HOW I’VE BEEN LOOKING AFTER MYSELF IN JANUARY

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January can be a tricky time of year, can’t it? It starts off so dark and it’s often pretty gloomy, and for me, given that it’s my birthday month, it’s a time when celebrations come to an end until late in the year. It’s full of expectations and good intentions and you’re always meant to get off on the right foot, because it’s the start of something new.

It can be pretty overwhelming. The combination of the pressure to be your best self, and the outside world feeling kind of bleak can really hit home. I don’t think it’s unusual to struggle in January, and I’ve certainly had my difficult days this month, favouring days indoors over brisk walks in the cool air, and at times I’ve felt down because of it.

However, I’ve also been sure to take small actions that I know will make me feel better. No one is going to look after me, but me, so I’ve made it a priority this month and have focused on some of the things that are good for me.

I’ve been patient with myself, and that’s been a gift. Letting myself have those lazy days, letting myself feel down, letting myself stress and moan about everything and nothing. I’ve allowed myself that time, I’ve been kind to myself during it, and I’ve know that I’ll come out of the other side, if I just have the patience to let myself get there.

I’ve been trying to plan. I realised that a lot of my stress came from having so many things to do and not knowing where to start. To be productive I felt like I just had to get on and do, but in doing so I found that not all that much got done. More recently, I’ve allowed myself the time to plan. I took a few hours one afternoon last week to go through everything that I could possibly think of, for work, my blog, my knitting, my house, myself. I committed time to organising lists, and scheduling tasks, and I’ve already been so much more productive for it.

I’ve been meditating almost every day. It’s something that I’ve worked into my morning routine, but I’ve also been managing to make time for it later in the day when my mornings are too busy, or too lazy, to do it first thing. It’s difficult to say how much of an impact meditation has had on me, because I’ve got to that stage where my current state is normal, so all of the benefits I’ve experienced don’t feel new anymore and are therefore harder to pinpoint. I do know that I’m more easygoing, I’m more peaceful within myself and I’m subconsciously putting into practice a lot of the lessons that meditation has taught me. If you’re interested, I use the calm app, and I love it.

I’ve been eating more vegetables, and trying to get into the habit of snacking. It’s an aim of mine to be more intuitive about the way that I eat, and learn which foods make me feel good, physically and mentally. Eating more vegetables definitely falls into that category, and it’s something that Sam and I have made a conscious effort to do throughout January. Through listening more to my body, I’ve learnt that hunger starts to express itself through headaches and a lack of concentration, just before lunchtime, so I’ve been trying to remember to add in a morning snack to help see me through. Satsumas and trail mix have proven to be good companions so far.

I’ve been tracking my water intake. It doesn’t always encourage me to drink the recommended daily amount, but it has provided me with a frame of reference, which again helps to understand why I sometimes might not be feeling my best. There’s no doubt about it, drinking enough water has an apparent affect on how I feel, and it’s amazing to see that in action.

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading. Usually, knitting it my go-to down-time activity and my first port of call for evenings in, but this month reading has been more of a fixture. I’ve got a goal to read 30 books this year, but I don’t think that’s why I’m picking them up. I’ve got to the stage, having encouraged myself to read more for the past two years, that reading is really one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable things for me to do. It’s no longer a case of dedicated reading time to progress towards a goal, but instead a natural desire to turn the next page, and the next, and the next, and that’s wonderful.

I talk a lot about how important I believe it is to be kind to yourself, to be loving and to do what you need to, to look after yourself at a given time. I’m glad to be putting that into practice, and I hope I continue to do so.

How have you been looking after yourself in January? Is there anything that you’d like to make the time to do in February? I’d love to know!

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THE BIGGEST LESSON I LEARNED FROM DERREN BROWN’S ‘HAPPY’

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Towards the end of last year, I finally read Derren Brown’s book Happy: Why more or less everything is absolutely fine. It was a long time coming. I’d heard Derren speak during his book tour back in 2016, and I learned so much from that short time that I’ve been shouting about ever since; namely, that I’m most definitely a frog.

Why, then, did it take me well over a year to finally read the book itself? I don’t really know, but I’m glad that I did it.

It’s a pretty academic book, so it’s not a light read, and there was certainly a good chunk that wasn’t particularly applicable to me, but I was interested to see what I would draw from it without trying too hard. I may go back to it again, and I’m sure I’ll learn more when I do, but this time around there was one thing that stood out to me above all the rest.

It doesn’t matter where you go, you always take yourself with you.

It might sound obvious when you put it like that, but the meaning behind it has been a bit of an a-ha moment for me. When I look back on my life, I can see periodic moments when all I wanted to do was get away, to escape to somewhere interesting and leave all of my troubles behind. I think we’ve all been there?

What Derren opened my eyes to see, is the reason those trips never tend to live up to the expectations – because I’m always there.

No matter how exotic somewhere might look in the pictures, how many restaurants are there to sample the local cuisine, how much time you can fill with activities you can’t do at home, you’re always there with yourself.

With the same baggage and annoyances and thought patterns that you deal with everyday. You still have the same memories and the same mood swings and the same likes and dislikes, so putting you in a different place on the map can wind up being rather underwhelming.

I had a first-hand experience of this concept recently, albeit on a much less impressive scale. Every year around Christmas my local town hosts an ice rink, where my favourite cafe pops up to offer their most delicious wares, and I made it my mission to go.

I was excited. I envisioned a cosy warmth, buzzing with the joy of the festive season, twinkling lights adding to the atmosphere to create the most idyllic mince pie I’d ever have. By now I’m sure you’re not surprised to find out that it didn’t live up to its expectations.

In the end, there was just me, who doesn’t really get into the festive spirit, with Sam, who I see every single day. We were just in a different place. We weren’t suddenly overcome with Christmas cheer. Hot chocolate was just the same as it always is, and having spent the previous few days together we weren’t overcome with thrilling conversation.

So, as I sat in that rustically decorated cafe, watching the skaters zoom around on a December evening, I was struck by one clear thought – Derren was right.

And, y’know, that’s OK. And it’s really good to know, because hopefully now, when the desire to jump on a plane and escape to someplace far away inevitably comes to call, I can look at it with a knowing fondness, before allowing it to pass me by.

Now, I don’t mean that I’m not going to travel in the future, or head on adventures, as I’m sure I will. I just hope that when I do, I’ll be planning an adventure for me, one that I can truly enjoy, just as I am, instead of trying to leave it all behind.

WHY I’M BREAKING UP WITH SHOULD

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It came up in my meditation recently, and I saw a whole article written about it the other day… the issue with the word should.

I couldn’t tell you how much I can relate. How many times do you say to yourself, you should do something? For me, it’s all the time. I should eat better, I should do the ironing, I should go to that event, I should work late.

The question is, why? Why should you do something?

Now that I’m taking the time to think about it, I believe my shoulds come from my impression of what I expect society, or colleagues or friends, would expect me to do. They’re projections that stop me from taking responsibility for my own decisions because of what I think other people would think. But who the hell knows what anyone else would think? Would it even matter anyway? And I’m a grown up, so I can decide whether I want to do something or not, regardless of anyone else’s thoughts on the matter.

What I do know, though, is that my shoulds aren’t healthy. They cause me to spend a lot of time telling myself I should go to that event, even though I’m not feeling up to it. It causes me to feel guilty if I clock out a little early from work one day so I can spend some valuable time with my nearest and dearest, or if I lie in a little late because I don’t want to get up feeling groggy.

So I’m breaking up with should. I know it’ll take some time and a lot of effort, but I’m going to try to remove should from my vocabulary and replace it with more constructive words.

If it’s something I need to do, then I’ll say ‘I am going to…’. If it’s something I want to do, then ‘I want to…’. If it’s something that I don’t want to do at all, but maybe I’ve already committed, then I’ll give myself permission to be true to myself and call it quits, or try to re-frame it in my mind and maybe feel like doing it after all.

I’ll make the effort to listen to the underlying feelings that cause me to tell myself I should do something. What’s there? Guilt? Obligation? The reluctance to do something deemed negative by ‘society’? Whatever it is, I’ll look for it, take the time to understand it, and then re-frame it.

I’m hoping that, in letting go of should, I’ll feel less weighed down and more confident in myself and my decision-making.

What do you think? Do you tell yourself you should do this and that? Do other people tell you that you should do things? I’d love to know your relationship with the shoulds in life, and what you think about my plans to let them go!

A WONDERFULLY LAZY SATURDAY IN DECEMBER

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When I look back to the early weeks and months of this year I remember a lot of time for relaxation. I remember long afternoons spent reading books in the fading light, and early nights savouring the kind of rest and relaxation that seems to be only in memory.

I think I’ve been so caught up in the doing of things, and the thinking of doing of things, that I’ve missed the opportunity to enjoy time spent not doing much at all.

Though while I say not doing much, I guess I mean not doing much that’s productive. Not doing those things that you do because they get you a step closer to where you want to be, or those things that you do just so they don’t sit on your to-be-done list for another day. Instead, time to do all of the other things, that don’t have purpose or reason, except for the joy of experiencing them.

So I decided to gift myself a lazy Saturday in December to do all of the non-productive things that I like, and it was wonderful.

I slept in in the morning, waking up after the sun was high in the sky for the first time in what felt like an age. I spent time in the kitchen, considerately preparing myself a hearty plate of scrambled eggs and mushrooms on toast, and enjoyed a quiet moment with a cup of green tea while the morning crept away.

I watched five back-to-back episodes of Criminal Minds to catch up on the latest season, giving myself a moment to appreciate the open, personal dialogue between two of the show’s male characters. It was refreshing to see them share in emotion instead of burying it down, and that can only be a good example.

I knit on three different projects, breaking one needle and breaking into three balls of yarn.

I enjoyed the homely smell of a potato in the oven while it baked its way to perfection, before devouring it with a good slather of butter, piled high with cheese.

I put off doing the dishes because I’m an adult, and I can choose to do that if I want to, and instead curled up under a blanket with a nice cup of tea and a homemade chocolate chip muffin.

I spent time in the afternoon learning from a good book while waiting for Sam to get home, before sharing a pizza for dinner and letting the evening slip by with good conversation and our favourite TV.

What a refreshing way to spend a day, and evidence enough that I really ought to do myself a favour, and do it all again sometime.

WHY I NEED TO STOP SAYING I’M STRESSED OUT

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There have been a lot of times this year that I’ve been stressed. It’s been a year of upheaval and I’ve had to stretch myself thin to be able to do everything that was needed of me. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve answered the question ‘How was your day?’ with ‘Stressful’, and I’ve felt the symptoms of stress in my forehead and shoulders pretty consistently.

I guess it was only natural, then, for stress to become part of my language. When you do something often enough, it becomes habit, so when something doesn’t go quite according to plan, or I’m experiencing something taxing, my immediate response is to say, to myself or out loud, ‘This is stressing me out’.

The problem, though? It’s not.

For a good while now, I’ve not actually felt stressed. I’ve not had that accelerated heart rate, the constant tension headaches, the aching back and the perpetual tiredness. In fact, I’ve felt quite calm, but the language of stress has remained where the symptoms have not.

I’ve become very conscious of this over the past couple of weeks. I wonder whether it has anything to do with the meditation I’ve been practising, or the fact that I’m making an effort to be more intuitive about the way that I feel and how I respond to those feelings. Whatever has caused it, I’m grateful for the awareness.

What I want to address most about this automatic habit, is its negative framing. My experiences of stress have been negative. It has inhibited my ability to do certain things, my productivity levels are really low during times of stress, and it’s when I find it hardest to be aware of things in balance. Now, I don’t want to be associating with those negative things, just because it has become habit.

Instead, I want to retrain my brain to come out of this negative cycle, and into something more positive. If the thought of stress comes into my head, I give myself pause and allow myself the time to consider it. I think about how I’m feeling in that moment, and whether or not a thought of stress has any merit. If it does, I’ll take further action to investigate. If not, I’ll cast the thought aside and focus on something else.

I’m hoping that, in doing this, thoughts of stress will become fewer as my brain learns that I’m not actually experiencing stress. That way, when I really am stressed, I’ll know it.

I’m interested to hear if you’ve had experiences with stress and how you’ve dealt with it, or if you’ve noticed a habit that has become subconscious like this. Please leave me a comment to let me know!

WHAT I LEARNED FROM SPENDING 24 HOURS OFFLINE

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Last weekend I shared my plans to take a day away from the internet. It was a bit of an impulse decision, but I was intrigued to see how spending some time offline would affect me. So, at 12pm on Saturday I put away my computer and switched off my phone, excited to see what would come to light.

The first thing to note, is that taking time away from those devices required some preparation. I knew I wanted to knit during my offline time, but all of my knitting patterns are saved to my Google Drive, accessed on my phone or laptop when I need them. I had to note down some of the instructions on paper, so I’d still be able to make progress.

I was also sure to inform some relevant people that I’d be offline, so they knew how to reach me in an emergency, and clarify that I wasn’t ignoring them if they didn’t hear from me. Thankfully, this didn’t turn out to be necessary, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

It’s worth noting here that the time I spent offline wasn’t how I would usually spend my time. I was in the middle of a kidney infection, and was feeling rather worse for wear, so I spent much more time in bed than I usually would, with some naps thrown in for good measure.

What I did find though, was that I was noticeably more focused on the tasks at hand. When I needed to nap, I did so straight away without the mindless scroll of Instagram that usually preludes that sort of thing. When I was knitting, I was entirely in the flow and enjoyed the process of having a one-track mind.

I also spent a lot of time reading. Granted, I was using my Kindle, but I wasn’t about to confiscate that for the experiment. I think I read almost half of my book, and again found myself more focused on that, without the distraction of my phone.

It’s interesting to note that I just picked up my phone here, lit up the screen and saw the notification that I already knew was there, and put it back down again. I can’t have checked the time, because I couldn’t tell you what it is now, and even if I needed to know it’s right here on my laptop as I type. I think this is a classic example of how my phone has become a habit, and one that I don’t need.

These impulses are something I’ve been actively aware of since switching my phone back on. I spend a lot of time looking at that screen, but not really taking in what’s on it, and I  can see how that can be detrimental.

However, I’ve also become acutely aware of just how much of a tool my technology can be. I tend not to have hard copies of things, so my knitting patterns, blog plans and menu are all digital. I use my phone for taking and editing photos, and for managing all of my finances. OK Google is a lifesaver, performing quick searches, setting my reminders and putting the timer on for dinner, and all of these things are reasons why I absolutely love technology.

One thing I’ve found to be quite apparent is that I didn’t miss social media, and I wasn’t desperate to get back onto it either. I think this has been a long time in the making, but before this experiment I’d found myself back into the habit of scrolling regularly, even when there was nothing new to see. Now I’m keen to use social media when I need to or want to, but to find other activities to fill that time in a more productive way.

In conclusion, getting offline was fun, and a little inconvenient, but it showed me where I want to work on my digital habits. I also think I might take a few hours every weekend where I switch off my phone, so I can really focus on being in the moment without the urge to look at the little screen.

WHY I’M TAKING A DAY AWAY FROM THE INTERNET

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As you’re reading this, I’ll be well into my 24 hours offline. It probably wasn’t a smart move to decide to do this right at the end of Blogtober, when my posting commitments are still a thing, but I wanted to, and so I’m making it work.

My interest was peaked by this idea while watching another instalment of The Davina Hour. I’ve really been enjoying these conversations, and I think I’ve taken something from each of them. Definitely recommend.

When listening to the conversation about technology addiction, there were a lot of things I couldn’t relate to so much, but I think that’s because I’ve already self-moderated quite considerably.

When I started working from home, and all of my lives combined through one phone and one laptop, I lost all boundaries. For a few months, work overtook everything, and it was only when I took a step back that I saw how it was impacting my personal wellbeing and my relationships.

I switched off notifications for anything work-related, so I wasn’t bothered at all hours of the day. That meant that if you sent me an email, I’d see it when I chose to check my inbox, not when you chose to send it to me. I also banned myself from looking at my phone right before I went to bed and when I woke up in the morning.

Getting this space was hugely beneficial, because suddenly I was doing everything on my time. I was showering and eating and even getting some knitting in, all before work made an appearance, and my sleeping habits improved, too.

I’ve been strict about this ever since, and feel that the boundaries I have are great, and work really well for me.

So when listening to talk of technology addiction, it didn’t really resonate. However, when they spoke about people’s reactions to a digital detox, I was kind of gobsmacked, with one participant claiming that the silence felt like misery.

I always thought that I would love to be without my phone for a day, so I figured I’d just give it a go.

It’s funny though, because I’m having to put thought and preparation into it, knowing that I’ll be without technology. We need to go food shopping, and our list is on Google Keep, so either I need to write it by hand (ugh) or start my detox post-shop. And then I’ve got something to go to tonight, but I’ve not been very well, so if I can’t make it I need to be able to let my friend know. So the detox has to be finished by then.

I’ve already recognised more vividly how much I rely on technology in the few hours since I made the decision to do this, so I’m really intrigued to see how it goes. I’ll be blogging about my experiences after, so I’ll let you know!

See you on the other side…