According to a recent study commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, in 2018, “74% of people felt so stressed they had been overwhelmed or unable to cope. 30% of older people reported never feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope compared to 7% of young adults”.
Arguably, the life pressures of a young adult, compared to those of an older generation, may have led to increased stress through any era. But it does suggest that our balance has somewhat tipped. The dramatic rise in wellness trends, most notably the increasing amount of wellness at work initiatives, implies that we’re doing too much.
I remember a frantic conversation with my mum when I was in the depths of starting my own business and managing family life. It was around 9.15am on a typical weekday; I had cleared my inbox, reached the checkout with a satisfying online food shop and the children were safely at nursery/school (always a major achievement). A little frazzled, I was now ready to start the working day. My mum reminded me that when my brother and I were little, and she had chosen to take time out of work, a supermarket shop was a day’s event. Retail parks with onsite parking barely existed, and our local Sainsbury’s was a comparatively small grocery store on the high street; a 20 minute drive from where we lived. The logistics of getting us all there, wheeled around in the trolley and back home in one piece were enough. Maybe that says more about our unruly behaviour, but how times have changed.
Although we wouldn’t wish to go back to the days before online shopping, I am convinced we can find a balance. Whatever your work, family or social commitments, it really is possible to make some time.
How many times do you hear yourself, or those around you say, “But I just don’t have the time”?
Try to raise your awareness on how you spend that ‘in-between’ time. Do you check your emails and social media as soon as you wake up, on your journey to and from work, and before bed? Our daily screen time continues to rise (this is a subject for another time), and how much is really necessary, or beneficial?
You could swap one of these valuable opportunities a couple of times a week. Starting the day with just five minutes of mediation can set your mood for the day. There are hundreds of apps and guided mediations online; it’s about finding one that you connect with. If that’s not for you, try spending a few minutes journaling before bed. Reflecting on your day and focussing on any achievements or positives (believe me, you will find at least one), will ease your mind before sleep. This may sound a little obvious, but you could use your travel time to take a break from the blue screen and read a book. Just look around on your next commute, you will be in the minority.
It’s taken me a long time to master this one, and I’m still guilty of the odd slip-up. But I’m a long way from the ‘yes’ person who spent a lifetime trying to wriggle out of situations, and I’ve learnt a few techniques that I will share in the coming months. Whether it’s a weekend hen party in Croatia with an old school friend you barely see, a yoga class you’ve signed up to (despite the fact you can barely touch your toes let alone glide into a downward dog) or another work leaving drinks for a colleague from the third floor you’ve only skimmed past in the lift. Really, it’s ok to politely decline, or at least allow yourself time to think about your schedule before committing.
Be kind to yourself
Self-care is a big subject; small steps really do make a difference, and once you get the hang of it you won’t look back. Set yourself realistic targets, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t reach them. If you’ve only managed two gym visits out of your usual three because of big presentation, remember it’s just one week. Get off a stop early on your journey to or from work, this will give you a little extra exercise and is guaranteed to clear your head with the added work pressure. You can get back on track next week.
Time for lunch
My husband now insists his team takes time out for lunch. The mental and physical health benefits of stepping outside, mindful eating and a break from the screen make you wonder why it was ever an acceptable thing to do. If that’s not enough, your concentration levels in the afternoon will make you more productive. Let’s also not think too deeply about the mess it makes of your keyboard.
So as much as I wouldn’t like to spend the best part of a day on a family outing to Waitrose, I couldn’t carry on living the way I was. I’ve learned that a fast-paced lifestyle can allow time for a little self-care; it’s just finding something that works for you. Just try one of these, and clear a little of that headspace.