We do not always have the ability to get as much sleep as we would like (I say this after a week of broken nights and tiny dribs and drabs of shut-eye). We often forgo healthy home-cooked food in favour of a convenient, immediate snack or ready meal (despite being a complete stickler for seasonal home-cooked food, I have still had to grab a shop-bought sandwich on days when I have completely run out of time).
We can set best intentions for ourselves – read more books, spend more time with friends, take up yoga, swim once a week, send thank you notes… but it’s so very easy to let life get on top of us and take that simpler, less satisfying route. But positive changes needn’t involve dramatic upheaval. They can be seamless, natural, gentle. The famous proverb is a comfort here:
It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward
Here, then, are the 5 very simple things I call upon when life threatens to overwhelm.
Start the day with water.
Water is innately soothing, a link back to the womb, when you are weightless, supported, peaceful. Bathing is optimal – a bath whenever you can will do you the world of good. But the pulse of water upon our skin as we shower is also crucial wake-up call. Make it even more effective by dropping some reviving essential oils into the shower tray and turning the water up to boiling. Let the steam fill the room, inhale deeply, then turn the water down to warm, and step in. Waking your digestive system with a glass of warm water and a small squeeze of lime (I prefer lime to lemon as it’s less astringent) will revive the mouth, throat and stomach, and also aid expulsion of the previous day’s waste.
Have a Healing Cup.
Herbal teas have come a long way since pond-y green and insipid lemon and ginger. There are now myriad teas on the market that deliver true, noticeable wellbeing benefits – from the incredibly antioxidant-rich rooibos, to the immediately energising matcha. Ayurvedically, I stick with naturally caffeine-free rooibos, with a spoon of Chywanaprash, to satiate, sweeten and balance the doshas; fennel tea; chamomile tea; yogi tea, and my customary Turkish kokulu çay – cinnamon bark, cloves, cardamom…
Pat on the Back Time.
How often do we get to the end of the day feeling that we have not achieved what we wanted, or that things have not gone to plan? A bit of reverse psychology is what’s needed. Set aside ten minutes every evening to think about the things that you did achieve – from cheering up a colleague, going for a long walk at lunchtime, getting through your urgent Inbox items or choosing a healthy, satisfying lunch. Make this ‘pat on the back’ list every evening for a week, and then at the week’s end, you can cast your mind back over the small steps you’ve taken towards progress and positivity. It’s hugely uplifting. Try it.
Create a Personal Curfew.
In an ideal world we would all find the time to meditate before bed, slowing the breath, stilling the mind, and preparing our freneticised bodies for sleep. Often, we end up running around, completing errands and racing the clock in a bid to get everything done. The only way to move into more positive end-of-day habits is to create a personal curfew. Set yourself a time when you will absolutely, with no argument, switch off all technology, disengage from work, be in a place where kids are in bed, or responsibilities are safely stalled, and then reach for the one thing that always relaxes you. It could be a favourite novel, a deeply relaxing oil-scented bath, an hour listening to Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime… make this your sacred you-time, and aim to do this at least three times a week. Simplest of all, choose the exact same time to get into bed, and switch off the lights each night. Studies have shown that nothing is more effective in being able to reset and optimise our body’s clock.
It’s no Sacrifice.
It has been said that the most successful people are the most selective with their responsibilities (America’s richest man, Warren Buffett, has said that he says ‘no’ to almost everything!). While we’re not endorsing the sentiment, the mechanics of the notion are interesting. Think about how often we go along with things, or feel roped into activities and responsibilities. Of course, there are things that we all have to do which we do not enjoy (smear tests; dental check-ups; filing tax returns), but there are also myriad parts of our busy lives that are a result of improper planning, poor (or non-existent) delegation, and also, that simple urge to avoid confrontation. If you’re always stepping up at work, to pick up other’s slack, it’s time to speak up and address the deficit being passed down to you by colleagues. If you’ve become accustomed to that feeling of being ‘needed’ and like being in demand (but always feel overwhelmed as a result), it’s time to redress your priorities. Your worth should not be tied up in the things you do and give to people, but rather the value they gain from simply being in your good company. You do not have to man the cake stall (and bake all the cakes) and organise the Christmas party and plan your mother’s 60th and be first aider at work… simply ask yourself, 1) am I the only one who can do this? 2) if not, who can? Then 3) does it make me happy? And if not, stop! The ability to be honest with ourselves, and others, can seem to take courage at times, but consider that if we were honest about ourselves from the beginning, and realistic about what we can offer, we’d never need to feel overwhelmed again.