Let’s just take things nice and slowly, shall we?

As restric­tions lift and a sense of nor­mal­ity re­turns, LAUREN TAY­LOR re­flects on the el­e­ments of life in lock­down we might want to hold on to

Burton Mail - - Health & Lifestyle -

LIFE is slowly re­turn­ing to a ‘new nor­mal’ af­ter months at a stand­still, and while the pan­demic and its im­pact on our lives and men­tal well­be­ing has been hard and, for many, dev­as­tat­ing in ways, you might have found the en­forced slow­ing down has been ben­e­fi­cial too.

“This is a great op­por­tu­nity to stop and think whether the world we left be­hind when the pan­demic had started is worth go­ing back to, or whether we can cre­ate a bet­ter one,” says Na­talia Stan­ulewicz, a psy­chol­ogy lec­turer at De Mont­fort Univer­sity.

So if your ‘old life’ was par­tic­u­larly hec­tic, leav­ing lit­tle time for your­self, per­haps there’s never been a bet­ter time to re­dress the bal­ance.

A HEC­TIC LIFE COMES WITH COSTS

BE­FORE the coro­n­avirus cri­sis, the world seemed to run with a com­mon­place sense of ur­gency and for many, that fil­tered into their ev­ery­day lives. It might have been com­pletely ‘nor­mal’ for you to be con­stantly rush­ing, while feel­ing fraz­zled, sleep de­prived and stressed.

But are our minds and bod­ies re­ally de­signed to keep up that sort of pace? “Op­er­at­ing at a fast pace is largely meant to be a short-term ac­tiv­ity,” says Richard Reid, a psy­chol­o­gist and founder of Pin­na­cle Ther­apy (pin­na­clether­apy.co.uk).

“Our brains are not fully equipped to deal with it. In terms of our evo­lu­tion, the hu­man brain was largely de­vel­oped dur­ing a time when life was more sim­ple.”

Na­talia says the costs of the ur­gency of mod­ern life on our health and well­be­ing are of­ten over­looked, be­cause “pro­duc­tiv­ity and ef­fec­tive­ness in mod­ern times – at work or home – are per­ceived as the ul­ti­mate goals to strive for”.

And there are long-term con­se­quences. She says it can re­sult in “de­creased well­be­ing and re­la­tions with oth­ers, re­duced work pro­duc­tiv­ity, and lead to higher lev­els of work ab­sen­teeism.

Stress is a well-known pre­dic­tor of coro­nary dis­ease, var­i­ous forms of can­cer, obe­sity, anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion.”

Richard says: “If we op­er­ate at this pace too much of the time, we be­come in­creas­ingly task-ori­en­tated, mean­ing that we no longer de­rive the same plea­sure from re­la­tion­ships and smaller ex­pe­ri­ences. Over time, this can ad­versely af­fect our re­silience and our en­joy­ment of life.”

MEN­TALLY SLOW­ING DOWN

YOU may have found that the last few months have given you time to think and re­flect on what’s re­ally im­por­tant.

“When we slow down, we are more likely to gain value from the smaller things in our ev­ery­day ex­is­tence, as well as to tune into our sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence of the world,” says Richard. “In par­tic­u­lar, tap­ping into our ‘gut feel­ing’ about sit­u­a­tions more, which al­lows us to more pro-ac­tively man­age our gen­eral well­be­ing, as well as in­tu­ition about peo­ple and sit­u­a­tions.”

He adds that there’s a great deal of re­search show­ing that be­ing more in the mo­ment pro­motes greater cre­ativ­ity, fo­cus and emo­tional in­tel­li­gence about the needs of oth­ers and the im­pact that we may have on them.

PHYS­I­CALLY SLOW­ING DOWN

LOCK­DOWN has forced us to phys­i­cally slow down too; for many there’s been more rest­ing, sleep­ing and walk­ing than usual. So does phys­i­cally mov­ing slower ben­e­fit our well­be­ing too? Quite pos­si­bly.

Look­ing at the ef­fects of Tai Chi – a tra­di­tional Chi­nese mar­tial art, which uses slow and mind­ful mo­tion as a form of ex­er­cise – can be help­ful when con­sid­er­ing this ques­tion, says Na­talia: “Many stud­ies have doc­u­mented that en­gag­ing in Tai Chi in­deed in­creases well­be­ing, which some con­trib­ute to the el­e­ments of re­lax­ation and mind­ful­ness in­volved in it.”

THE POWER OF NA­TURE

IT’S likely you were forced to re-dis­cover your lo­cal area dur­ing lock­down too, with most of us un­able to travel fur­ther than walk­ing dis­tance from our front doors.

De­pend­ing on whether or not you live near green space, that might have meant daily walks to lo­cal na­ture spots – a park or the im­me­di­ate coun­try­side around you.

It’s pos­si­ble that you spent more time stomp­ing through grass and look­ing up at trees than you ever have be­fore – and there’s real ben­e­fit in that.

“There’s a grow­ing body of sci­en­tific re­search that tells us that be­ing in and around na­ture pro­motes greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the ‘here and now’, which in­ter­rupts the brain’s ten­dency to drift too much to­wards thoughts about the past or fu­ture – both of which can lead to psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues when done to ex­cess,” ex­plains Richard.

“There is also a be­lief that be­ing around na­ture al­lows the brain to in­ter­act within an en­vi­ron­ment that harks back to the evo­lu­tion­ary pe­riod when the hu­man brain was largely formed, al­low­ing us to op­er­ate within our op­ti­mum pa­ram­e­ters.”

TAK­ING CON­TROL BACK

SO how can we use the lessons of the last few months to re-bal­ance our lives?

Could you spend a bit less time so­cial­is­ing, or share more of the house­hold or child­care re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to cre­ate more time for your­self? Could you ne­go­ti­ate longer-term home­work­ing so you don’t lose time to com­mut­ing?

Re­set­ting bound­aries around your time is key – try tak­ing some con­trol back and say ‘no’ to some­thing if it doesn’t align with your new slower pace.

“Say­ing ‘no’ feels self­ish, right?” says life and busi­ness strate­gist Michael Cloo­nan (michael­cloo­nan. co.uk).”but when it comes to say­ing ‘no’, I can’t help but think of the aero­plane safety videos which say, ‘If you have chil­dren, please make sure you put the oxy­gen mask on your­self first be­fore them’.

“What use are we to any­body if we don’t take care of our­selves first? If you’re go­ing to show up for some­thing or some­one, you want to be 100%, right?”

The best ap­proach, he says, is to be truth­ful with your rea­son­ing when say­ing no to some­thing, and to try to of­fer an al­ter­na­tive, if you have to, that’s a bet­ter fit for you.

Granted, it isn’t nec­es­sar­ily easy to re-bal­ance your life if you have a lot of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

If fam­ily and work are full-on, Michael sug­gests: “Wake up 30-60 min­utes ear­lier, be­fore ev­ery­one else gets up, and cre­ate some well-de­served time and space to work on your health – both men­tally and phys­i­cally.”

It could be med­i­ta­tion, a walk in a park, read­ing a book or sim­ply hav­ing a slower morn­ing.

“It doesn’t mat­ter what you do, as long as it makes you happy and it’s some­thing that al­lows you to re­main calm and stress-free,” he says.

And you might just find start­ing the day slowly and calmly sets the pace for the rest of your day too.

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