Most of us in society nowadays, live pretty ‘busy’ lives. Even when we are sedentary for hours at a time, we are still ‘wired up’, connected to our tech, and our minds are solving problems, figuring things out, and absorbing information. Busyness isn’t therefore simply in the form of rushing about, doing things, making appointments, getting to places by a certain time, meeting people, attending functions, and the endless list goes on and on. Busyness, nowadays also represents our state of mind.
The racing doesn’t stop, even when you do. Maybe you spend a significant amount of work time at a computer. By the time you get home, your mind most likely needs some time to process your thoughts, experiences and to assimilate these and make sense of the day. However, how many of us give ourselves the chance to do just that? I wonder if we overwork our minds by the amount of stimulus we allow into our experiences, in an unhealthy way similar to that of an overworked muscle that eventually loses some of its agility and function and ultimately its health?
I think because of the society we live in, we need to really be intentional about this aspect of our wellbeing. In years gone by, before instant photography, people used to have to develop their pictures from negatives, in a dark room….and it took time for the picture to form and appear. Now that we are so used to things being ‘at the touch of a button’, or at the sound of a voice, we have grown less patient, and have come to expect things to happen instantly. We no longer make much time to sit in stillness, and to replenish ourselves, to process and develop, and allow the pictures and the meanings to form; and this isn’t healthy, and I know I’m guilty of such bad habits too.
When we come home from work, what do we do? Do we really connect with ourselves and the people around us, or do we continue to absorb ourselves in an online world? Don’t get me wrong, as a blogger and a writer and a creative person, I think it is a wonderful outlet, but I also realise that there is a fine balance to be had between the digital and analogue worlds. How many of us, having been at the computer for several hours, continue to go online, or to sit in front of the TV, and take in more mental stimulus than our brains can handle? Is our relaxation, really relaxing? Do we actually give our minds a break?
I tend to feel it when things get out of balance for me. I need a lot of time on my own, and solitude, time to think and to be creative, but sometimes I do just get absorbed in the next drama or box set or article online, and I am almost compelled to keep watching, listening, reading. When what would be really good for me would actually be to sit in silence for a while, to observe nature, to read a book, to think, to process, to write and journal, and to create, draw, play my violin, pray, colour, paint, cook, experience. Yes, really experience. Our minds can’t be in a continuous state of rush, absorbing information, and never having a break or a chance to process these experiences and the multitude of data we feed ourselves with. Like ‘junk food’ we are drawn to the instant gratification of what is quick, easy, with a short term ‘feel good’ factor, but is in the long term detrimental to our health.
I find blogging a healthy way to engage with life online – it gives the chance to step away from the constant streams of information to actually begin to process my own thoughts and make sense of life as it happens to be. Yet, it is not enough. I know I for one need to be more intentional in stepping away from technology and spending real quiet time being present, being creative in an analogue way, and just allowing my mind the chance to slow down, take in one thing at a time, consider it, dwell upon it, and process.
The racing of our minds doesn’t stop just because we do, especially when we don’t give our minds the chance to be still, constantly bombarding ourselves with information until we are full, overloaded, and at the brink of malfunctioning. However, we can give ourselves the chance, to ‘hibernate’, sleep, reboot, restart. Surely if our computers need to, we do too!
It’s summer time, and while many people are going on adventures near and far, you may find that you aren’t in a position to get away somewhere for whatever reason. But sometimes what we really need is just some time out of the normal busy routine of working life to take a break and recharge. I haven’t had the chance to travel abroad this year so far, and although I love to travel, I also see time spent closer to home as valuable. I have the next week off work, and am enjoying the chance to ‘destress’, live at a slower pace, reconnect with God, and invest in those relationships that are important with people I no longer see as regularly as I once did. And this in itself is its own form of rejuvenation. I find that mid-year, and we’ve now passed the mid point of 2019, is a good time to stop and reflect on not only our achievements, or areas for improvement, but also how closely we are living to our priorities and what is most meaningful to us. Too often, we feel we need to ‘tick the biggest boxes’ whereas perhaps the slow and steady changes and investments of our time, energy, heart and mind are what matter most in the long run.
So if you do find yourself at home this summer, make the most of it. Maybe you have time off, or maybe you could take a day here or there to extend a weekend, and take some time to rest and reflect and envision where you want to go from here.
I have enjoyed the time to catch up on my sleep, to pray and spend time with God and in His Word, to see a close friend and meet her first baby for the first time, to simply sit in the sun, to exercise, to eat healthily, to play my violin and take photographs, to fellowship at church, and I hope in the next few days to visit family, and then some good friends so I guess those aren’t quite ‘vacations’ as such, but mini trips to visit loved ones. I know that all too soon I’ll be back at work, which is why it’s important to make the most of looking after myself and doing things that are meaningful in the interim, but without the stress and pressure that regular life lived ‘according to the clock’ often entails.
Another thing you could do if you can’t get away is to plan a ‘staycation’…maybe rent out a place for a change of scene for a day/night and have a mini retreat. Take time to listen to understand your thoughts and know that the time you have right here and now is precious. xx
Lunchtime is a helpful divider within the day. Being creative and freely exploring our creativity is often, as contradictory as it may seem, benefited by having boundaries. Even if you don’t have an ‘itinerary’ as such for your personal retreat to begin with, you can develop flexible plans as you move through your days.
As to lunch, food and sustenance in general during a personal retreat it helps to do a bit of preparation beforehand, or to cook something you can eat over two or three meals, have something you can easily make, or buy some sandwiches from a shop and to keep your fridge stocked with what you will need. It’s helpful to minimise the time spent having to run errands because we necessarily will be compelled to engage and interact with the world in a way that may interrupt what we hope to experience on our retreat.
Not only that, but if you’re like me, when you get absorbed in a creative project you can ‘forget’ to eat, or if there’s nothing readily available you might just ‘power through’ and your creative work might actually suffer because you are low on energy, tired, ‘hangry’ or lack concentration. So keep things ready so that you can grab a bite and continue with your project uninterrupted.
It is nice though, not to rush through lunch, but to use it as a time to rest, relax, maybe look at other sources for inspiration (I was listening to some music, and looking up retreat videos on YouTube – I didn’t quite find what I was looking for in terms of the retreat videos, but it was good just to move into a state of mind where I didn’t have to concentrate so much).
Now that I’ve eaten, relaxed a bit, I find myself beginning to ponder my next steps. Yesterday I met my ‘writing goal’ of 3,500 words, and slightly exceeded it. This morning I was intentional to not set any writing goals, and focus more on slowing down and engaging more fully with myself and the process. I had some prayer time, and some quiet reflection.
Having had personal retreats before, I am aware that the final day, which in this case is tomorrow, requires a slight shift in gears. If you are on retreat somewhere away from home, then you will have to pack, tidy up and make your journey back home on the last day. If, like me, you are having your retreat in your own home by yourself, then you may find that you have a bit (or a lot!) of tidying up to do, and preparing for the day ahead if you happen to be going back to work, or ‘re-joining the world’ in some other way.
I recommend valuing your purpose for your retreat and allowing yourself not to focus on tidying up unless you naturally keep everything neat and clean as you go along. It’s important to have a clean, neat retreat space, but if you’re like me you do have that, but you also have dishes piled up in the sink. Your focus is your time alone to reflect and work on your creative projects or self development, etc, and you will have to attend to the housework afterwards anyway, but don’t let it distract you or interrupt your creative flow, as quiet times can be hard to come by in our busy lives.
As to flexible planning, I’m aware that tomorrow I don’t want to use the whole day for tidying, so I want to set aside some time later today to do a bit of that. I also don’t want to do anything too ‘heavy’ in terms of writing, as what I am working on involves being engaged emotionally and mentally on a deep level. I like to keep the final stages of a personal retreat for something lighter, more care free, with times for prayer, thanksgiving, gratitude, reflecting on what I have learned and planning ways in which I can take forward some of these lessons into my day to day life where possible. As such, I have made a preliminary decision not to work on writing my novel tomorrow after morning time, so that I can ‘decompress’ and gently change gears.
Therefore, to avoid unfocused and unstructured time today, my plans are changing somewhat organically as day two progresses. I may not get time like this for a while, so I am reinstating my ‘goal setting’ with my novel writing this afternoon. This is what I love about a personal retreat in contrast with group activities which have their own unique positive aspects – when your time is your own you can work with the ebb and flow of your own creative processes, ongoing learning, and practical concerns, rather than having to adhere to a set timetable.
So to make the most of the remaining time, and to have a lighter more carefree day tomorrow, I am going to work creatively within some parameters this afternoon, being flexible once again with those plans.
It’s 2.50pm now, and the sun is shining, but I have chosen to stay inside and focus, and set aside novel writing time from 3pm to 6.30pm. In that time I can take my time, linger over words and ideas, look up sources for inspiration, take short breaks, but that time is a gift that doesn’t come often. Knowing that, I will savour it, and whether I write much or little that is fine either way.
At 7pm the coach will turn into a pumpkin! 🙂 Just kidding, by 7pm I will down tools with writing my novel for the rest of the retreat time, other than if I have anything I feel I want to do tomorrow morning, but that leaves me free the rest of the time to work on some less mentally and emotionally challenging projects and prepare for concluding the retreat time on a reflective and carefree note.
It’s easy enough to talk about physical fitness. Even if people have issues around their health, weight, diet, conditions or lifestyle, there is such an open platform to talk about bettering ourselves physically. There is no shortage of diet plans, exercise programmes and encouragement to keep fit, physically. For people who have never exercised, there are initiatives such as ‘Couch to 5k’, there is a lot of talk about nutrition, vegan diets, making sure you get your 5 portions of fruit and veg a day, keeping active and training physically to look and feel your best. So, even if one isn’t particularly fit, there are plenty of resources available to help them to make changes and talking about fitness is seen as a positive thing in most cases.
But what about mental fitness? We train our bodies, but do we train our minds? Do we make sure we get enough mental rest and exercise, and linked to physical health, do we supply ourselves with the correct nutrition, fresh air and exercise to help us to stay mentally well? Mental health is often viewed negatively, or as a ‘problem’, and even with things being more open nowadays, there are still societal taboos around talking about mental health. However, just as everyone has physical health that can be either good or poor, so too does everyone have mental health – which can be generally good, bad or variable.
Do you think of your mind in this way? Just as you would exercise your muscles to keep in good condition, do you also explore what are the best ways for you to exercise your mind, to stay mentally fit and healthy or to recover from ‘injury’?
Chances are that most of us know that we need to pay attention to our mental health, but aside from seeking professional help, we don’t really know how. Staying mentally fit and looking after your mental health does not only apply to people with conditions, such as myself, like depression, anxiety and C-PTSD. Even if you have no diagnosable mental health conditions, you still have a mind, and you need to keep it healthy. What the mind is, is a more nebulous topic for discussion, but the way we think affects almost every aspect of our lives, including our physical health.
Of course, seek professional help and support for mental health conditions or ‘mental illness’. But even if you consider yourself to be ‘fine’ mentally, you still need to stay in training on a daily basis. This doesn’t simply mean ‘brain training’ or doing things to improve your cognitive abilities, it also means giving your mind what it needs.
So what are some of the things your mind needs to stay healthy?
Rest – just as our physical bodies need rest, we also need to rest our minds in order to stay well and to help process the multitude of information that we encounter on a daily basis. As well as good sleep, nutrition, hydration and exercise, our minds also benefit when we take time just to be still, and if you like to ‘meditate’ and allow yourself to be quiet for a while, free from distraction, noise, busyness, technology and external input. You might like to meditate on a Truth, a verse from scripture, or simply try to rest and allow your thoughts to come and go and settle.
Journaling – our thoughts and emotions are intricately linked. Expressing ourselves through writing can be very helpful to externalise difficult emotions in a healthy and productive way, and can also help us to identify what we are thinking, how we ‘talk to ourselves’ in our minds, and to see whether we have any particular negative thought patterns that we need to address.
Talking – our minds process information received in a variety of ways, and this includes through narrative and through verbalising and sharing our thoughts with someone else. This is why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and other ‘talk therapies’ can be so beneficial for addressing thoughts, and the consequent feelings, emotions, beliefs and behaviours that result. Talking helps us to process our thoughts, put them in some sort of order, as well as receiving input from someone else who might be able to provide a healthy perspective or to offer constructive advice.
Close some ‘tabs’ – we live in an age of information, and just as technology can suffer from information overload, so too can our minds. We seem to have lost, as a society, the ability to ‘switch off’ and to concentrate on just one thing at a time, and apply all of our focus, energy and attention to that thing. Some of the most satisfying times spent whether at work, playing sport, or doing something creative, occur during ‘flow states’, when we are so absorbed in what we are doing, that time seems to pass effortlessly, we are fully engaged in what we are doing, are present and cease to worry as much about the past, or the future. If our minds are constantly having to flit from one ‘tab’ to the next, and if we have to filter and process several pieces of information at once, then we really aren’t allowing our minds the chance to get fit, strong and healthy. When you workout in the gym, you don’t hop from one machine to another and back again every few seconds. If you did, you probably wouldn’t stick at it very long, and wouldn’t be in great shape as you wouldn’t have allowed your muscles to train. Just as with physical training you require focus and planning, similarly with mental agility you need to exercise particular thought processes in order to form and strengthen healthy patterns of thinking, and behaviour. ‘Closing tabs’ doesn’t just mean on your computer, but also on your ‘to do’ lists, and minimising noise, distraction, and sensory input. Let your mind have the chance to rest and grow strong.
Be grateful – our mental agility will increase as we intentionally practice looking at situations in a healthy way, and learning to problem solve and identify opportunities rather than just problems or barriers. Gratitude helps us emotionally, physically and mentally to stay well.
Create and play – engage your mind positively through creativity, and allow yourself to participate in an activity rather than passively absorbing information. You could colour, draw, paint, do a puzzle, word-search or crossword, play chess, play an instrument, design something from scratch, write a story, make a puppet, invent something, and so the list of endless possibilities goes on. Exercise your mind to not only take in information but to assimilate information, create new ideas and to engage actively in what you are doing in the present.
Read a book – reading stimulates the imagination, engages our thinking, provides a single point of focus for our ideas rather than the multitude of articles, clips, videos, images and posts that pop up on social media to vie for our attention.
There will be many more things you can do daily to strengthen your mental health and wellbeing, and if you have any ideas to share and inspire others please do comment. We cannot neglect the need to keep our minds fit and healthy. For without healthy minds, what good will healthy bodies do? xx
I don’t know about you, but where I am it seems to be the season for cold and flu viruses doing their rounds. This year, it seems to be hitting people a bit harder than usual, including myself. There are few places at the moment where you won’t encounter someone with a sore throat, cough, cold or who is generally looking and feeling ‘under the weather’.
I am recovering (hence being able to sit up and write my blog) after being sick for over a week. I often find myself pondering, as my mind wanders, the analogies that exist between day to day happenings and life on a deeper level. So this time, friends, the life lessons come from the humble, common cold virus.
I had set myself a goal of having zero sick days this year. I also was quite adamant that I wouldn’t get sick when I realised that there was something in the air, as it were. However, those ‘promises’ were short lived when my body decided to grind to a halt against all my good intentions to stay well. I haven’t had a cold like this for quite a while, and certainly not one that caused me to be ill for over a week and unable to leave the house. Life has a funny way of teaching us. Here are some of the lessons that this cold taught me:
1. Sometimes life just happens, and we have to ‘roll with it’.
As I mentioned, I had no intentions of getting sick, and with my regular routines of exercise and quite healthy eating, I was doing alright to maintain a good level of health. But as we know now, I did get sick, and there really wasn’t much I could do to stop that from happening.
Sometimes life just happens, and we have to ‘roll with it’. Against all our plans, and despite our determination, sometimes life’s happenings get the better of us, and we find our self ‘on the bench’ or in the sick room, watching from the sidelines as everything continues without us .
Have you ever been there? Whether you have or haven’t, there’s no sure way to know whether or not you will be in the future. While we can’t necessarily prevent certain things happening, we may be able to lessen the likelihood of them happening. And where we can’t do that, we can build our daily resilience by building our character, working on our attitude and mindset, and taking care of what has been put in our care…being ‘good stewards’ of our giftings, belongings, responsibilities and relationships. And if you haven’t been doing that, and you do find that ‘the rug has been pulled out from under you’, you can still be intentional about how you think about and respond to the situation you find yourself in.
2. Busy isn’t always best…listen to your body and mind when they urge you to rest.
Now, when I did accept that I wasn’t going anywhere fast, I came up with a plan to get better as soon as possible and get back to work within a day or two. While some people are able to do that, my body had other ideas, and I was devoid of much energy and unable to move or to do the simplest things. Most of us live in societies and cultures where we are constantly compelled to be busy. We equate busy with useful even though being busy doesn’t necessarily mean being productive. When we stop walking by rivers, or cloud gazing or listening to the rustle of leaves in the park, in other words when we don’t ‘stop to smell the roses’, we allow ourselves to tune out of creation’s natural rhythms, and tune into the chaotic frequency of noise, bustle, busyness, and the frantic hurry of modern day life. If you have ever experienced ‘burnout’, times of stress, anxiety, panic attacks or other similar symptoms, you know that there is only so much your body, mind and heart can take before it simply takes a break, with or without your permission.
Believe me, busy isn’t always best…and I have a feeling that you know it yourself. Even when I was unwell, I wanted to clean, to tidy up the mess of the household work that I wasn’t able to do because I had no energy, and I just had to focus on getting better and obey my body which refused to do much at all other than rest, sleep, fight off the virus and ‘check out’ of ‘normal’ everyday life.
Don’t let it get to the point in life where you burnout, and where you are forced to grind to a halt. Take care of yourself daily. Yes, we all have to deal with life in a rapidly changing, moving world (well, at least most of us do), but that doesn’t mean that you have to add that extra thing to your ‘to do list’. Stop and rest a while. If you work in an office, do you really have to sit at your desk to eat lunch? Can you just ‘get away’ from it all for 20 minutes, and find a few moments to yourself to rest and eat and think without interruption? Do you need to be ‘plugged in’ to the world and all its happenings 24/7? Can you switch off earlier or more often and limit the time you allow your mind to be bombarded and overloaded by messages, stories, images and the constant stream of information that we face in an online world? Can you take a walk in nature more often? Can you choose to read a book rather than scroll through news feeds? Can you find the time to take a nap? Do you really need to ‘do it all’, and if so, is that ‘one more thing’ you have to do worth sacrificing your mental and physical health and wellbeing for?
3. We need each other
Robert Putnam in his well known article, ‘Bowling Alone’ wrote about the importance of ‘social capital’ in a world where people are increasingly ‘bowling alone’. We all gain from positive interactions, connections and relationships. It is necessary for a healthy society and healthy individuals.
I live alone, and when I was sick I really struggled to simply look after myself. How nice it would have been to have someone help out with simple things like doing the dishes, preparing food, or getting medicine. If you have such a someone in your life, please let them know you appreciate them 🙂 I had to do it all myself, but thankfully I was able to order groceries and cough and cold medicine to be delivered to my flat and that certainly helped when I was unable to go outside. While I didn’t have physical help, I did have contact over the phone with my family, and even that helped ‘keep me going’. Most of us don’t like to be dependent on others, but we are interdependent – that’s part of what it means to be human. Foster those good healthy connections and relationships. Reach out and ask for help when you need to, but also try to strengthen yourself to be able to be as resilient as possible if you do find that you have to go it alone in seasons or circumstances of life. And perhaps most importantly, be reminded that there are people, young, old and middle aged alike, who against all their wishes and determination, do find that they are dependent for help – perhaps their bodies or minds have ‘given up’ in some way, perhaps they no longer function as they once did, perhaps they are in a situation and state in life that they really didn’t wish for, and they simply cannot get by without the help or care of others. Maybe this is a temporary situation…maybe they have to endure this for a long time. We don’t like to feel dependent, but sometimes we are….and sometimes someone really could benefit from that offer of help, or from the unasked kindness of a hot meal made for them, a little help here or there…the risk of having the offer rejected is not so important as the potential impact of helping and encouraging someone who really does need it. Be brave…take that chance.
It’s an obvious one, but something so many of us struggle with….getting enough sleep. Yet it is essential for maintaining our health and wellbeing. We may be busy, but we cannot afford to trade off getting things done with compromising our health. It is amazing how sleep restores – there are so many functions going on within our bodies that we are barely aware of….don’t they deserve to get the rest and sleep they need? 🙂
5. What are you taking for granted?
So now we come to the final life lesson that the common cold has for us today: Gratitude.
How funny it is that we humans often take something for granted until we no longer are able to do or have it. We may moan about our jobs, but when we are unable to attend our work we find we miss it, or at least appreciate the ability we normally have to carry out our work. When we are confined indoors, we find a new appreciation for the outside world – for blue skies overhead, the sound of birdsong, the whisper of a breeze on our skin. When we are immobile, we think upon how wonderful it is to be able to move, to function, to have health and to do simple things on our own. When we are unwell, we appreciate health. When we are alone, we appreciate company. When we are tired, we appreciate strength.
Do you have any of these today? Do you have strength enough to do your housework? Be grateful and don’t grumble. Do you have a job to go to? Try to appreciate it, along with your ability to do it. Do you have someone to help you with the day to day things of life? Hold off from any judgements you may have of them for *how* they are helping, and show your appreciation that you have them in your life in the first place. Do you have health? Enjoy it, be thankful, use it to bring something good into the world today. Do you have money in your pocket, a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and a mind that is still functioning? Be grateful. Look after yourself, and those around you, and don’t wait until you no longer have it to appreciate what you have right now. xx
NB: So sorry that the formatting has gone awry! I don’t know what happened there….at first the content disappeared entirely, so at least, despite the red strike throughs, there is still something (hopefully encouraging) to read! Thanks for stopping by my blog.
My dear friends,
Once again I meet you here…lovely to spend some time hanging out, thinking about life, and stuff 😉 And once again I begin another blog post by tentatively acknowledging the fact that it has been a little while since my last post. And that’s ok. And it’s not only ok, but it is an opportunity for us to mutually encourage each other.
Some wonderfully disciplined people, for whom perhaps blogging is an income stream for them (unlike myself, as I do this as a hobby and don’t make any money from it, plus I don’t really know how all of that works yet anyway ~ feel free to enlighten me! 🙂 ) may have regular schedules for creating and uploading content, and that is admirable. However, this blog post is not really about blog posts at all…it is about you….and me.
It is a gentle reminder (just as a bud seldom blossoms overnight) to Take Your Time….
Take your time and take the pressure off yourself by taking a moment away from your seemingly endless ‘to do’ lists.
Take your time to heal. My heart and mind have required decades to even begin to heal rather than merely cope, and sometimes things feel worse before they get better, so take your time. No one can put a schedule on your healing, on your heart. Don’t block it out, but take your time to gently go through the process you need to as you discover your worth, and find greater awareness of Truth, Love and Peace. Take your time to focus on just one thing at a time….your brain will thank you for it! 🙂 Take your time to intentionally be kind to yourself, and to others. Take your time to acknowledge how far you have already come. Take your time to ask yourself and explore the deep, searching and difficult questions in your life and seek the Truth that will set you free. Take your time to grieve, or to comfort those who mourn. Take your time to pause and really appreciate the good things in your life….someone else may be longing for what you have begun to take for granted. Take your time to acknowledge that you are not your work. Your work is what you do, but it does not determine or define your worth. Take your time to take a lunch break. Leave your desk, your computer, and go out in the fresh air for a while. Take your time to walk in nature, and listen to the natural, more gentle, healing rhythm and pace around you, far from the madding crowds of human existence! Take your time to be by yourself, and if need be to learn to be comfortable by yourself. Take your time to evaluate your year so far. Is this the direction you really should be going? Do you need to make a change? Do you need to stay where you are? To grow in contentment of the riches and beauty of your life just now that you only need to open your heart and mind to to more fully discover? When we look for a get-away, are we not really looking for a state of being, rather than in itself a place to be? Take your time to love, and to accept love.
Take your time to be a friend. Take your time to live and not merely exist. Take your time to live out the clichés ~ stop and smell the roses! Listen to the birdsong. ❤ Take your time……to Be.
What else do you need to take your time for? Feel free to share your inspiration in the comments.