I recently got back from a lovely holiday up in Canterbury spending time with whanau and the Sun, which had not been kind enough to visit me in Dunedin. I love the feeling of having so much time that you get when you’re on holiday – time even to read the paper and enjoy it! I picked up the weekend mag in The Press and I really liked the cover story “20 Tips for 2020.”* It had some great reminders of things we can all do to maximise our physical and mental wellbeing so I thought I’d share the ones that I found most relevant and helpful. Some I’ve already implemented in my life and I can speak from experience that they will make a positive difference in yours; others I am still working on but am committed to getting there.
1. Delete all social media apps from your phone“You can’t delete Safari, unfortunately, but you can put it inside one of those little app-group boxes, and then move that box to the very last screen of your homepage, which means when you feel that dopamine-driven urge to dip into Twitter’s cesspool of intemperate opinions, you have to complete seven or so separate taps and swipes first, which I find is generally enough time to realise my error and stop before I get there.” – I actually deleted the Facebook app from my phone and iPad two years ago because I found myself checking it every spare moment I had, just out of habit and, potentially, stimulation addiction (it’s a thing). I was even checking it at the traffic lights….
2. Set boundaries and stick to them“I [used to be] convinced that the only way to be a good friend/lover/daughter was total, unfettered selflessness and acquiescence. As I eventually figured out that way madness lies, and setting appropriate boundaries with our loved ones is critically important. So what is a boundary? A boundary is a rule you have about how you will respond if someone else behaves in a particular way. Boundaries show other people what kind of behaviour is and isn’t OK for you, and that there are consequences if they violate those boundaries.” – I could really relate to this because I certainly learnt martyrdom and putting myself last from my own mother. Over the course of my adult life I’ve gradually and consciously unlearned this mindset and the result is that I’m happier, healthier and stronger. Of course, old habits die hard (especially ones learned in childhood) so I constantly have to check in with myself and keep walking that fine line between being helpful but not ‘self-less.’
3. Hire some help“Kiwis typically have a cringe factor when it comes to paying other people to do stuff for us. But who is that helping? Certainly not the gardener/cleaner/carwasher from whom you withold your cash each time you decide to knuckle down and ruin your weekend doing an amateurish job on something not remotely fun. From washing your dog to de-lousing your kids, there is always someone you can pay to remove the hell from your life.” – Again, my mother had a different philosophy: even when we kids had left home and she could afford to pay a cleaner, she used to say “I don’t pay a cleaner so I can buy myself two good bottles of wine a week.” That was her bargain, but when I was suffering from post-natal depression after the birth of my second child, I decided that bargain wasn’t helping me recover (especially the wine). So I employed a housekeeper for 3 hours a week and now, 7 years on, she is a highly valued member of our household, and a bit like a great-auntie to our kids.
4. Become elastic“By which I don’t mean bending yourself into that impossible yoga position, although that’s no doubt good too. I mean giving yourself the opportunity to let your mind stretch, and sometimes that’s actually by stopping … It might seem self-indulgent or luxurious but taking time out for “unfocused thinking,” (daydreaming, really) can be cleansing and constructive.” – Now, in case you were starting to feel like this was one of those “Do like I do and you’ll be awesome like me” posts, you can rest easy because this is one tip that I have not mastered (or my husband wouldn’t still call me ‘ADHD-Girl’ after all these years). I try really really hard to do this but it is very unnatural for me. My inner critic starts up: “Well this is a waste of time Sarah. What are you just lying/sitting here for doing nothing?! Nothing is not productive! You could be weeding/painting/washing/learning a language/improving your fitness/writing and article etc etc…” I try to practice mindfulness (another work in progress) and just observe and acknowledge the thoughts, but it’s hard. I also call to mind my wise friend who once said to me, “You are a human being you know, not a human doing.”
5. Try mindfulness meditation“Meditation isn’t a magical solution to all your problems. Sitting in silence for 10 minutes per day will not pay your mortgage or convince your children to stop using your UberEats account with wanton abandon. But what meditation does do is allow you to distance yourself from your negative thoughts about your problems – which gives you the mental space to find a solution. Meditation is the difference between thinking “This is a disaster. I’m going to go bankrupt and end up sleeping on a park bench,” and thinking: “I’m noticing that I’m having a thought about my financial situation and it’s making me feel tense.” – As stated earlier, this is another one that I’m still working on. I think that frankly, I don’t like doing things I’m not good at (another flaw), and I’m just not very good at meditation… yet. I have had periods where I’ve been able to do it regularly and I’ve noticed that my mood is less influenced by that inner critic I mentioned earlier. But I haven’t succeeded in making it a routine part of my life… yet! My husband and I are going to work on this together this year – helping and supporting each other and holding each other to account for slipping (at least we will be once I tell him)…
With every new year comes plans, goals, challenges and dreams for the year ahead. I certainly have some big ones, but it’s those little things, like what I’ve discussed here, that can have a bigger impact than you imagine. If you feel that some of them will work for you then I always recommend just working on one thing until you’ve made it an integrated part of your life, and then pick up the next one.
Author: Sarah Cross
* Excerpts from “Let the sun shine” in The Press, YW (Your Weekend) liftout January 11, 2020.Contributing authors Adam Dudding, Paula Penfold, Petra Quinn, Emily Simpson.