Happy New Year (yup, you read that correctly!)

In the world of wellbeing, September seems to be the new January these days – with good reason. It’s a far better time of year for a health reset than the freezing winter months. In September you can smell the back-to-work vibe in the air as children return to school and routine is somewhat restored. Plus, you don’t have to wrap up in multiple layers or face depressingly dark mornings when you leave the house.

This September, I feel, will be a big one. As mask wearing begins to lift and a slither of normality returns, we are left staggering through the aftermath of the past 18 months. Even aside from the actual virus, the pandemic has taken its toll on our general wellbeing. And as we emerge from survival mode, we start to look at ourselves again. You may have got into comfort drinking habits; perhaps you have fallen off the exercise wagon or lie in bed until 8.48am because your home working day starts at 9am. Whatever you want to change, here are some small steps to tackle Covid-induced bad habits.

1 Be kind to yourself

Don’t beat yourself up. ‘Remain compassionate with yourself,’ says Kathryn Dombrowicz, psychotherapist and addictions specialist at mental health clinic thesoke.uk. ‘We have been through tough times and lost structure in our lives. It’s natural that we have wanted to make ourselves feel better in a time of anxiety,’ she says.

 September is a good time of year for a wellbeing reset

2 Take baby steps

‘It can be overwhelming to tackle everything at once,’ says nutritional therapist Nicola Moore (nicola-moore.com). ‘Start with the one thing that’s bothering you most and focus on that. Consistency, not striving for perfection, is the healthiest way to make changes.’

3 B.L.A.S.T bad habits

A habit is something we do again and again to the point where we are not actually experiencing it any more but going through the motions. You can break the pattern by consciously interrupting that habit. Kathryn uses the B.L.A.S.T. technique. ‘Ask yourself if you are bored, lonely, angry, stressed or tired,’ she says. ‘Then think of healthier ways you can nurture yourself instead.’

4 Don’t ditch ‘drink o’clock’

It could be that your daily glass of wine (or two) is more to do with the ritual of drinking and what that signifies emotionally rather than the drink itself, explains Nicola. ‘You don’t have to ditch that time in the day when you enjoy a relaxing drink,’ she says. ‘But try replacing it with something non-alcoholic while keeping everything else the same. Keep the wine glass and connect to the act of drinking it, which can elicit the same good feelings as you’d get from a glass of wine.’

5 Don’t go OTT on exercise

Going from sofa surfer to gym bunny will set yourself up to fail. Instead, says Kathryn, walk for 20 minutes four times a week. The next week, add an exercise class or make the walk longer. Doing something is better than nothing and a daily short walk will have an instant impact on your wellbeing.

6 Replace bad habits with good

‘By repeating a bad habit you will have created a neural pathway,’ says Kathryn. ‘You can override it with a positive habit by keeping at it,’ she says. ‘Some studies say it takes 21 days to break a habit, others say 40. I think it’s somewhere in the middle.’

Keep it simple!

It goes without saying: life can be hard. But we also tend to make it harder than it needs to be. On top of those difficulties that we don’t have any control over (pandemics, job losses), we pile on extra difficulties (packed schedules, non-stop goal-chasing, endless doom-scrolling) until we’re crushed by the overwhelm.

So why would we want to make our lives harder? It’s not necessarily a conscious decision – it has just become our default setting. ‘The modern world complicates things for us,’ says Dr Tara Swart, neuroscientist and author of The Source. ‘Over time, the amount of overload we’ve had to deal with has increased, and we’ve defaulted to meet that demand.’

With the onslaught of social media and the glorification of being busy, it’s unsurprising. And even though life has been pared back during the pandemic, we’re so accustomed to that ‘more, more, more’ setting, that it can be hard to switch it off. ‘Whatever you have to do expands to fill the time available,’ says Swart. ‘Many of us gained hours in the day we would’ve spent commuting, but this ended up blurring into a longer work day. It’s partly our perception that life is busy and complicated, and we often feel overwhelmed whether we actually have more to do or not.’

‘Overwhelm and over-complication leave us feeling ill and tired,’ says Swart. ‘Your mental, emotional and physical health is all connected. Simplifying your life can result in more energy, less fatigue, increased resilience and improved immunity.’

So, as we emerge back into some semblance of ‘normality’, how can we streamline our days and live in a way that feels easy and effortless? It’s all about finding small ways to reduce unnecessary clogs in our brains.



We spend way too much time procrastinating over tasks that could be done pretty quickly. Enter the much raved-about Pomodoro Technique, which can be used for anything from work projects, to clearing out the garage. Here’s how it works:

– Choose a task, minimise distractions and place a blank piece of paper or a notebook nearby.

– Set a timer for 25 minutes. It’s just 25 minutes, right? Focus solely on your task until the timer runs out. No interruptions or distractions allowed. If you suddenly realise you have something else you need to do, write it down.

– Make a check on the paper, and take a break. Give yourself 5 minutes to stretch or check your phone. If the 25 minutes got you in your zone, you may be tempted to power through. Resist! Your brain needs to regroup.

– Repeat until you’ve made three or four checks, then take a longer break for 20 or 30 minutes. Repeat until you’ve finished the task.

TOP TIP: ‘Before you go to bed, write down the thing you’re dreading most about the next day, then do that as soon as you wake up,’ says Tara Swart. ‘Getting the thing that is draining you out of the way is really good tactic for reducing stress.’


Mindfulness doesn’t need to mean sitting in the lotus position for an hour – Swart says you can find little pieces of mindfulness throughout the day. ‘You can try mindful eating at mealtimes, which means pausing before each mouthful, and tuning in to the taste of food, without distractions like phones or TV. Or, when you’re talking to a relative, giving them your full attention and eye contact. You can focus on your breath at any time of the day, even if walking around, speaking, or working at your laptop.’ Why? ‘Mindfulness helps you regulate your emotions, and simplifies things for your brain, by narrowing your focus,’ says Swart.

Give yourself a break

The world feels so chaotic and uncertain right now that we all have a responsibility to listen, to take notice and to do what we can. However, we also all have a responsibility to take a break from all the news headlines and to look after ourselves too.

Now, more than ever, it is time to protect ourselves from being overwhelmed. We cannot act constructively to change anything if we are exhausted from information overload. It is a balance that can be tough to strike. Our brains are incredible tools, but they are not immune to the effects of having too much to process and digest. And we have all been in that situation over the past 15 months or so.

Being aware of our need to turn down the noise to a level where we can cope and doing this often is what can keep us mentally and emotionally well, and able to keep moving forward through what will likely be more uncertainty. And it is not just turning down the volume on external information, but also our ability to find ways to get some space from our mind.

Our minds are brilliant at ruminating over and over problems – great if they find solutions and then drop them, but not so great if solutions are not possible, our minds are tired and can’t process a lot or we are projecting into the future or reaching back into the past.

It is not about ignoring or pushing away our thoughts, but rather pausing, being aware and putting into action strategies that can help us find solutions to problems, or ways that can help us let the thoughts go and pass gently. This takes practice and energy, and it is a lifelong journey, but it can be done. So, how can we protect ourselves from information overload?

News consumption

We need to be informed and we need to understand the world we live in so we can affect change and be part of society. However, too much news consumption can cause us to feel overwhelmed and sad if we have nowhere to take these feelings or no action we feel is possible for us to take. Be aware of your own news consumption – how much time, when in your day, on which platform, and in what manner and emotional state you are consuming your news. Don’t feel guilty or “bad” for turning it off or needing space away.

Reduce the ways you are contactable

With working patterns changing, feeling overwhelmed by messaging has become even more common. Sit down and review how you are allowing people to get hold of you. Reduce the platforms, mute your notifications, look at your phone or check your emails a limited number of times a day. If you are like me, you have probably experienced someone trying to contact you on multiple platforms, multiple times per day and at unsociable hours. Re-establish your boundaries and stick to them.

Find a balance

Balance your activities in your day. Have space for connection, for physical exercise, for creativity and for joy. Many people have not had a break from work for the past year, and even if they have had one planned, it may have been cancelled or at home in the same environment. It has been harder than ever to have a break from the noise of life. Make sure you are focusing on one task at a time. Our brains have specific ways of using our attention and focus, and if we do one thing at a time, we will be more efficient and feel better for it.

Say no

Give yourself space from people who overload you or add to your worries or do a “problem dump” on you without any respite.

Space from your thoughts

Make sure you regularly get involved in activities which are not information-oriented but more space-oriented. Mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises, physical exercise and sleep can all help you get some space from your mind. Creative hobbies such as art, music, reading, crafting, gardening and nature also can give you that space you need from your worries and thoughts. That volume button is in your hands right now. Make sure you know when you need to turn it down – and give yourself permission to do so.

Don’t forget to stretch.

Stretching is hardly the sexiest part of anyone’s routine. Whether or not you’re a fitness buff, it’s the kind of thing we know we should be doing, but often find hard to fit into our busy lives.

However, we’re here to remind you that you really shouldn’t skip it. “Stretching is an integral part of our fitness and health,” explains Michelle Njagi, senior physiotherapist at Bupa Health Clinics. “Stretching is really important because it keeps muscles flexible, it keeps them healthy and strong, and it’s really important for the range of movement in the joints as well – if you don’t have flexibility in the muscles, you’re not going to be able to move as much in the joints and you’ll be limited in what you can and can’t do.

“Without it, muscles become shorter and tighter. For example, if you do have quite tight hamstrings – the muscle at the back of your legs – it can make everyday things like walking harder, and can cause things like lower back pain.”

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you don’t need to stretch if you’re not a fitness fanatic either. “If anything it’s more important,” says Njagi. “It’s the age old saying: If you don’t use it, you lose it. It’s really important, especially if you do have quite a static lifestyle where you work at a desk, that you do try and move as much as you can.”

If you regularly exercise, not properly warming up and cooling down can lead to getting “injured more easily through strains and pulling muscles,” says Njagi.

It’s still crucial even if you don’t do HIIT five times a week. Njagi explains: “If you’re not exercising much, you might feel like you can go about your day normally, but there will be days when you’re doing everyday things like shopping or bending to reach something – if you’re not flexible enough, that’s when you can get things like pulled back muscles.

“You might not think you’ve been exercising, but it is a form of exercise – just in your everyday life. If you’re not able to move into those positions, you’re more likely to get general injuries.”

Feel the feel

Do you remember the Pixar film, Inside Out? Released to much acclaim in 2015, much of the film takes place in the head of an 11-year-old girl named Riley, with five emotions—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust—embodied by characters who help Riley navigate her world. I watched it again recently and realised that the film has some deep things to say about the nature of our emotions.

I like to personify emotions and think of them as characters. Some are our “friends” on Facebook, some are top of our instagram feed. And others are blocked, “unfriended” and muted because we just don’t want to see them.

Let’s talk about stress

April marks National Stress Awareness Month so it only seemed right to add an extra blog post in to support this important initiative.

Stress Awareness Month has been recognised every April since 1992, which is news to me. In fact, before this year (2021) I didn’t realise it was acknowledged by its own month, but it’s really great news. Stress is something we throw about all the time by saying “we’re so stressed” or “it’s so stressful” but what do we actually mean?

Learning to cope with stress and finding healthy ways to deal with our own stress is important in being able to lead a balanced and positive life. It seems particularly poignant after the year we’ve had (and continue to live through) with the COVID pandemic and all the restrictions and changes to life as we know it.

StressSomeone Trying to Repair Every Situation Solo. – Dave Willis


Let’s talk about stress: it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, stress is primarily a physical response by our body to stimulus (whether internal or external). Without the ability to feel stress, humankind would not have survived. The classic example is of the caveman who used the onset of stress to become aware of potential dangers and threats – and the same can be said today (only we are not running away from lions and tigers but work, business, relationships, invisible illnesses…), stress is our body’s reaction when under attack to switch to “fight or flight mode”. This switch is a complex mix of hormones and chemicals, such as adrenaline and cortisol, to prepare the body for action.

The result is that some parts of the body will work overtime (like blood flowing to our muscles) while others slow down (like digestion). For example, think about when you’re stressed, you often don’t feel hungry, or you never feel satiated. Or you get stomach cramps… your body isn’t directing its energy to your digestion at this time. Instead, our heart pounds, we have a boost of energy and we are “in the zone”.

All of which is great to deal with the stress in front of us, but less energy goes towards our brains and our focus is minimised. We can no longer think straight, get easily confused and don’t focus on other tasks. We’re in this “fight or flight” mode where we either have to “fight back” which is often displayed as aggression or anger toward others or we “take flight” and remove ourself from the situation. The second can only worsen the original stress which continues, even though we are burying our head in the sand (guilty as charged).

According to the Stress Org website, there is a third response to stress, that I didn’t know about. That is “freeze”. This is a state where our body becomes dysregulated: the energy that has been initiated from the threat is locked in our bodies and we freeze – for example we hold our breath or our breathing is shallow and irregular.

As much as I love the science behind stress – I highly recommend you researching some more (the Stress Management Society website is great for bite-sized information).


Stressors are the perceived threat: the things that makes us feel stressed.

That state of stress is reached when the “demand exceeds the personal and social resources that individual is able to mobilise”.

The stressor that leads to this state of “collapse” and of “exceeded demands” can be any number of things. Like emotions, stress is very personal so what one person finds particularly stressful and challenging, another person doesn’t even consider as a stressor. Perhaps it is something at work, a colleague, a relationship, diet culture, the pressure from social media, a change of situation or livelihood… ultimately it is when we feel the demand on us is more than we can manage.


Even though the body’s response to stress is natural as we have seen above, long-term stress can have serious effects on our overall wellbeing and health. As with stressors, ways of coping with stress are similarly very personal so find out what works for you.

Before that though, have you identified what is making you feel stressed?

Take some time to really sit and think about what is going on in our life, what are you going through, what are your relationships like? Write them down, talk to a friend or family member about them. Acknowledge your stressors and don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about what is putting too much demand on you. We all have our own personal limits.

  • Acknowledge your stressors and tell yourself “I acknowledge my stress and I am letting it go. I am relaxed and calm. I feel my tensions melting away.” Or choose your own affirmations.
  • Make your health a priority! This has so many facets to it but put yourself first.
  • Sleep. The power of a good night’s sleep is immense and a lot of us overlook it’s importance. If you don’t sleep well, research some good sleep hygiene habits to develop to help your body rest.
  • Water. Like the grass and the trees, we need water in order to flourish. Stay hydrated to make sure you’re feeling alert and can thrive.
  • Food. Look at what food you are eating and how it makes you feel? Maybe there are some things you can play around with to feel better? Add in some more fruits and vegetables, make sure you eat the rainbow and make sure food is there to be enjoyed!
  • Movement. I am not the world’s sportiest person, but, I make time to move my body every day; a short online HIT class; a walk in nature and, yoga (obviously!)  It’s time to switch off and forget about your stress, yes, it’s still there afterwards, but you can attack the situation with clarity.
  • Social media and emails. We often feel like slaves to technology, we spend way too long on social media and without realising, the apps we choose to spend a lot of time on can negatively impact our health and mental wellbeing. Have some time off can really help and break a negative cycle.
  • Mindfulness. Where to begin with this, but there are so many things you can do more mindfully that make a huge impact on our everyday lives. Acting mindfully or “with intention” brings us back to the present moment and means we can act with intent. Rather than running at a million miles an hour, it encourages us to slow down and see the situation for what it is.
  • Breathing. Have you ever stopped to take a few really deep big breaths? The feeling can be immense. Most yoga practises start with and focus on the breath, and for good reason. Making sure your body is well oxygenated enables the body to work as it should and in fact, it holds a treasure trove of benefits.

There are so many more ways we can help ourselves when we are feeling stressed (or even if we are not aware of feeling stressed) and it’s a good idea to practise a few (or all of the above) every day for our overall mental and physical health. The feeling of balance, in alignment and at peace with our life will make you feel on top of the world. Indeed, the ability to deal with whatever comes our way, or seeking help when the demands on us feel too great, are essential tools we can have in our back pockets that we will return to time and time again. Life is full of stressors, so why not equip ourselves with the best toolkit out there?

This is an ideal time to reflect on our core values

Value is a word that has been echoing in my mind in the past year, in many different conversations I have had, in many of the headlines I have read and in many of the stories I have heard.

We are all in this half-half transition period during the pandemic– where the ‘old’ way of doing things is no longer possible or in some respects wanted, yet the ‘new’ has not yet been formed. That is why it feels so hard. We don’t know where we are going. Even though it is uncomfortable not knowing, it is an opportunity to reset.

Our values are what we consider important in life, the standards we set, the worth we give things and the priority we give them.

On an individual level, our core values are foundational beliefs that feed into every single thing in our daily lives – how we live our lives: how we behave, how we treat ourselves, how we treat others and what we bring to the world. And each of our individual set of core values add up to the global core values we see reflected in the kind of world we are living in.

Values should not be trends that come and go according to what other people think or say. They are signposts that help us move in a direction in our lives that is authentic to us.

If you are feeling a bit lost in this “half-half” period of time, my advice is stop and consider the following questions.

WHAT ARE YOUR CORE VALUES? Your core values are yours to make. But you might feel adrift unless you devote the time and space to understand yourself and what they are. Think about words such as trust, honesty, kindness, authenticity, integrity, respect, fairness, courage, justice and perseverance. Writing a list of your core values and coming back to it over and over again will help you regain your bearings and make decisions for your present. Integrity is a value in itself, and one to apply to our whole set of values no matter what we see others doing.

WHAT DO YOU VALUE? This answer will be different for everyone. But life, nature and connection with our loved ones, I am sure, are all answers we have in common. With so many lives lost, Covid has made us all acutely aware of how precious life is; how each moment counts; how we don’t know what the future brings; how we need to try to appreciate all those we love, as well as respecting and looking after those we don’t know. Nature’s inherent value has also been something that we have been reminded of, without asking anything in return, except that we respect it.

HOW DO YOU VALUE YOURSELF? Have you been giving yourself time, space, self care, support and kindness? Do you value what you do for others and who you are? Our perception of our value is often historically associated incorrectly with our income, our job status, if we own a home, if we have a partner or a family. But our value is inherent – we don’t need to do anything to be of value. Value yourself more.

HOW DO YOU ALLOW OTHERS TO VALUE OR DEVALUE YOU? Have your boundaries around work and life been blurred? Are you asking for what you need from others? How we value ourselves often has ripples of effect in how others value us. The good news is, we can change this by taking small steps to reset how we treat ourselves and the kind of treatment we are prepared to accept from others.

HOW DO YOU VALUE OTHERS? Are we all still respecting others by showing them kindness through our actions?  Values are not fads that come and go – we must hold on to our values even when it seems others have forgotten. How can we be an ally for other people who are discriminated against, treated unjustly, or in countries far away and who may not have the access to the protections they need?

I do think the pandemic has provided us all with an opportunity to reflect, relearn, remember and reset our values as individuals, but also as a world. It is now time to act on what we have learned, not just talk about it.

No more well being – let’s focus on being well instead

One of the messages that I have always been confused about is what “wellbeing” means – and what it actually looks
like day to day.

I have lost count of the number of adverts I have seen with lines such as: “I lost xx pounds in just three weeks and if I can, then you can.” There are also countless programmes on television about “lifestyle” and “health” – yet their focus seems too often to be about losing weight, diets and physical appearance.

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.