Often our work/life balance – or, let’s face it, just life – swings right out of control.
It can feel as though there’s always something else you could or should be
doing, and sometimes, especially at this time of year and particularly when you’re busy at work or have small people to look after, it can all get too much.
We buzz about our days, trying to cram as much as possible in and often fail to recognise that in order to do anything well, we have to take care of ourselves first. If not, our physical and mental health starts to suffer.
Lately I’ve felt a real need to disconnect from things that drain my energy and make a real effort to do more of the things that make me feel good to try and prevent getting strung out. It’s not easy: often at the end of a long day all you want to do is sit, hang out on social media or do a bit of internet browsing. If that genuinely helps you switch off, then great, but I always feel like I’ve just wasted time, I’m wired from looking at a screen, and I’m annoyed that I’ve not just gone to bed 3 hours earlier.
So: here are a few things you can try when things are getting cray-cray to help nip those panicky feelings in the bud. Some are things I do regularly, some are things I try to do, but it’s all a work in progress.
Be present: put the phone DOWN
The irony that here I am, on a computer, advising that you – probably reading this from a tablet or phone – step away from the technology, hasn’t escaped me. We live so much of our lives through our devices (I should know), and often it’s really difficult not to check them sporadically throughout the day, which can be great: social media can really help with feelings of isolation when you’re home with a baby. But it can also be really detrimental to relationships and our quality of time.
What I’m trying to do is leave my phone in an awkward place so that I can’t check it every 10 minutes, and really be present with Soren. I’ve also banned having my phone in my bedroom for about 6 months now, which has made a massive difference to how well I sleep (small boy shaped sleep-preventer aside).
Breathing deeply is something I find essential when anxiety strikes. Super mama, pilates instructor and author Anya Hayes is my go-to for chill vibes, and she has very kindly shared a method for calming breath:
“Tapping into your calming breath is a technique that helps you slow down your breathing when feeling stressed or anxious. Newborn babies naturally breathe this way, as do yogis. So, join this chilled out posse and learn how to do it for yourself. It’s a great tool for those moments when things are getting on top of you. You can even do it when children are climbing on you and all is chaos around – I’ve tried.
“When we’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, we tend to take short, quick, shallow breaths. Calming your breath involves taking smooth, slow, regular breaths, which in turn allows you to calm your mind and feel a bit more peaceful. Sitting upright with a lengthened torso is a good way of finding your calming breath, as you can increase the capacity of your lungs to fill with air.
- Take a slow breath in through the nose, breathing into your lower belly, for a count of 5
- Hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds. Pause and notice that space between the in breath and the out breath. Don’t question it or judge it, just notice and observe that stasis.
- Exhale slowly through the mouth, as if you’re sighing for a count of 6.
- Pause and observe the space between the exhale and the next inhale.
“Do this for at least 5 breaths. Soften your jaw, your cheeks, your forehead. Then imagine a softness travelling down the base of the neck, into the shoulders, down the spine and into the pelvis, taking any fear or tension away with it. Allow your body to feel peaceful and light.
“Try to breathe into your diaphragm or abdomen. Your shoulders and chest should be serene and still. If this is really tricky sitting up, try first lying down on the floor with one hand on your heart, the other hand on your belly. Feel the hand on your belly rise as you fill your lungs with air. The hand over your heart should barely move, if at all.”
Yup, you’ve sussed me out: I am pretty much a hippy. Without the tie dye (so far).
Essential oils can have a huge effect on our wellbeing. While there’s not a huge amount of scientific evidence for the use of oils in an alternative health sense, I like to think of the benefits of their use in the same way a bunch of fresh flowers can lift our spirits, or the smell of a spicy loaf baking can make us feel cosy and relaxed: scent has a very powerful effect on our brains, being detected in the “oldest” part – the limbic system, which governs emotions, so smells can trigger deeply emotional responses.
I use essential oils daily, in an electric atomiser – I love peppermint in the morning to wake me up, and have used lavender in my son’s room as part of his bedtime routine since he was a tiny baby. I also have some blends in roller balls I sniff throughout the day. It probably makes me look fully weird, sniffing my wrists while walking round the supermarket, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Anyway, as long as it doesn’t affect anyone else, anything we do to help ourselves take a moment and a breath and feel better is beneficial, and delicious smelling oils help me to do that.
It’s a cliche, but it’s true: exercise will help you cope. Realising this has probably made the biggest difference to my ability to manage my mental health.
Getting out for a walk, or a run if you can; some yoga, swimming – do anything that you feel is achievable. Maybe strap your baby on (if you have one) and go for a stomp outside, or take the buggy and do some power walking or jogging.
Don’t feel that you have to be “good” at something to do it, or have the right gear on. Forget other people and what you think they’re thinking about you – chances are all they’re thinking is “good for them!” Old trainers, comfy clothes, and an intention to just walk and be present for a bit, even in the rain, can make a world of difference to how you feel.
You don’t have to exercise every day, though joining in with a challenge to do so with some other people can be a really fun (or if not always fun, less lonely!) way to incorporate moving about into your day. I love YouTube for finding short routines which are great if you’re struggling for time: I love Yoga With Adriene, where you can search by length and type of practice; and if you want to kick your own butt, there’s always Jillian Michaels.
This probably shouldn’t come after exercise in my list, and definitely not in real life! It has its place though – just a glass, I’m not advocating getting smashed as a stress preventer.
Make or do something
There’s lots of evidence linking creativity to better mental health and well being, and in the short term, it can be a great stress reliever. Taking our minds away from whatever is going on in life and losing ourselves in music or art can be a fantastic way to unwind. I play guitar really badly, and sometimes knit, again, really badly, and totally inconsistently. I often get the urge to make really big messy surrealist paintings. I haven’t done this, yet. But I feel like I should!
Taking our minds away from whatever is going on in life and losing ourselves in music or art can be a fantastic way to unwind.
It an be anything at all: baking, writing, crocheting, hammering wood. Getting stuck into a creative project, even a small one, can help to shift your attention away from negative feelings and refocus your mood, and often you find yourself having more energy as you look forward to working on the project.
Do something for someone else
Volunteering can have a huge impact on your self esteem. Perhaps more so at this time of year, with the commercialism and excess that Christmas can encourage, thinking of those that have less than us and doing something to help is a good antidote to feeling down.
There are usually loads of volunteering opportunities locally, with a huge variety of things needing helpers: drivers, youth workers, minute takers, toenail cutters, you name it, there’s probably something that would suit you. If you don’t want to do formal volunteering, even helping out someone you know in some way – picking up some shopping, walking someone’s dog or writing a letter to a friend you’ve not seen in a while can be a real mood booster, for them as well as you.
Tea: not coffee
As much as I love coffee (I really, really love it) I have to admit that more than one or two cups a day has a pretty bad effect on me. One cup is great, two cups can be ok, three and I’m a jittery, nauseous wreck.
Tea though – decaf, herbal, pretty infusions – are great. I love rooibos first thing in the morning, ginger and lemon for a chilly afternoon and liquorice last thing at night. They don’t have the same slap-you-in-the-face hit as coffee, but I’m learning to appreciate them.
So there you go. I hope some of that is helpful to someone out there! If anything works, or if you have some of your won tips, I’d love to hear from you.
Peace out xx