For many of us, life gets busy. Really exhaustingly, ‘don’t speak to me right now, in fact, don’t even look at me’ kind of busy. Our overstimulation gauges are pinging on maximum and our internal dialogues are full of swear words every other imagined conversation. We can start to feel resentful and angry, and damn it, wondering how long we have to wait until we can climb out of the spinning wheel, pack our bags, escape and go on holiday.
I hope this is not your regular day-to-day existence. For some it is. Whilst others have learnt that this is no way to continue long term. Thankfully, in recent years, mental health and self-care awareness have been areas of health and lifestyle that have been given more air-time and focus, and this over-busy, over-complicated crisis is being talked about, addressed, and taken more seriously. The idea of having more balance and self-care in our lives no longer sounds like a laughable, over-indulgent, hippie notion.
Increasingly, science backs up what we’ve known for a long time, that we need regular rest and stillness in order to function at our best. Most of us know and trust this fact. But due to our jobs, commitments and structures of our lives, we feel powerless to make changes or try to adapt the content of our daily activities to be more in-line with our mental and physical needs. For starters, making change requires space to think, psychological effort and a sprinkle of adamant self-worth/belief. If we don’t have this, it’s a catch 22 situation. Thus, perpetuating the cycle.
I love this quote from Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong. It reminds me where to start. When we’re feeling overwhelmed, often we can wonder what our next step should be. It’s all very well uttering the mantra, ‘one step at a time’ to ourselves – one of my personal favourites, but what if we don’t know what the next step should be? When feeling overwhelmed, we should make a beeline for our ‘safe space.’ A quiet, calming space that does the opposite to overstimulating our nervous systems.
A friend of mine doesn’t have much space in her home for herself, but she does have her bed. She has purposely turned her small bedroom into an uncluttered, peaceful zen-zone. Okay, sometimes, it backfires and she has to fight her way through a mound of laundry she hasn’t had a chance to put away yet. But most of the time, she knows that her peaceful place is waiting for her, with calming, neutral colours, plants, soft lighting, aromatherapy diffuser and clean, soft sheets. She writes too, only words most of the time, in her bedside journal. Or maybe she just sits and breathes in her space. She tells me that this is her place for working out how her day has gone and putting things into perspective. It helps her, she says, to reconnect with herself, to say ‘hi’ to herself when she’s been ignoring her own needs all day. For anyone with anxiety related mental health issues, this is very healthy practice.
Friday evening, I retreated to my own safe space, sitting and breathing in a bit of me time after a challenging few days when I was having to juggle and process many different emotional tug-of-wars. My need for quiet, kind, private, safe spaces & support is not an opt-out. It really does help me to stay on track and keep perspective. This is what helps me to forge forward with integrity and wellness, and even a sprinkle of humour. I can focus on the good things in my life and balance out building mental chatter with my ‘what went well’ today searchlight. There’s always something, no matter how small, to remind us that our lives aren’t complete mess ups!
In a society in which so much value is placed on being busy, feeling productive and analysing our professional and personal ‘performance,’ it can be hard to stop, let it all go and allow ourselves to be still for a moment; not doing anything. In fact, we don’t even need to always be thinking either. Freedom from thinking about what should be done, or what we’ve just done is also essential. But, I admit, it takes practice to allow our thoughts to come and go without feeling that we need to action something, write a list, or get up and move. Yet, constant physical or mental ‘movement’ is draining. Layering on guilt when we do manage stillness is common. ‘What gives me the right to rest… to put my own needs first?’
Plus, we often believe that there is little or no time to allow ourselves the ‘luxury’ of simply sitting with no objective to achieve, no goal to aim for, no one who needs us in that moment. When we do rest, we revert to our patterns, switching on the TV, catching up with friends, scrolling through our social media pages. But this is not rest for our mind. It is not real ‘rest.’ When do we just sit? And if we do, do anxious thoughts bombard us? Is that why we’ve trained ourselves to stay busy - to avoid uncomfortable, unsolicited thoughts? Or are we too tired to be totally still and calm, breathing and not much more.
Last Friday evening’s time in my safe space felt so good. My body and mind existed with no expectation of how it should feel or be, what was or what is to come. Just acceptance of me in the moment. It’s was a time when I acknowledged the thoughts that entered my mind, but didn’t hold on to them, likewise with thoughts about the future. I had a few ‘in the here and now’ thoughts acknowledging how I was feeling physically, but not much more. My mental babble and chatter quietened and faded away. Although, breathing deeply and regularly, I wasn’t focused on my breathing. I just was.
Self-care and space has been a practice of mine on and off for years. I am an avid advocate of this notion. In my book, I dedicate a whole chapter called 'Self-care or self combust' to exploring this concept in some depth. Subsequently, I have consciously curated my life and my husband’s life to make room for, and prioritise robust, healthy mental health practices. Sometimes, when he and I do this together, we totally rock it, sometimes it’s harder. But not a week goes by without us taking a walk and talk together, or just sitting and ‘holding the space’ for ourselves and each other. Although it is important to talk to each other, we don’t need to fill every moment with words and conversation.
Friday’s 20 minutes of stillness was care that my body and mind needed. Yes, there was plenty of other stuff that needed doing and needed my attention, but I didn’t do it. I put my health first. I rescheduled! When I returned to my list, I did so with a tiny bit more energy and a more galvanised outlook. Our ‘stuff’ does get done, but sometimes, we just have to be the priority.