responsibilities that are a normal and everyday part of life: home, family, friends and work, while at the same time recognizing and fulfilling personal needs and wants. Finding and maintaining balance when life can be so complicated and demanding is both an inside and outside job.

Inside: Only you can take care of yourself
Consider how well you take care of yourself, physically and emotionally.

  • Do you eat healthfully and exercise regularly?
  • Do you get check-ups and take preventative precautions? Do you set aside personal, quiet time for yourself?
  • Do you make time to enjoy nature and art, filling yourself up again and again?

Outside: Reaching outside yourself gives meaning
Think about how you reach outside yourself for sharing and giving meaning to your life.

  • Do you spend quality time with family and friends?
  • Do you give back through your time, energy and experience? Contributing to the larger world provides connection and purpose.

Balance: The key to a rich and fulfilling life
To discover how well-balanced your life is, keep a log of how you spend your time. In a little notebook you can carry with you, write down the hours you spend under the broad headings: “for me” and “for others.”

Also make notes of requests for your time (from family members, from co-workers or professional obligations). Include “requests” from your physical and emotional self: “I wish I could take time for a walk today.” Or “Gee, I’d love to take a nap.”

Jot down your feelings about the time you’re putting in. Do you resent the responsibilities at home? Do you feel like you never get to do what you want to do? Do you re-arrange your time, taking away from what you’d planned to do for yourself in order to do something for others?

How does that feel? Honestly?

After a week or two you can expect to have some pretty clear messages on where there is balance in your life and where there is not.

You might also come to see what’s important to you, and how you can make changes that will create a life of health, well-being and joy

Laughter has been known as “the best medicine” long before Robin Williams’ movie portrayal of “Patch Adams,” the physician and clown who founded the Gesundheit Institute. In fact, in the 17th century, British physician Thomas Sydenham said,

“The arrival of a good clown into a village does more for its health than 20 asses laden with drugs.”

Not only is it common knowledge that laughter has all sorts of physical and mental health benefits, there’s even an organization called the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, which has more than 3,500 doctors and health care professionals who study the effects of humor on humans.

Here’s what we know:

• Laughter decreases the amount of stress hormones in the body and increases the activity of natural killer cells that go after tumor cells.

• It has also been shown to activate the cells that boost the immune system and to increase levels of immune system hormones that fight viruses.

• Three minutes of deep belly laughing is the equivalent of three minutes on a fitness rowing


• It takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown.

• By the time a child reaches kindergarten, he or she is laughing some 300 times a day. Compare that to the typical adult who, one study found, laughs a paltry 17 times a day.

• When you laugh, your heart rate goes up. You increase the blood flow to the brain, which increases oxygen. Laughter increases your respiratory rate. You breathe faster. Your lungs expand. It’s almost like jogging, only you never have to leave the house.

• With laughter, there is an increased production of catecholmanines. This increases the level of alertness, memory, and ability to learn and create.

• After you laugh, you go into a relaxed state. Your blood pressure and heart rate drop below normal, so you feel profoundly relaxed.

• When you have a deep-down belly laugh, the kind that shakes you, it releases anti-depressant mood


So with all their prods and wires and gizmos and gauges, professionals are telling us what we knew all along: when we laugh we feel better. Laughter is good social glue, too. It connects us to others and counteracts feelings of alienation. That’s why telling a joke, particularly one that illuminates a shared experience or problems, increases our sense of belonging.

Want to be more creative? Try laughing more. Humor loosens up the mental gears and encourages looking at things from a different, out-of-the ordinary perspective.

Besides spackling together our conversations and relieving tension, humor and laughter are coping mechanisms. They provide distance and perspective when situations are otherwise horrible. Laughter is one way to dissipate hurt and pain.

Finally, humor helps us contend with the unthinkable— our own mortality.

Just like doing maintenance on your car to keep it running well, it’s a good idea to do a personal check-in to keep yourself on track. Use your journal if you keep one, or just clip these questions, or copy them down for a regular check-in.

  1. Is there something I need to do that I haven’t done? If an action needs to be taken and you’re not taking it, ask yourself what’s in the way.
  2. Am I resisting something? Sometimes that which we resist most is that which can provide the greatest opportunity for growth.
  3. Am I holding onto something I need to let go of? Letting go can be hard, but it’s the only way to move forward.
  4. Am I repeating old patterns? Do the same problems or situations show up wearing different clothes? If so, it might be time to dig deep into the bottom of this closet.
  5. Is there something for me to learn here? Resistance, holding on, repeating harmful or unsatisfying patterns almost always hold a life lesson.
  6. Am I staying in the present? Time spent regretting the past and worrying about the future is time lost to the present.
  7. Am I asking for what I need and want? Do I act as my own advocate?
  8. Am I taking good care of myself? Check in with the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual aspects of your life.
  9. Am I at peace with people, places and things in my life? Being at peace means being in balance.
  10. Am I having fun at least some of the time? Don’t forget to laugh

DOWNLOAD THIS ARTICLE AND MORE AS A PDF FILE by clicking this link Spring Newsletter 2015

We all want it, a life that feels full in all the good ways and rich with love, meaning and satisfaction. But how you spend your life is actually determined by how you spend your days. If your days are filled with the unfulfilling, how can that amount to a fulfilling life?

A good place to start to get yourself back on the path to a meaningful life is to answer this question posed by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver: “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Your answer to Oliver’s question could be anything: doing work you love, caring for and giving love to your family, contributing to your community or the world, creating art, building a business, climbing mountains, making music. Anything. The key is to choose to live today how you would choose to live tomorrow and the next day and the next.

For some, the life they live day-today is not the life they would describe in answering Oliver’s question. Instead, they might use phrases such as: “As soon as…,” or “I’d like to…,” or “I used to dream…,” while explaining a daily life tangled up in too many demands, and never enough time or energy to get to the things that matter most.

It can be a question of values—our personal principles or standards, or defined another way, those qualities that are most important to us. A life based on values rather than reacting to others’ needs and wants or the acquisition of material things enables us to live in integrity with ourselves. Values help us create a rich and fulfilling life.

Identifying your values can be as simple as asking yourself how you want to be remembered by others.

As a person who cared about others? Who made a difference in the world? Who kept promises? Who was honest and trustworthy? Think of the qualities you most admire in others; these may be the values you claim for yourself.

Once you become aware of your values, you can begin to restructure your life. With your values as your touchstone, you can create and live the life you really want, achieve your goals and realize your dreams.

Within the boundaries of your values, these guidelines will help:

  1. Become clear on what you really want. Be specific; vague and undefined goals are difficult if not impossible to achieve
  2. Commit to give what it takes. Saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to another. Acknowledge and accept what you must give up to get what you want.
  3. Re-commit to your goals every day. Begin your day by reminding yourself what your priorities are. Be mindful as you go through your day that you are making choices.
  4. Do something every day. No matter how small, take some action toward achieving your goals. Remind yourself that a book is written word by word, a marathon run step by step.
An old Chinese proverb goes “If we don’t change our direction we are likely to end up where we are going.” If you’re caught up in a lifestyle that’s not the one that you would choose, choose again

DOWNLOAD THIS ARTICLE AND MORE AS A PDF FILE by clicking this link:Summer Newsletter 2014

DOWNLOAD THIS ARTICLE AND MORE AS A PDF FILE by clicking this link: Winter Newsletter 2014

DOWNLOAD THIS ARTICLE AND MORE AS A PDF FILE by clicking this link:Spring Newsletter 2013

DOWNLOAD THIS ARTICLE AND MORE AS A PDF FILE by clicking this link: Newsletter Fall 2013

For those experiencing sorrow, whether through death, separation, divorce, illness, job loss or relocation, the glittering commercialism and unrelenting cheer of the holiday season can be stressful.

Facing family celebrations with an empty chair at the table can make unbearable grief so much worse, says Karen Silbert, MD, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, who suffered the loss of her five-monthold daughter.

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