6 years ago I was a wreck. I was working as a carer. I was working 60 hours a week doing split shifts starting at 6am and finishing at 11pm.
I was a sleep deprived, darty-eyed zombie. Now, I look back and wonder – how did I let myself get so run down?
There are some things in life we cannot change. But there are things we do have control and choice over. I decided to quit that job, as there were too many external pressures I couldn’t change.
But did I really need to end up like this guy before making that decision?
Over the past few years I have done a lot of research into anxiety, stress and wellbeing. There have been 8 mindful skills that I have found very useful, I hope you find them useful too.
Value your health above all else
I must stress (or not…see what I did there!?!) that the most important tip of all is giving yourself value. Put your mental and physical health first. It’s not selfish – it’s actually the key to greater kindness.
2.Learn to see the warning signs.
Last summer I kept having awful stomach pains. I was poked and prodded by doctors and no outcome. My partner gently suggested it might be stress. I was sceptical – I was totally on top of everything… wasn’t I? Then I started to notice how anxious I was feeling first thing in the morning. And I was proper peeved. Body, that’s not useful – I’m already stressed, don’t add to it!
But then I realised my body was actually being very useful – it was trying to tell me something. It was saying – ‘Hey you can’t keep this up, it’s too much! Cut it back, or you’re going to get real poorly here’.
Bodies and minds are great for telling us when things aren’t right. And we are great at ignoring them. Tune in to how you feel once a day. If you are feeling rushed, overwhelmed or physically drained, you know you need to prioritise rest and activities that rejuvenate you.
3. Take ‘minute rest’ breaks throughout the dayThe brain needs time to rest, process and come up with solutions. Give it the rest and space it needs daily, preferably hourly. The more stressful the task, the more ‘minute long’ breaks you should take. Even just twenty seconds slow breathing with your eyes closed can help. Or run really fast on the spot for 1 minute. And balance a ball on your head. (Just kidding… unless it works!) “ But I don’t have time to take a break” you say! Read this article. It will make you MORE productive if you do.
4. Think of life as weighing scales
Think of your life like weighing scales – when everything is going smoothly they are balanced. There will always be the odd hectic week that tips the scales lower. But you can reduce the impact of these by adjusting the scales.
Do you have a really busy week of work ahead? Plan ahead. Book in 2 ‘rest’ evenings where you will do nothing but chill. Get to bed half an hour earlier each night that week. Clear your schedule for the week after to give yourself a breather. Keep checking in and adjusting your scales. We can only keep the scales pulled low for so long before we get poorly in some way. Plan to avoid it.
5. Speak to yourself as you would a friend
When we are really stressed out, we are not our normal selves. We get judgy, we snap, we’re negative. Then we often feel guilty about our behaviour. We need to learn to forgive and be kind to ourselves to prevent this.
Imagine you are talking to a friend, or think ‘What would ‘insert friend’ say if I told him/her these thoughts?’ It can sometimes help to write it down. This feels weird, but it does work. It helps you recognise when you are being too harsh on yourself or others. “I snapped at my mum – I’m an awful person”. You did snap, but you’re really stressed out, so it’s understandable. You’ve apologised. It’s ok, we’re all human.
6. Set boundaries with others
“It’s quite a busy week, can I get back to you on that?”
Some people are really good at not overcommitting. Observe them, steal their tricks. Some of us are ‘yes’ addicts and feel guilty saying no if we just need a rest. You do not need to feel guilty. It is keeping you healthy.
Have a day to yourself. Miss things. Cancel if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Yes it feels a bit rubbish, but it’s better to miss one party than be off sick for 2 weeks. There is so much opportunity and fun to be had in this world, but you are one person. It’s quality, not quantity. Choose selectively and cordon off bits of your free time for the things you really want and need.
7. Have phone switch off times
I cannot recommend highly enough having an hour or two away from your phone each day. Turn it off and go for a walk or read a book. Put it on silent. Notifications are like toddlers. They always want your attention. Put your toddler to bed for a nap each day. You’ll be able to give it your full and happy attention if you’ve had a break from it.
8. Open up (with humour)
Talking about your feelings is a skill. Like anything, it gets easier with practise. Talk to someone you trust about your stress. Have a laugh about it where possible.
I’ll never forget a time I came home and had a huge rant to my partner about all the things I felt stressed and angry about, and it ended rather ridiculously with “And I HATE that ugly mug!” My partner said “Right. Well that’s one thing we can solve.” And we took the ugly mug up to the attic and dropped it from the window.
We looked at each other. And I burst out laughing.
Friends, partners, family, someone you trust. Talk to them. Laugh with them. Open up. Being vulnerable brings us closer together and close relationships have a massive impact on your wellbeing and happiness.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
― Brené Brown
I hope these Mindful Skills have been useful to you. If you’d like to practise and develop your mindful skills, we run Mindful Skills workshops in Leeds, using gentle drama techniques to increase wellbeing and reduce stress.