Original article for Om Times
A few weeks ago I launched a new online stress management program, as part of the launch I offered free places on the course to a variety of bloggers and journalists. The emails went out and replies started coming in; I was amazed at how many people said they would love to do it, that they really needed to reduce their stress levels, but they just didn’t have the time, even just 30 minutes a day is too much!
Let’s face it, possibly the only reason you’re reading this is because it said ‘4 tips’ in the title, so you figured it’ll be nice and quick to read!
In our modern world, everyone always seems so busy, we don’t seem to have time to stop and pause anymore. From the moment we wake up in the morning until we turn off the light at night, it’s foot to the floor on the gas pedal, it can seem like a nonstop roller coaster ride. It seems everyone has become so used to be being busy, they just don’t know how to stop anymore. It has become so normal to be ‘too busy’ that you can actually feel guilty, lazy or socially inept if you say you’re not!
But have you asked yourselves why we are so busy?
How much of our time is taking up with essential tasks and how much is taken up by us making unnecessary work for ourselves? Are we doing stuff that just fills the time, but that doesn’t really achieve anything? And what sort of activities do we tend to prioritise; how much time to we dedicate to doing the things that create more rush, tension and stress, now compare that to how much time we put by for relaxation or activities that create time for us to pause and reflect?
We seem to have become addicted to rushing everywhere; maybe we are trying to convince ourselves that we are indispensable or important, or maybe we don’t think we deserve time for ourselves and that there are always other people or other things more important than keeping ourselves mentally and emotionally healthy. Have we become so habituated to rushing, to filling our time that we have no idea how to relax, have we forgotten what activities make us feel relaxed, perhaps we even feel frightened by the thought of having nothing to do to keep our minds occupied?
There really isn’t anything wrong with being busy, in fact, we are very capable of multi-tasking, and often thrive on challenge; we can be busy and still feel relaxed and in control. And, if you are mindfully busy, by being present with the task at hand, instead of worrying about all the other tasks you have to do or thinking how you could have done the previous tasks better, you can actually be busy and even really enjoy the tasks at hand!
The problems arise if we feel too busy, and that can spiral out of control very quickly, as we feel things getting on top of us, our attitude changes, we start to feel out of control and then our time management skills go out the window and then, although we may be doing exactly the same amount of tasks as we were before, we soon seem to be fire-fighting instead of calmly enjoying the task at hand. That is when being busy transforms into stress, our physical body can become ill and our mental well-being can be seriously affected.
“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going to fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”
So what can we do to break the habit?
The next time you hear yourself saying “I am just too busy to do be able to do …(whatever it is you want to do)..”, stop, take 3 conscious breaths and reflect on what you can do to change your habitual busy-ness and make time for the things you want to do, being ‘too busy’ does not have to be a fact of life, you have a choice; make the necessary changes to your life and to your attitude.
Here are a few aspects of your life that you can think about to feel less rushed and to create more time to reflect and relax.
1. Socializing – it’s ok to say no!
Socializing is an important part of our existence and is great for letting off steam with friends, catching up with extended family, developing a sense of connection with our local & global communities and also for networking, but it can easily get out of hand and become another reason for feeling rushed, drained and stressed out. If someone invites us out we can be left with a sense of guilt if we consider saying no, maybe one friend will ask you out for a chat one night, and then another friend another night, and so it goes on until you are out virtually every night, exhausted, but unable to turn anyone down. We feel if we say ‘no’ we’re not being a good friend, or we might miss out on something, but it’s ok, and even essential, to be able to say no and to set healthy boundaries for your social activities.
Perhaps you could consider organising a regular gathering of all your friends or extended family, it doesn’t have to be a massive formal gathering requiring lots of organising, just an informal gathering at a bar or coffee shop. And by setting a regular time, for example once a month, where all parties are together at the same time you can catch up, enjoy yourself, but keep the use of time to a manageable amount.
2. Hobbies – Enjoy one or two!
Think about your hobbies, and those of the rest of your family. Hobbies can be a great way to unwind and relax at the end of the day or at the weekend, but if you are rushing from here to there and back again trying to get to all the extra curricula activities of everyone in the family, it can be counterproductive!
So try to limit all those hobbies; consider limiting to maybe 2 or 3 evenings a week for those extra activities. Children love to spend the evening at home relaxing as much as adults, so don’t feel guilty limiting your child’s extra activities, remember you are also teaching them the importance of taking time to relax at home, to spend time with the family and to spend time reflecting. It’s also important you do not pass on the same bad habits of rushing and filling time for the sake of it to the next generation.
Consider making one of those hobby evenings a walk with the family in the country or nature reserve, setting by time for all the family to be together, getting some fresh air, spending some time in a natural environment away from the pull of the TV, computer, mobiles and all the other digital devices. In fact make it a rule to leave all devices at home while out on your walk, except maybe one phone for emergencies!
3. Time Management – Be more productive by doing less!
First of all be really picky, even brutal, about the tasks you take on; ask yourself each time if it’s really important or essential, and let the rest go. Delegate to others; we can fall into the “it’ll be quicker if I do it myself” mentality far too easily, but by delegating you give others power to do things for themselves, to be more independent, and give them the opportunity to learn new skills and have new experiences.
Get up 5 minutes earlier than usual; give yourself a bit of extra time at the beginning of the day to enjoy your breakfast or cup of tea or coffee. By giving yourself more than enough time to get to your first appointment without rushing you can set the tone for the whole day. Make sure you leave enough time between your appointments, stop rushing around and start moving around at a more leisurely pace, you’ll be amazed how much more you can achieve when you have a calm attitude!
Communicate less; be succinct in your conversation, emails, tweets and Facebook posts, ask yourself if it’s worth saying, is it important, is it positive, is it kind? Communication is important and essential to healthy relationships, but we can often communicate too much, especially in the modern digital world. And cut out the gossiping and complaining, these just create a negative attitude and create nothing positive in your life, and often lead to a loss of respect and bad feelings that you can do without. Never, ever send any message when angry, you will spend far more time apologising and clearing up the mess afterwards than if you had paused for a few hours and not sent it in the first place!
Do less planning, some planning may be essential, but don’t take it beyond useful. Nobody knows what is going to happen in the future and while some careful preparation may be wise, too much planning can be a total waste of time, and can even mean you lose out on opportunities along the way because you weren’t even aware of them as they were not in your ‘plan’! By all means, have some long term goals and short term plans, but be flexible about it too; be open to other opportunities and go with the flow.
4. The Digital World – Take a technology break!
With all the modern digital devices we can feel like we are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The digital age has many positive aspects, we can be online constantly, communicating, searching information and working, but our bodies are not designed for constant external stimulation, we also need rest. Take a technology break; try setting a time by each day to turn off the PC, TV, tablet and mobile!
Many devices now come with an automatic ‘Do not Disturb’ setting that turns off all those distracting notifications, messages and calls (don’t worry most of them will let you exclude certain contacts so you will still receive the calls from the people closest to you): get it set up today and give yourself a break from the constant demands from the digital world, you will be amazed how much time you can free up by not needing to respond immediately to the latest celebrity gossip or news bulletin!
So to sum up, you have the power to make the necessary positive choices and to set the example for others; slow down, stay healthy and make time for yourself!
“Practice not-doing and everything will fall into place.”
~ Lao Tzu