Sometimes people come to me saying that they are unable to sleep. When they tell me about their day, I can see that they are permanently ‘on’ – working, looking at their phones, talking to people, reading, watching TV. Their minds are constantly stimulated, so the only time their brains have to catch up with all that has happened in their day, is when their head hits the pillow. No wonder they can’t sleep.
I had this same experience when we were last on holidays abroad. We were staying in a beautiful house right by the sea. I enjoy reading and have always used my holidays to get through the pile of books I have been accumulating. It was day ten of the holiday and I was on my seventh (yes, seventh!) book. I wasn’t feeling relaxed, my mind was constantly running, and I really wasn’t sleeping very well.
It suddenly dawned on me that here I was in this stunning place, but because I had my nose stuck in a book all the time, I could have been anywhere. So, the next day, I went completely cold turkey – no book, phone (we didn’t have a TV anyway), and just relaxed and took in the view. That night I slept so well, and found that my mind had really quietened. For the last few days of the holiday, I reduced my reading dramatically, and gave myself plenty of time to do nothing.
When we returned home, this concept of providing headspace and time to do nothing stayed with me. Apart from allowing my brain to catch up with whatever is going on, it also allows me time to come up with ideas and work more effectively and creatively. In the latest MBA programmes, they have recognised the importance of taking time out from what you are doing. They propose developing a practice of reflective thinking or writing, and how it is an essential part of our day. Richard Branson says “A real leader keeps their eyes on the business goal and ultimately if people are working toward that greater goal, it shouldn’t matter if they need to take time for themselves too.” This really makes so much sense to me, but so often, people feel guilty about taking time out of their day to just shoot the breeze and do nothing.
Covid has provided an extra layer of stress on top of everything that we do, so apart from the usual things that are going on in our everyday lives, there is even more to process. What you may find is that you need to take more time out for reflection and to take more breaks than usual. My usual routine used to be to meditate and do some tapping (a technique where you tap on acupressure points) in the morning, to set me up for the day. I now find that I need to do the same in the evening as I need to unpack my day. I also need less time doing nothing so I find that I’m spending less time watching TV and looking at my phone. During the day, I also take regular breaks – even if I go out for a walk for a couple of minutes, I find that when I go back to my work, I have more energy for the task at hand.
When you are in the throes of misery, I know that this can be hard to do. However, it can be very helpful, and it is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. In a study published by Harvard.edu, one group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After ten weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. What they also found was that they exercised more and had fewer visits to their doctors than those who focused on sources of irritation.
Here’s what I do:
Each night before I go to sleep, I try to list ten things in my day that I am grateful for.
I start with having a home, husband, cat, water, electricity, food etc – that counts as one thing.
Then I work my way back through my day and list the things that I am grateful for.
It could be finding a parking space, eating a nice bit of cake, something someone said to me, a good TV programme.
Recalling these small moments and expressing gratitude helps me to feel better and especially, if I have had a really bad day, it reminds me that life is usually pretty good!
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