Is it just me, or is there pressure these days to have it all? To excel at work, have an active social life, eat healthily, exercise regularly, have a tidy home and strike the perfect work-life balance by making time for ‘self-care’.
We cram as much as possible into our day, but still feel we’re not doing enough. If we do well in one area, the ball drops in another and that’s where our focus goes – where we should have, could have, done better.
This constant state of high alert is stressful, and if taken too far even the simplest task can overwhelm. We become short-tempered, irritable, and resentful. That’s exactly what happened to me six years ago, just before I slid knee-deep into crippling anxiety and deep depression.
Looking back I can honestly say I loved my job as a portfolio manager in the City, and thrived off the fast-paced, late-night lifestyle. To start with the stress motivated and inspired me, yet I’d spend zero time unwinding. I felt unproductive when I did and would automatically multi-task.
My weight plummeted, I had bad skin, my periods stopped and I developed Candida in my gut. I was impatient, had huge mood swings and took everything out on those closest to me. I was highly ambitious, didn’t pay attention to my health and became so detached from my body I literally didn’t know how to listen to it.
I clearly remember the moment I finally admitted to myself I wasn’t well and needed help. I went to the doctor, got signed off work, and it was during this time I did my yoga teacher training.
For the first time in a long time, I started to feel my body. I remembered what it felt like to be happy, to laugh, to actually connect with people and what it meant to SLOW DOWN.
To press pause. To breathe. To remember what it is that really matters.
My life has changed so much since then. I have a newfound, deep respect for my body and better connection to myself and others. I spend more time with my loved ones and while, yes, life still gets busy, stressful and overwhelming at times, I better cope with the curveballs.
“If you do not make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness” ~ Joyce Sunada
So that all sounds great, but how to start? Below are a few suggestions that work well for me:
1. Get outside!
Being in nature is so powerful and hugely beneficial for our physical and mental wellbeing. Find pockets of time you can spend outdoors – walk to work, eat lunch outside, go for a picnic at the weekend.
2. Conscious breathing
Breathing is incredibly powerful. It’s free, we do it constantly and couldn’t survive without it. It intimately connects the mind and body and being more conscious of it can instantly change our mood, outlook, and emotional and physical response to any situation. The next time you feel stressed, stop what you’re doing and take 3-5 long, controlled, deep belly breaths. Let the breath lengthen and smooth out, then notice how you feel.
3. Get out of your head and into your body
Find a type of movement you enjoy and make time for it. Yoga, swimming, walking, cycling, lifting weights – experiment until you find something you enjoy and intentionally take your focus into your body.
4. “Pay attention to the ordinary, not just the extraordinary” – Brene Brown
Happiness doesn’t just come from the big events or gestures. The most joy can be found in the small, day-to-day things we often take for granted or rush through. Give your full attention to even the simplest task: brushing your teeth, making a cup of tea, washing up. Fully engaging in the small, ordinary things will spread to a greater appreciation for the larger, extraordinary things.
5. Disconnect to Reconnect
Being glued to our screens means we rarely connect with actual people. Even when we do, I’m sure we’re all guilty of only half-listening to what that person is saying, being distracted by our devices or thinking of something else. Make a conscious effort to be fully present in your conversations. Put your phone away, make eye contact and really listen. I recently took a break from Instagram and noticed a huge difference in the time I had available in each day. Although I love the inspiration social media brings, a ‘digital detox’ is a good way to readdress the balance if needed.
6. Start the day right
How we start the day sets the tone for the rest of it. Here are a few ideas to try instead of rushing out of the door:
- Gentle stretching: slow, mindful movement to ease open and feel into your body
- Meditation: try a guided meditation app (e.g. Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer)
- Journaling: jot down whatever comes into your head – however random. Getting your thoughts out onto paper is a great way to process what’s on your mind
- Gratitude, Intentions: reflect on three things you are grateful for that happened yesterday and set three intentions on what you want to get out of the day ahead
Remember, there is no ‘perfect’ morning routine! Only the one that is best for you.
7. Schedule downtime
Schedule ‘do-nothing’ time into your diary and don’t feel guilty for it! It’s not a waste of time. Read a magazine, have a bath, nap, cook. Relax and value the time with yourself.
I hope something here has resonated with you.
Remember even the smallest change can have a huge impact, so resist setting yourself overly high expectations or this will become another stick to beat yourself up with. Like developing muscle, slowing down takes time, practice and patience.
Start small, pick one thing and see how it fits. The benefits are so worth it, you’ll:
- Calm your nervous system and lower your stress levels
- Develop more meaningful relationships
- Gain clarity on what’s important to you
- Increase your sense of self-worth
- Improve your concentration in a world full of distraction
- Produce better quality, rewarding work
- Develop a greater appreciation for all you have, rather than focusing on what you don’t
Slowing down is a daily, conscious choice, and it remains so for me even now. Approach it with kindness rather than frustration – and stick with it! Your mind and body will thank you for it.