10 tiny changes to brighten your day
I’m a big believer that small changes can have a big impact on your mood and well-being. But for someone who talks a lot about the importance of looking after yourself, it took me a long time to realise I had to look after myself too.
Some readers may remember I was a music columnist for The Irish Times for the better part of seven years. Now I’m an editor for a busy media company, which requires me to be on top of deadlines and in control if things go wrong.
I always thought my focused mindset and determination to share my experiences with readers meant that over-thinking was par for the course. (“I’m not over-analysing my bad day, I’m filtering for the reader!”) But to be fair, I have always been a worrier. (Who doesn’t panic if they don’t arrive at the airport exactly two hours – three for long-haul flights – before their flight takes off?)
My life went on this tiring, anxious way for the better part of 28 years, until I started treatment for a generalised anxiety disorder. When I finally began treatment, I found the process of getting better overwhelming. However, through baby steps, I learned that the sky wouldn’t come falling down if I put myself first every now and then. I began to look after myself by focusing on the little things.
Even for those of you who don’t suffer from anxiety and simply need a pick-me-up from time to time, here are some easy-to-follow, practical tips that I gathered together in my book 101 Tiny Changes to Brighten Your Day that will help to calm your mind and boost your self-esteem.
1 Buy some nice cosy clothes
That doesn’t have to mean cashmere joggers but maybe a pair of comfy H&M tracksuit bottoms. Make a conscious decision to be comfortable at home. Decide to make your leisurewear something you actually enjoy wearing, not an afterthought.
2 Find a YouTube channel that calls to you
I can’t get enough of Yoga with Adriene – free, chill, inclusive yoga classes with an instructor who stops every few minutes to make sure you’re doing what feels best for you.
3 Experience nature through your phone
Take a photo of a green space you love – it can be something from a holiday, or even a snap of supermarket flowers . There are loads of studies which show that even looking at photos of “restorative environments” has a positive impact on “mental fatigue”. Good reason to change your desktop to a chill nature pic.
4 Eat something
Eat whatever makes you feel good. Eat toast, eat McDonald’s, eat cereal. Now is not the time for mindful cooking or turmeric lattes – it’s the time for basic nourishment and whatever will keep you going.
5 Invest in a hot water bottle
When I’m low and sluggish, the idea of leaving my snugly bed is not inviting. But filling up a hot water is a valid reason to leave your bed and sit on the sofa for a bit.
6 No work emails at home
Remove your work email app from your phone.
7 Say ‘no’ rather than yes
If plans and commitments are overwhelming you, it’s okay to cancel or adjust them. If you’re someone whose default is to make no plans, then make a couple of small, low-risk plans – maybe to walk around your local park with a friend, or to read two chapters of your book in a new coffee shop.
8 Turn off notifications on your phone
The Future Work Centre calls push notifications a “toxic source of stress”. So push back against answering everything straightaway. If it’s urgent, they’ll call you.
9 Don’t wake your phone
Don’t look at your phone for at least 10 minutes after you wake up. Although I am pathetically tied to my phone, I refuse to let it set the agenda for my day. Instead, try to stretch and look at the sun coming through the curtains. Easing into the day in a more mindful way sets your mood to being less anxious, from the outset.
10 Block out a piece of time in your calendar for yourself
Take a critical look at your week, and figure out which day is your most stressful. Then keep aside one hour on that day to let yourself catch up. (It’s okay to reschedule. I used to take pride in the fact that I kept to a tight schedule. If I said we would meet at 10.15, I would be there at 10.11. But living like that is exhausting , and puts others’ needs ahead of your own.)
101 Tiny Changes to Brighten Your Day by Ailbhe Malone (£9.99/ ¤12.99, Icon Books) is available on Amazon, at Eason and bookshops