Thursday 14 November 2019

Creating some calm: 10 ways to brighten your day and avoid burnout

In a world where we seem to be always on the verge of burnout, journalist and editor Ailbhe Malone shares her tips on creating some calm

Take time out and enjoy the simple things in life - give yourself the permission to look after yourself first
Take time out and enjoy the simple things in life - give yourself the permission to look after yourself first
Take time out and enjoy the simple things in life - give yourself the permission to look after yourself first

My life went on a tiring, anxious way for the better part of 28 years, until I started treatment for a generalised anxiety disorder. When I finally began treatment, I found the process of getting better overwhelming. For so long I had put myself at the bottom of the priority list, and it was all too much to try to climb my way back to the top. It was so important to me to worry about everybody else that I found it really difficult to believe that I was worth looking after.

I began to take what I thought of as considered risks - relying on my gut instinct and listening to what my body and soul needed, rather than what my burnt-out brain thought it needed. When I say 'risks', that's exactly what they felt like: like every deviation from a routine was inviting disaster. Through baby steps, I learned that the sky wouldn't fall down if I put myself first every now and then. I decided to begin looking after myself by focusing on the little things.

Even for those of you who don't suffer from anxiety and simply need a pick-me-up from time to time, here are 10 of the practical tips I gathered together in 101 Tiny Changes to Brighten Your Day that will help to calm your mind and boost your self-esteem.

1 Get yourself some time

One of biggest demands of self-care is learning to accept that some things take time. If you're feeling awful and can't figure out left from right, it's really difficult to take a moment to reset. But what you can do is say: 'When I feel better, because I will feel better, I'm going to need some time to recover, and I will take that time.'

2 Keep your bedroom calm

Spend some time making your bedroom as calm as possible. This doesn't have to mean diffusers and whatnot - it can be smoothing down your sheets, plumping your pillows. You can make a really good and cheap pillow spray simply by mixing lavender essential oil, alcohol and water in an old, clean spray bottle.

3 Don't bring your phone to bed

Leave your phone in another room, when you can, especially at night-time before you go to bed.

The blue light from your phone can negatively affect your circadian rhythms (your sleep cycle), making it harder for you to fall asleep, and harder to wake up in the morning.

4 Pause and recharge in your day

Try to find a pause button in your day. Instead of trying to push through to the end of the working day, make time to recharge.

Realise that 'recharging' looks different for everyone - maybe you like to chat to a friend, or listen to a podcast while you are taking a stroll around the block.

Here's an example: what I like to do is stop at say around 3pm - now obviously that's schedule permitting - and do the crossword for about 15 minutes. But everyone is different, so you need to find your own recharge.

5 Start gardening on a small scale

Gardening on a large scale is expensive, but you'd be amazed by how many things you can grow on a windowsill, and you'd be even more amazed by how easy it is. If you don't have the space to store compost, etc., then buying some fresh supermarket herbs is a great way to start.

6 Turn off your notifications

Turn off notifications on your phone. There is no such thing as an urgent Facebook message. There's an interesting study by the Future Work Centre about phone messages. They call push notifications a 'toxic source of stress', explaining that the combination of an emotional learned response to messages and an 'unwritten organisational etiquette around email' doubles down into a no-win situation. All of which is to say: push back against answering everything straight away. If it's urgent, they'll call you.

7 Explore your feelings

Join a closed Facebook group where you can explore your feelings in a safe space. They can be a great place to meet people who are having the same issues as you, without the facelessness of forums or the transience of other online communities. Search for groups that appeal to you, like 'Women with Anxiety'. You might have to request permission from the moderator to join, but don't worry - they're generally great, supportive spaces.

8 Batch cook some healthy meals

On a day when you have plenty of energy, batch cook a couple of healthy meals and put them in your freezer. I love making a big batch of minestrone, and it reheats really well. If your freezer isn't big enough, then you could buy loads of tins of soup - or packet noodles. It doesn't really matter what you store, just make sure it's something that you can cook easily. Similarly, why not prepare a batch of cookie dough and freeze small handfuls of dough in a tub or sandwich bag; you can pop a few balls straight onto a baking tray and bake a fresh batch of cookies with minimum effort.

9 It's always better to speak up

If you're having a difficult time, say so. For example, I used to doggedly stay at events and have silent anxiety attacks - smiling and chatting, while thinking about how everybody in the room loathed me - before making my excuses and leaving. But now I trust my friends enough to say, 'I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed; I think I'm going to take a walk.' Try not to put 'being polite' ahead of your own well-being. It's better to speak up.

10 This is the real you, honest

Be more compassionate towards yourself, and try not to beat yourself up over perceived failures. Your best effort will look differently on different days, but the amount of effort you're putting in stays the same.

I used to think: I'll get better; this isn't the real me. But it is you! You are a whole person, no matter how you may feel. Honest.

101 Tiny Changes to Brighten Your Day is available from for €12.99

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