Sometimes although it may seem easier in the moment to say ‘yes’ to people, it is actually kinder and healthier to say ‘no’ – know your boundaries and don’t feel bad for looking after yourself, for it will help others in the longer term too, even if that involves temporary disappointment.
It’s 12th November 2019 as I write this. We’ve already heard it so many times now: “I can’t believe it’s November already!”. People tend to say things like this a lot, commenting on ‘how fast’ the year has flown in. It’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose, but we’re undeniably bedded in now in the latter part of the calendar year, and before we know it people will be saying “I can’t believe it’s 2020!”.
This means that ‘before we know it’ we’ll be in the midst of the Christmas, festive, holiday, New Year (and other, depending on what this time of year means to you) season.
It’s a good ‘survival’ tip to plan ahead a bit so that things don’t unexpectedly creep up on you and you find that anxiety is knocking on the door of your heart.
Let me break this down a little, just to give us all a bit of perspective, and help us to visually see what and where we might gain from a little bit of forward planning. Keeping it simple, here is a visual representation of the next few weeks ahead:
Tues: 12th November (today), 19th, 26th
Wed: 13th Nov, 20th, 27th
Thur: 14th Nov, 21st, 28th
Fri: 15th Nov, 22nd, 29th
Sat: 16th Nov, 23rd, 30th.
Sun: 17th Nov, 24th
Mon: 18th Nov, 25th
Sun: 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th
Mon: 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd, 30th
Tue: 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th, 31st
Wed: 4th, 11th, 18th, 25th
Thur: 5th, 12th, 19th, 26th
Fri: 6th, 13th, 20th , 27th
Sat: 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th
Maybe you float through your days, and planning isn’t much of a priority, but personally as someone who has anxiety (and who also incidentally can be a bit forgetful), planning is pretty essential for me, and I like to break things down into smaller more manageable ‘chunks’. Together with the fact that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I like to make the most of the time I have and to do things well, and encourage other people, so that’s another reason I need a bit of an idea of what’s ahead of me, and what I need and want to do, as well as how this fits in with the needs and expectations of others, and my general obligations.
I’m not sure what the next few weeks ahead look like for you, but here are some of the things that I personally will need to factor in and begin thinking about and preparing for:
- Finish up work projects (I’m usually ahead of schedule as I am just now, so I can relax with this one, considering nothing new or major lands on my plate) and tie up any loose ends before the office closes for Christmas.
- Complete my personal work review which is just something I do for myself and is not a requirement, as it helps me to see just how much I have been involved with, what I have learned, and how to go forwards. Sometimes we fail to realise or appreciate just how much we have accomplished in a year, and it’s good to review that at the end of the year.
- Support colleagues / team with anything we collaboratively need to accomplish / tie up.
- Take annual leave that I have remaining from mid-December.
- End of November, early Christmas work lunch out with colleagues.
- Mini reunion with friends visiting from another part of the country, but just for the day.
- Christmas dinner out (mid December) with a couple of close friends.
- Catch-ups, exchanging gifts and doing some fun Christmassy things with various friends before we head our separate ways for the holidays.
- Plan and carry out some acts of kindness to help those less fortunate, and encourage others with ways we can all help.
Personal Devotions, Church and Fellowship:
- Only six more Sundays before Christmas, so it would be nice to spend some time in advance really preparing myself spiritually, thanking God and reflecting upon the year gone by, and prayerfully looking at what is ahead. The Centre of Christmas and of Life for me Is Christ, so it is important that He Is my Focus throughout this whole season, filled as it is with distractions aplenty.
- Connect with friends, encourage others who are struggling this season, and participate in the many beautiful events celebrating Christ, as He leads me.
Prepare for Birthdays, Christmas Presents, gifts for God-children, friends’ kids, and prepare / recycle things to create Environmentally Friendly Packaging:
Pack and plan for a short holiday to see Christmas markets in Europe – finances, clothes, etc. all to be prepared.
Hospitality and Home:
- Decorate, have people over for festive fun.
Pack and prepare for visiting family.
Reach out to support friends who are grieving or struggling this year.
Other bits and bobs: plan some crafts, use up coupons before their expiry dates, send things in the post on time, and create a photo book of memories for 2019.
We all need that reminder, don’t we? Most people have some kind of struggle, even if only a minor one, in their relationship with food, and obviously what we put into our bodies affects our health, wellbeing, state of mind, energy, mood and so forth on so many different levels.
It’s important to fuel our bodies well for the winter, to remember to eat, but also to be aware of the temptations towards over indulging, comfort eating, or eating too much unhealthy foods. By all means enjoy what you eat, but keep things in balance. Don’t neglect to eat enough, for you’ll need the energy, but also don’t over eat, and try to eat healthily and do all things in moderation.
I know for many people this seems too ‘glib’ and it’s not easy because of your deeper struggles. But remember you are important and worth taking care of, which includes in how you treat your body and in what you eat, so stay well, warm, healthy and happy. x
What does ‘balance’ mean to you?
What does finding balance in life mean to you? And what imagery comes to mind? Do you picture a gymnast on a balance beam, scales of justice, or perhaps a busy working mum ‘juggling’ an armful of responsibilities? Do you imagine a calm, serene and peaceful individual with a balanced life? Do you think of pH levels, of acid and alkaline levels? Do you picture the natural physical balance often found in the animal kingdom, such as a flamingo standing on one leg? 🙂
What does finding balance mean to you?
A sliding scale.
Balance in life, if you’ll pardon the pun, might be seen as a sliding scale. Our ideas about living a balanced life can vary over time, they can fluctuate and move from one thing to the next and then back again. They can vary according to circumstances, insight from the people we meet, and from life experiences, for example.
Pleasing everyone or staying sane?
From observation, of myself and of others, I find that as social beings (and that applies to all of us as human beings, no matter how introverted, isolated or reclusive we think we are), balance in life is often a dance between managing the needs and expectations of others and our own.
We need to maintain our own inner equilibrium if we are to live life well and be the best we can in our relationships and in managing our commitments. And we need to be involved in a world full of connections and communication with other people for our own wellbeing, growth and happiness.
We all have a variety of mutual needs – for community, communication and contact that co-exist with more seemingly ‘individual’ needs of solitude, quiet, rest, repose, refreshment, healing and maintaining our own commitments and responsibilities.
An important part of maintaining a balanced, healthy and productive life involves growing in insight of what our needs are and how they interplay with the needs of others, especially those most close to us in our lives.
We need to also understand that maintaining this fine equilibrium may also sometimes mean saying ‘no’, taking a step back, and refocusing our time, energy and efforts, so that we can be replenished, we can keep up with our responsibilities and be our best selves for the people we love as well. If we aren’t sometimes ‘brave’ enough to say no from time to time then we may end up feeling stressed, becoming ‘frazzled’, burn out, and withdrawing from the people who mean so much to us because we just can’t cope.
We all need balance, and we all need to help each other find it, as well as to grow in understanding of ourselves and each other in our varied and unique ways of finding and maintaining such balance.
A fine art.
Perhaps the art of living a balanced life is comparable to learning to ride a bicycle, learning to dance, to walk a tight rope or on a balance beam, or to becoming a person who is wise and discerning and capable of making just and noble decisions.
The common thread among these is that balance may be in a sense intuitive, but it is not complete at the outset – it takes time, practice, effort, perseverance, diligence, insight, and often help from other people.
So if you are feeling a bit ‘frazzled’ in life, maybe you feel run down, burnt out, over committed, with too much to do and too many people to please, not enough time, energy, ‘sanity’, or peace of mind, then perhaps it is time to take a step back, time to breathe, to think and figure out a healthier way forwards.
It is worth recognising that finding balance is a part of life, and it can be difficult and we may fall down a few too many times. We may feel like a toddler who is learning to walk, with legs like jelly, unstable in our ways. Yet, with practice, we will get stronger, more adept and before long we will be off and on our way, and able to walk, run and play, including with other people. We might be scarred from too many falls off our metaphorical bikes but we don’t allow those things to keep us from getting back up again, watching and learning from others, until it becomes ‘second nature’ to us and we look for new challenges and learning opportunities.
I do think finding balance is a fine art. One which isn’t always easy to communicate. But just as we can learn to dance, to ride a bike, to grow in wisdom, to walk a tightrope, to reach out to someone else as we are doing so, so too can we learn to hone our skills at finding balance in life.
It’s important to grow in being able to communicate this with others, because just as we are working through things to find balance in our lives, so too are they. We need each other, and we’re in it together, and although we may be making a lot of mistakes, with practice, patience and love we can create a ‘dance’ that is full of beauty, love, and passion.
Stumbling is a part of learning. And finding balance is a part of that process.
Quick tip: When absorbed in the creative process, don’t forget to save and back up your work – many a tearful moment will be spared if you do this. Don’t worry, I have been saving and backing up my work, but it’s always good to keep reminding ourselves of this as we go along.
As to a progress update, it is 11.35am on day 1 of this (at home) writing retreat. I have managed to complete my second stretch of writing time. My minimum is 15 minutes at a time (within an hour), and even if I write for more than this time I will still consider it as one segment of writing time. So for the second stretch, I managed to write for 30 minutes, and create some prose 446 words in length.
As I said before, it’s not about word count, but consistency and using the time productively and being able to keep myself on track and accountable with my set aside writing time. So for interest, last night and this morning has me at 1,962 words, and an overall (10 + year) total of roughly 84, 000 words. This is because I have only been able to write sporadically over the years for short periods of time due to working full time and managing other commitments. So hopefully this set aside time will help me to progress with my novel, yet that being said, the progress of the characterisation and plot is directly linked to my own inner and outward psychological, emotional and healing journeys that are under the Sovereignty of God, so in a sense things are right on schedule! It all depends on how we look at things I suppose.
To give myself an idea of what I should be aiming to accomplish during this three day period is quality of work, but in terms of something tangible and measurable, if I say roughly 500 words give or take for each 15 minute stretch, 7 times a day for 3 days would have me aiming towards 3,500 words per day, and 10,500 words over the total writing retreat. Perhaps this seems a little ambitious, but breaking it down into shorter more manageable ‘bursts of creativity’ and focus does help me see that it is in fact achievable, and also provides time to think, and really engage with the creative process.
So, am I on track for day 1 so far? I should be aiming towards writing at least another 1,538 words by the end of today, which does seem manageable.
However, remember writers, as contradictory as it may at first appear, sitting down and writing for a long time can actually be quite tiring, especially if like me you have to manage health conditions such as anxiety, fatigue and low mood. Which means, a writing or any creative retreat should also be a time of ‘self care’, rest and reprocessing. Having creative time doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t at times find it challenging. The idealistic view is that you will feel rested, rejuvenated, relaxed, productive, in your creative ‘zone’ and overall it will be an amazing experience. It can be, but we need to manage our expectations and look after ourselves throughout the process. Creative writing, especially when it involves expressing a deep part of ourselves, can be challenging emotionally and mentally, as well as enriching and satisfying.
Yet no matter how enriching the creative process is, it is worth bearing in mind that sitting at a desk or at a computer for hours at a time without a break isn’t good for anyone. So remember to stay hydrated, nourished, and take exercise and breaks so that you can enjoy your writing and creative time and not feel exhausted by it.
As I’m reasonably ‘on track’ today, I think it is definitely time for a break – and please do give yourself permission to take breaks (but not to procrastinate or become distracted!), as this will refresh you and help you to produce a richer quality of work when you do sit down to write / create. Perhaps I shall return in a couple of hours, or maybe even later this afternoon. In the meantime, some self and home care is called for which includes exercise, a little bit of tidying up, maybe a walk in the park, some lunch, and some lighter creative activities, and a YouTube video or two and reading some of your lovely blogs for inspiration.
Keep well on your creative journeys, as you find your own balance of inspiration and productivity.
I want you to feel, no matter who you are or where you are in life, that in visiting my blog, you will find encouragement and hope.
It is the final day of Mental Health Awareness Week today in the UK…but let’s keep the discussion going.
Today, I want to encourage you by talking about living life in an increasingly digital world. As human beings, we are created for connection. We all need healthy relationships and connections, but as each and everyone of us know and have experienced to varying degrees, we live in a broken world and a fractured society, where the very relationships that are supposed to bring health and wellbeing and add something wholesome to our lives can actually be destructive, hurtful and a cause of great emotional, mental and even physical distress.
We live in an increasingly ‘connected’ world. People are constantly ‘engaged’ with some form of communication: look around you and you’re bound to see someone, even if that someone is yourself alone in a room, ‘plugged in’ to a laptop, a phone, a device of some sort, and chances are you’re not simply engaged in researching a topic. People are constantly looking for connection, validation, to be ‘liked’, for our lives to be considered worthwhile, important, ‘enough’.
And yet, the sad thing is, family members, friends, colleagues, strangers can be sitting side by side, seemingly ‘communicating’ with somebody online, and yet ignoring the real life human interaction available to them, while scrolling through pictures of other people’s filtered lives and feeling none the better for it.
I think it was Gretchen Rubin, author of ‘The Happiness Project’ who said that technology is a good servant, but a bad master. How true! It is great to be able to communicate with friends and loved ones across the world, in other towns, and to learn new things, to grow and develop and be encouraged, and build helpful connections in our shared humanity, and link in with people of similar mindsets and interests. But our engagement with technology has its place.
I am seeking to be more aware of how I use technology in line with my core values, and one thing I feel strongly about is that I want to use my experiences to help other people.
Friend, do you not notice a disconnect in your life, when you are overly ‘connected’ online? Are you aware of what impact the constant stream of auditory and visual information is having on you and your mental health?
In any healthy relationship, boundaries are gradually established for the good of both parties. Let’s think through the boundaries we are setting with ourselves in our relationship with technology and the online world.
- Know Yourself
A good place to start is to do some soul searching, away from the computer or internet, and get in touch with what is important to you in your life, your core values, your sense of purpose, and what connection means to you.
Personally, as a Christian, before coming to know the Lord Jesus, I often felt utterly alone in the world. I’m of the ‘Millenial’ generation, and probably in the last age group to remember growing up without technology. Some kids in secondary / high school had phones, but all the phones were capable of was phone calls and texts, and it was only a few people who had them. As a teenager, I wanted to question and swim against the tide of society – I never wanted to go out and get drunk or mindlessly do things many peers wanted to do – I wanted to find God, to be spiritual, to be kind to nature, to become a writer, to travel, to find my purpose on a deep level and to put something valuable into the world, to make a change, to advocate for human rights, and animal rights….possibly as many teenagers in one way or another still do. But I was resistant to technology, and how it seemed to be ‘creeping up’ on society, yes, it was good to use the internet on my parent’s home desktop PC, but I refused to get a mobile phone until I literally was compelled to by my mother when I was aged 20, and even then I got an old school basic model that probably now belongs in a museum, and all it was capable of doing was calls and texts….it was really more for my mother’s peace of mind than something I desired. I floated my way walking in parks and near rivers near my beautiful university, studying English Literature, Politics, Gender Studies, Human Rights, International Development, and longing, dreaming of being a writer, and pouring out my heart and thoughts through the written world – ‘old school’ style using actual pen and paper 🙂
Yet despite my daydreaming, my heart was broken, and I was a fragile, fractured little bird who had been tossed by tempest and not comforted. My inner pain was great and unseen to the world, and before knowing The Lord Jesus I felt deeply alone inside despite having people around me. I do think however we were more ‘connected’ growing up without obsessing with our phones and having them only as a means of communication to let people know where we were or for emergencies. Since becoming a Christian, I have despite painful years of healing and various challenges, and sometimes spells of loneliness, never actually been Alone, and never felt alone in the same way as I once did. I believe the deepest need of the human soul is love and connection – with the One Who Created us. Yet, I digress, this is not a sermon, and is not just for believers, it is a post for everyone.
What I want you to be aware of is *why* you are seeking connection from technology, and that you need to establish boundaries with it. There was a time when I realised I needed to set boundaries for the sake of my mental and emotional wellbeing because I was encountering several posts from friends about their relationships, marriages and babies, or even travel and other significant life events….and it was getting me down….feelings that were there already were exacerbated by the ‘comparison trap’ …. I have no doubt that you also face this in your online experience even if the things you are drawn to compare with are different from those I mentioned….maybe they include body image, health, fitness, life goals and such like.
So get to know yourself, your values, how your use of technology either lines up with them or not, and what your personal mental health struggles might be. Set some boundaries so that you already have in mind how using technology will be a positive and healthy experience to you and don’t like we all too often do, just get drawn into the next click or ‘conversation’ / debate.
2. Strike a Balance
While there can be many benefits to our mental health in using technology – for there is a whole world out there where we can find support, information, shared experiences, helpful resources, friendships, inspiration, new opportunities, passions and projects – there can also be many ways in which engaging with technology can cause us mental and emotional distress and can cause us to disengage with real life and human connections, and even find ourselves in a disconnect with ourselves.
Try to use technology purposefully and know what your purpose is before you ‘power up’ as it were. That will give you a sense of satisfaction and you will have more control over the effects on your mental health if you do. Know when it is time to switch off, and to connect in the analogue world. Find out how it feels to walk in the rain, or barefoot through the grass…without feeling the need to document it or share it with anyone else, unless perhaps the someone else is someone you are connecting with in that moment and shared experience. Walk outside and experience the fresh and vibrant colours and life and sounds around you – have a time and space for capturing that whether on film or photo, but then also make time to leave those things at home, or in your pocket, and simply LIVE IT. It will be so good for your soul, your mental health and your emotional wellbeing and sense of connection with your own life. Too often we feel rushed and hurried and bombarded with information, that we can be left feeling lonely, isolated and as if we are watching our lives go by rather than living them, when we face this disconnect. Real life relationships are where real connection is found, even if that relationship is a solitary one with yourself thinking, reading, or reaching out to God in prayer. Relationships take time, work, attention and commitment, so put the phone down and realise that what is before you is so precious, and not everyone needs to know every detail of what is sacred to you. Don’t let your real life relationships and your mental health crumble because of being overly ‘connected’ or merely plugged in to the online world. Savour what it is to be human, to be present in the moment and to be with the people you love, or build upon the relationships you find challenging without the help of a screen to do so all the time.
3. When you are online, seek out the positive
Your mental wellbeing *can* benefit from your online connections. Hopefully someone somewhere might have benefitted from reading this post. I do hope so. I see other people like me who have gone through various challenges to their mental wellbeing, who use their online presence to reach out to and connect with other people, and who use their experiences and what they have learned to help others who might be facing similar challenges in life. You have a wealth of experience at your fingertips, and in your heart. Seek to benefit from positive role models, and add something positive to help someone else too. Being purposeful and thoughtful in our use of technology is sure to help our mental health as well as setting boundaries and knowing when to take a break.