The last 18 months have been challenging for even the strongest of people and it hasn’t just been the threat of the virus causing people’s stress levels to soar. First, there were the ever-changing rules, which also brought a whole set of new vocabulary for us to get our heads around with words like furlough, social-distancing and track-and-trace. Then, if we were among the lucky ones to keep our jobs, we found ourselves banished to the confines of our own homes having to adapt to a new regime of working remotely. Now with things slowly returning to normal, having to go back into the office with all of this going on means we are being put to the test yet again, so what can we do to make this journey easier?
I think having a routine is by far one of the best ways to care for yourself. How you start and finish your day will make all the bits in the middle plain sailing. Now, I know we haven’t all got the time to get up and do an hour of yoga, meditate for 20 minutes before making that super healthy nutrient-rich green smoothie and then cycle to work, but we can all take a few minutes for ourselves. If you can incorporate a morning and evening routine, these will act like your anchors and make you feel grounded throughout the day.
Casting off with a Smile
On opening your eyes, make a conscious effort to smile, hold it for 20 seconds and as you do, think of something you are grateful for. It’s difficult to be unhappy when you’re smiling and what a great way to start your day! Just try it for the next week and see how you feel. You don’t just have to limit this to when you wake up; why not try doing it every hour! Someone may smile back even if they do think you are bonkers, as a smile is infectious! Take your time getting out of bed and take a moment to stretch. I have given some suggestions below. If you ever watch a cat or dog get up after a nap, this is the first thing they do, yet we seem to think we can just spring into action after eight hours or so in bed. I think we can learn a lot from our furry friends! Before you leave your bedroom, make your bed; it will look more appealing when you come to the end of your day.
When it comes to setting down that anchor at the end of the day, sleep hygiene seems to be the hot topic at the moment, so, what does it mean? It’s certainly not just about clean sheets, although who doesn’t love fresh linen! The environment is important, and your bedroom should be clean and clutter-free to foster relaxation. It’s difficult to be relaxed when everything around you is a mess. But it’s also about creating a routine and aiming to go to bed at roughly the same time every night, however tempting it may be to watch just one more episode of that binge-worthy series you’ve been indulging in. In fact, it’s recommended that you stop the screen time for an hour before bed, particularly with smartphones or tablets, as the blue light stimulates your mind and actually inhibits the production of melatonin, which plays an important role in your sleep. If you’re fortunate enough to have a bath, you can try a nice soak with some Epsom salts and perhaps some calming essential oils to help you relax. Put your phone in ‘do not disturb’ mode, dim the lights, try listening to some soft music, reading a book, perhaps some gentle calming stretches, meditating or some deep breathing and allow your mind to unwind ready for a sound night’s sleep.
Although in the winter, it might be tempting to crank up the heating and pile on the covers, a cooler room promotes better sleep, around 18-20 degrees. As you go to bed, no matter how difficult your day has been, try to think of three things that you are grateful for that day. When you first begin doing this, you can start with general things, but the more specific you make it, the bigger the impact on your well-being. You will be amazed at how quickly this will change your outlook on the world, hardwiring you to see the positive. If you have got stuff on your mind, be sure to write this down before snuggling under the covers as this will help clear your mind. If you do find yourself tossing and turning, get up and try doing something, such as reading in another room for a while, so your bed becomes associated with sleep.
What you do during the day can also play a role, so whether you are working in school, from home or the office, try to get outside for a few minutes each day. Exposure to daylight really helps, as it is one of the key drivers of our circadian rhythms, which can assist in a quality night’s sleep. If it’s sunny, you will also boost your vitamin D at the same time. Walking for 20 minutes a day will not only help you sleep later but also contributes to your overall well-being.
If you sit at a desk, make sure you take 5 minutes every hour to get up, move and stretch. I have made some suggestions below.
Increase your water intake; 2 litres a day is recommended and if you do fancy a glass of wine with your evening meal, try to avoid alcohol late at night and not to eat a large meal before bed. If possible, leave 4 hours between eating and turning in for the night. Also, if you can avoid caffeine after midday, this will help.
Implement small changes rather than trying to do everything in one go, as it will be easier to achieve, and with everything going on in the world around us, right now, why put more pressure on yourself! It’s now more important than ever to be kind to yourself!
A Wave of Calm
If there is one thing that will improve your overall well-being ten-fold, it is meditation. Now, this doesn’t have to be sitting cross-legged in the lotus position chanting Om, but just taking some time out to sit quietly and observe your thoughts will do wonders for your health. In the beginning, you might find your head is really busy and your thoughts are quite chaotic, but the more you practise, the easier it will become, eventually your thoughts will quieten down and your mind will become calmer. Why not try for just 5 minutes during your morning and evening routine, making this time you set aside for yourself like the anchors of your day, helping you to ground and be mindful. Over time you can build up your practice and if you struggle, there are many apps out there, and also hundreds of guided meditations/visualisations on YouTube. I have given a very simple mindfulness exercise below. Have fun getting to know your mind and hopefully, it will become your best friend!