Month: February 2021

An invitation to rest

Often, new year’s resolutions and healthy habits tend to waver as we drift into February. After a month of discipline, it’s tempting to throw off the chains of dry January, early morning jogs, and an intricate morning routine in favour of slipping back into old ways, only to feel as though we’ve somehow let ourselves down, and resolving to make the same resolutions next year. The reason this happens to our resolutions and new routines, is usually because we just make them a little too hard to do. The morning run at 6am, the hour of yoga, the expensive juice cleanse or cutting out sugar. Yes, the harder we make our resolutions, the more likely they are to come un-stuck. Luckily, it only takes one method to make your new healthy habits a long-term lifestyle, and it all starts with creating your invitations.

This month’s mantra:

“I invite myself to feel my best. I say no to what does not serve me”

The way we arrange our homes is really an invitation for what we choose to do within them, and when we plan our days, we’re literally writing an invitation to ourselves (would you RSVP yes to three hours of emails and a Zoom conference?). Yes, our environment and our schedule send us invitations all the time; Do you own a big comfy sofa and lots of soft blankets? That’s an invitation to sit down and get cosy. Do you have your favourite teas and herbal blends within easy reach on the kitchen counter? That’s an invitation to drink them. And is your yoga mat, bolster and eye pillow laid out ready for you to jump into practice first thing in the morning? Yep, that is an invitation to practice. Making the invitations obvious is the first step. The second step is simply choosing to say yes to them. (And the third if you want to get detailed, is to take away or hide all the invitations you need to start saying no to more often!)

You’re Invited

How about this month, invite yourself to do more of what makes you feel good and helps you maintain healthy, beneficial habits, and get rid of as many invitations as you can for the things that bring you down. Of course, there’s no escaping the need to do laundry or write emails, but how we do them and what we do with the rest of our time can be helped by creating invitations. Read on for 10 tips on helping yourself feel better this month, by creating invitations, but also by RSVP-ing no to things by not surrounding yourself with them. Use these tips as inspiration in your own home!

Invitations To Say Yes To

  1. You’re Invited to practice: If maintaining a regular yoga practice is something you want to bring into your life, it’s time to make things simple. Very often, we tend to overestimate what we’re capable of in a short amount of time. It’s great to have goals and aspirations, but if you set out to practice a 90 minute structured and strong vinyasa flow sequence every morning, it’s likely the enthusiasm may fade a week or so into the new routine. Instead, try making things more simple and ‘easier’ than you think you need to. This could look like a 10 minute meditation, a few rounds of sun salutations, or following an online class that’ll keep you accountable and focused. Keep it simple, and you’re way more likely to practice more often!
  2. You’re invited to relax: Does your living room invite you to relax and unwind? Does your bedroom invite you to sleep soundly? One of the biggest challenges we face (despite the abundance of time at home right now) is the ability to let ourselves stop and relax. Take a look around your home – is there a small corner or chair you could dedicate to relaxation? Maybe it’s your bathroom or bedside table. Whatever it is, place some self-care tools, comfy cushions, and comforting lighting here so it takes literally a moment to access your relaxation space. Once it’s all set up, all you have to do is say ‘yes’ to some you-time.
  3. You’re invited to hydrate: Many people (myself included) don’t feel like they drink enough water, which is really what the human body needs most, alongside clean air and sunlight (we’re just giant plants, after all!). Cultures in dry and hot climates tend to ‘front-load’ their water intake, which means drinking the majority of their water in the morning. This allows the body to fully hydrate throughout the day, without leaving you waking up to use the bathroom multiple times throughout the night. As well as water, there are certain foods which contain water in a ‘gel’-like form, which deeply hydrates the body’s tissues. Try opting for chia seeds, cucumber, leafy greens, fruit, and organic dairy like milk or kefir – keep these at eye-level in the fridge to invite yourself to consume them more!
  4. You’re invited to eat well: If the first thing you see upon opening the cupboard is a packet of crisps or chocolate bars, that’s what you’re more likely to reach for. (Not that there’s anything wrong with treating yourself to crisps and chocolate, it’s just the frequency with which we do it that matters!) If however, you open the cupboards and fridge to healthy, good-for-you foods, that’s what you’ll start reaching for instead, and thus a healthy habit is created! Try thinking of three healthy foods you want to consume more of, and keep them in very obvious places so you grab them often.
  5. You’re invited to create: Do you make time for creativity? With technology allowing us to live at a faster and more ‘instant’ pace today, we tend to also live in a more reactionary state, answering emails, replying to texts, meeting deadlines or completing What happened to making, creating, and feeling inspired? If you realise you haven’t actually created or made anything recently, it’s time to reignite that spark again by unearthing your guitar, digging out those crafting kits, revisiting that novel you started, or even getting out in the garden to create a veg patch. Creativity is important for helping us feel happier, empowered, more connected to life, and is a big stress-reliever too

When to RSVP ‘No’

  1. RSVP no to comparison: How do you feel after an Instagram scrolling session? Multiple studies and reports show that comparison culture is damaging for our mental health, and is only made worse by social media. Part of the issue is that social media tends to emphasise the importance of attributes like ‘perfect’ bodies, wealth, achievement and material accumulation, which are some of the things we tend to feel like we never have enough of. If you often find you’re comparing yourself to others, feeling bad about your body or your worth just because of the picture someone else has posted online, it’s seriously time to un-follow a few hundred accounts to make more room for what you do want to see.
  2. RSVP no to the snooze button: Ancient health systems like Ayurveda tell us that each part of the day holds a different sort of energy. Whilst midday is all about the fire element, allowing us to complete tasks with enthusiasm and digest lunch well, the early morning holds qualities of lightness, perfect for helping you wake up in a more refreshed, calm and energised state. Try putting your phone or alarm clock just outside of your bedroom door, so that when the alarm rings in the morning, you’ll have to get out of bed to turn it off, decreasing the likelihood of snoozing. There are also alarm clock apps without a snooze button, to try those if you need more encouragement!
  3. RSVP no to over-working: With home and work boundaries blurred for many of us, the tendency and even temptation to work longer hours is ever present. If we don’t set firm boundaries between work and play (or work and ‘the huge part of your life that isn’t work’), we keep our nervous system in a state of low grade stress 24/7, reacting to family requests as though they’re emails from colleagues, or thinking about deadlines when you could be engaged in meaningful conversation. If you’re overwhelmed by too-tight deadlines too, it’s important to say no and set some boundaries to prevent yourself burning out.
  4. RSVP no to toxic people: If there’s one thing the pandemic has done, it’s made us realise who we really miss and who we really care about spending time with. Unless you live with them, this period of isolation and self-reflection may have provided an insight into whether the friends you previously spent time with were actually healthy to be around. If you notice the people you previously interacted with – whether at work or in social groups – were actually damaging for your own wellbeing, now is a good time to re-set your relationships and focus on the people who truly bring good energy into your life.
  5. RSVP no to doom scrolling: The phrase Doomscrolling was added to the dictionary in 2020, and refers to ‘the act of consuming a large quantity of negative news at once’. Experts have even concluded that it damages our mental health. Try setting reminders or time limits on your phone (again, there are apps for this) to prevent the scrolling from lasting for hours, delete news apps, and if you do find yourself doomscrolling, make a gratitude list afterwards, re-setting the balance, reducing stress and inviting you to focus on what you have to be thankful for in life.

Turning down the volume

Hands up if you talk to yourself? Some of my best conversations are those I’ve had in my head but, the flip side is that my inner voice can also be my own worst enemy.

According to one study, we talk to ourselves at a rate equivalent to speaking 4,000 words per minute (by way of comparison, the American president’s State of the Union address, which usually runs to about 6,000 words, lasts more than an hour). No wonder, then, that listening to it can be exhausting, whether it takes the form of a rambling soliloquy, or a compulsive rehashing of events, a free-associative pinballing from one thought to another or a furious internal dialogue.

But if such noise can be paralysing, it can also be self-sabotaging. What we experience on the inside can blot out almost everything else if we let it. A study published in 2010, for instance, shows that inner experiences consistently dwarf outer ones – something that, as Kross notes, speaks to the fact that once a “ruminative” thought takes hold of us, it can ruin even the best party, the most longed-for new job.

Professor Ethan Kross, has devoted many years investigating our inner monologue and, this research has led to him writing Chatter: The Voice in Our Head and How to Harness It.

Much of Kross’s book is devoted to what he calls the “toolbox” of techniques that can be used to dial down chatter, and while some of these seem to contradict all that we think and feel – “venting”, for instance, can do a person more harm than good, because talking about negative experiences with friends can often work as a repellent, pushing away those you need most – others confirm that when we act on certain instincts, we’re right to do so.

To take one example, if you are the kind of person who slips into the second or third person when you are in a flap (“Helen, you should calm down; this is not the end of the world”), you really are doing yourself some good. What Kross calls “distanced self-talk” is, according to experiments he has run, one of the fastest and most straightforward ways of gaining emotional perspective: a “psychological hack” that is embedded in “the fabric of human language”. Talking to yourself like this – as if you were another person altogether – isn’t only calming. Kross’s work shows that it can help you make a better impression, or improve your performance in, say, a job interview. It may also enable you to reframe what seems like an impossibility as a challenge, one to which, with your own encouragement, you may be able to rise.

Some of his other techniques are already well known: the power of touch (put your arms around someone); the power of nature (put your arms around a tree). Activities that induce “awe” – a walk in nature, say, or time spent in front of a magnificent work of art – are also useful, helping with that sense of perspective. Writing a daily journal can prove efficacious for some (something that felt terrible one day physically becoming old news the next), while neat freaks like me will be thrilled to discover that what he calls “compensatory control” – the creation of exterior order, better known as tidying up – really does have an impact on interior order. Reorganise your sock drawer, and you may find that your voice quietens.

As for the pandemic, though, he is less pessimistic than some about the effects it is likely to have long-term on mental health. “We are already seeing signs that depression and anxiety are spiking,” he says. “Everyday feelings of sadness are elevated for many, and then there are more full-blown episodes. But there is also a lot of resilience, and we often underestimate that. A lot of people are doing quite well. They’re managing this hardship in an adaptive way. I am an optimist. We will return, I think, to a nicer place, though how quickly that will happen, I only wish I could say.”

Which technique should the pandemic-anxious deploy? “Well, one that I personally rely on is temporal distancing,” he says. This requires a person to look ahead: to see themselves determinedly in the future. Studies show that if you ask those going through a difficult experience how they will feel about it in 10 years’ time, rather than tomorrow, their troubles immediately seem more temporary. Does this really help him? “Yes, it does. I ask myself how I am going to feel a year from now, when I’m back in the office, and I’m seeing my colleagues, and travelling again, and taking my kids to soccer – and it gives me hope.”

Time to hop into my mental Tardis and time travel ahead to my little house in France. A beintot.