1. Limit the ‘Noise’
In today’s busy world it’s easy to get caught up in all the distractions. It can be a novel exercise to start to really notice what you are letting into your psyche, your consciousness – and to make an active choice as to whether it’s good for you or not. Are you controlled, at least in part by social media? How many times a day do you check the myriad of notifications your devices throw at you? Do you actually enjoy and value your time spent on Facebook, Instagram or checking emails? Are these behaviours driven by a compulsion to do so or do they actually bring you joy or add value to your life? Asking yourself these questions can get you thinking about what you value and what’s really important to you.
If these checking impulses are contributing to your feelings of stress and overwhelm, then maybe it’s time to set yourself some helpful and thoughtful boundaries. Thinking more about how, when and why you engage in the technological world could be a good place to start. When these wonders of the modern world start to take away more than they add to your life, then you know something’s out of whack and you need to make different decisions about how you spend your precious time.
2. Seek out the Joy
Did you realise that sometimes you actually have to seek out and schedule in the joy to maintain your mental and physical well-being? Psychologists refer to this as Pleasant Event Scheduling, and it involves deliberating making time for the things you enjoy doing and those that boost positive emotions. Sometimes people have the mindset that doing this is ‘selfish’, ‘indulgent’ or a ‘waste of time’. However, these beliefs often stem from your inner critic and are linked to having unrelenting standards for yourself and others (including a high level of ‘perfectionism’ which gets in the way of allowing yourself relaxation and down-time).
If you are feeling low or if you’re suffering from depression, it’s even more important to deliberately factor in both pleasant events and activities which make you feel good about yourself. Also, a focus on increasing pleasant sensory experiences is important for people with low or depressed mood. Think about your 5 senses and how you can boost feelings of sensory comfort, security and pleasure. Doing these activities mindfully is also important. Examples might include – taking a warm relaxing bath, swimming in the ocean, using heat packs, getting a massage or some reflexology, tasting your favorite foods and drink, using aromatherapy, getting more hugs from friends and family, listening to soothing, joyful or upbeat music.
3. Prioritize Restoration and Listen to your Body
Life is not a race. There are no prizes given out for reaching a point of ‘burnout’. Do you deliberately make time and room for slowing down? Everyone needs time for emotional and physical restoration and we all need to take refuge on a regular basis. If you don’t listen to your body and give it what it needs, it usually starts screaming at you in the form of headaches, fatigue, stomach upsets and other physical manifestations of chronic stress. Instead of racing through the day and crashing from exhaustion at the end, you could factor in ‘mini breaks’ and brief periods of mindfulness when you stop and notice.
You don’t always have to multi-task. Try doing one thing with full attention rather than 5 things with minimal or scattered attention. You can take your time to practice pauses during the day when you stop, breathe, rest and reflect mindfully on the day and how you are feeling. Checking in with or coming to your ‘senses’ regularly throughout the day, means that you can notice when you need to slow down and take a break. It’s when you don’t even notice what you need, that problems start to arise.
4. Stop the Comparisons
Comparing yourself to others is often a futile activity which can lead to an extra sense of pressure and stress that you don’t need. It’s a life-trap which can fuel the ‘inner critic’ and make you vulnerable to feeling like an ‘imposter’ and even a failure – especially if you’re rating yourself against your peers on measures of performance and achievement.
It’s often more useful to compare yourself with yourself! This practice encourages you to see the progress or the positive changes you have made over time, which is a more realistic and kinder approach. For example, you may have conquered a particular fear, achieved a life goal, or reached a realistic target that you have set for yourself. Maybe you have come a long way in healing yourself after an abusive or difficult childhood. Make time to congratulate yourself for having moved forward and changed for the better. Focusing on you and your positive and healthy progress, rather than how you measure up against others, is much better for your mental health.
When we compare ourselves with others, it’s usually not a realistic or fair comparison. We can never really know what’s happening with the other person, what motivates them, their personal history or what goes on behind closed doors for them.
5. Value what you have
Deep down, we all know the value of appreciation and gratitude. It’s easy to forget and get swept away with daily hassles and worries – this is normal. As humans, fortunately and unfortunately we have a very sophisticated brain that is prone to get caught up with too much thinking and anxious rumination (e.g., future forecasting, worrying, ruminating and ‘catastrophizing’ about what is going to happen). We don’t have to blame ourselves for this, this is how our brains have evolved over-time. We are human and therefore we worry and get stressed out!
There are many antidotes to this, but one is to make more room for thoughts which are thankful and appreciative. Our minds tend to naturally focus upon what is missing, what is wrong and what is not there. It’s due to an inbuilt survival mechanism which has gone haywire. We have a ‘fault-finding’ mind which keeps us alert and keeps the threat system of the brain overly activated. When we deliberately think about the things we are happy with, thankful for and working well in our lives, our brains calm down a little (ie, we can down-regulate our anxious nervous system). Thankfulness helps us foster a sense of greater relaxation and therefore positive emotional states are much easier to access.
Try and make room for moments of gratitude and being thankful for the things or life conditions that you have and want and don’t have and don’t want, rather than the life conditions that you want but don’t have.