Find Emotional Balance to Become Your Best Self

Finding balance on the journey of life

Mist on Royal Canal in morning, Ireland. Credit: Planet Pictures

In the fields of psychology, psychiatry and other areas within mental health, there has been a greater focus on mental illness than mental health. But what is mental health? 

Dr. Dan Siegel, a world-renowned psychiatrist known for his cutting edge work in interpersonal neurobiology, likens mental health to total brain integration. He describes brain integration as riding the "river of well-being." Living your life as if it was a ride down the river of well-being, and staying mostly centered in the river and avoiding its banks, says Siegel, is your easiest way to be your best self.


What is Siegel's "river of well-being?"

When someone is at their best mental and emotional health, they are flexible, self-aware, aware of others, can easily adapt to new situations and are basically stable with an understanding of the world around them. These are the waters that flow in the river of well-being.

The river of well-being is peaceful and lovely. All is mostly smooth. The world feels like a good place overall, and the person in this river generally feels self-aware, aware of his or her surroundings and others on this river, and generally at peace. It is possible to row around certain obstacles that may show up and be flexible and adapt to whatever situation that comes up.

Siegel describes this river as having two banks, neither of which is ideal to strike at any time during the ride. Should a person in this river veer off onto any bank, he or she is no longer his or her best self and loses the necessary integration needed for maximum mental health.

In Siegel's metaphor, the right bank represents the right hemisphere of the brain, while the left bank represents the left hemisphere. The right hemisphere of the brain focuses on emotion and creativity while the left hemisphere focuses on language, structure, and order. When both sides of the brain are worked well together in an integrated fashion, we are in the middle of the "river." 

Avoiding the "River Banks" of Chaos and Rigidity

If one's right brain is ruling the show, they have veered to the riverbank of chaos; if the left brain is in charge, they are at the riverbank of rigidity. The pendulum can swing either way, but the key to brain integration begins with being present in one's experience, aware of one's tendencies for veering toward either bank, and efforts to maintain connection between the right and the left brain.

The bank to the right represents chaos. When someone is riding the river into the bank of chaos, life feels overwhelming and out of control. There is seemingly no stability and everything is chaotic. When someone hits the bank of chaos, it is important to get back into the center of the river.

On the other side of the river is the bank of rigidity. Things may not feel out of control as they do at the bank of chaos, because at the bank of rigidity, one exerts his or her control on whatever situation that arises. There is no flexibility, but rather a a sense of being stuck and stagnant.

There is no room for growth or change. 


Siegel, D. J. and Payne Bryson, T. (2011). The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child's developing mind. Random House: New York.

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