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Finding “ME time” in lockdown!

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“Or the power of finding yourself”.

It may sound strange, but I really need some “me time!”

I say it sounds strange because I am currently in “lockdown” in the UK and working from home.  So surely, I should have plenty of time to myself?

But I do not, and I am not alone.  Many of my clients feel the same.

Why?

I think the truth is that because our daily routine has been turned on its head, we are all relying on the familiar tasks of work to be our anchor to normality.  It’s just that work, as we knew it is no more, certainly for the foreseeable future.  The daily trip to the office, meetings, lunch, banter, and a journey home had a ritualistic nature to it that separated our lives into simple compartments and one of those could be neatly labelled “me time”.

Now all of that has gone and video conferencing has taken the place of our workspace, and the trip to work is a few steps, as is the lunch break if you get one, and as for the informal chat with James in the corridor… well that is now a prescriptive, uncomfortable exchange of words that have no meaning depth or impact.

All of this constant on, and constant communicating results in a feeling of being stretched incredibly thin!

So how do we find “me time” and what does it mean for me, or for you?

The challenge we face is that my “me time”, may be different from yours.  Mine is spending time in a separate room reading or going for a walk on my own or even as a trip out going to charge my car to be alone and think.  Whatever you do for you is personal, and unique, but it does require you to be kind in three ways.

You need to be kind to:

  • Your mind
    • Being kind to your mind is giving it a chance to rest and recuperate.  Constantly being on leaves your mind in a state of high alert.  Just think about how you react to the ping of your mobile device, or the email alert that pops up on your screen.  Your brain is constantly scanning the world to look for alerts, and will keep you busy, which will put your physical system into alert status and create micro compressions of your muscles leading to tension, tiredness, and a general feeling of uncomfortableness.
  • Your body
    • Being kind to your body is recognising that we are not designed to sit in front of a computer screen for eight to ten hours a day.  Our body was designed to roam, to move, to be physical.  Sitting in most likely an unnatural position puts a strain on joints and tendons, which ultimately destroy our posture.  Sitting for long periods is also thought to slow our metabolism, which affects our body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat.  So, all together sitting is dangerous for us physically, but our eyes also struggle to adjust to the light and movement from our computer screen that competes with the room around it, causing our eye muscles to over work as we constantly readjust to the world around us, and the blue light emitted from the computer screen reduces the production of melatonin which results in an inability of our body to wind down and relax.
  • Your beliefs
    • Being kind in our beliefs is recognising that we are not superhuman, and in an achievement-based society, where we have been educated that failure to achieve is wrong, we are setting standards we will never meet.  As a result, our inner voice criticises our abilities as a parent, a homemaker, a partner, and an employee.  Our beliefs undermine our feeling of self-worth and increase our pressure to work harder to catch up, because surely everyone is coping better than me!

But being kind to yourself is difficult.

For some, it feels like failure, like asking for help.  For some, it feels foolish; surely working harder and getting stuff done is a better way to feel better?  For some, it is impossible; they will not let me have the time to do this.  They need me and I need to deliver; I have always delivered whether it be for my children, my partner or my work, everyone relies on me.

For me, all of these are excuses!  I hate to be so blunt but sometimes, we have to slow down and even stop to understand what is going on and the damage we are doing to ourselves and to the people around us.

Continuous pressure on our system causes immense physiological damage, which results in behaviours, and responses to others that has, over time catastrophic effects on relationships.

So, if you truly want to achieve and help those around you… First you must help yourself!

Here are some tips on how to:

Being kind to your mind

Being kind to your mind is both simple and difficult in equal amounts.  Simple to do, but difficult to maintain because your mind will resist you.  Overthinking and being on high alert is nothing more than a habit, and your brain loves habits because they equate to minimal effort.  Think of a habit as a software macro that automatically runs when a trigger is activated; that is essentially what your brain is doing to minimise your effort.  The first macro that runs in your brain is waking up.  As soon as you wake up, your brain tricks you into a routine.  You get out of bed the same way, you wash and clean your teeth the same way and you get dressed the same way, and your brain helps you slip into this warm comfortable routine by feeding you your happy neurotransmitters’ dopamine and serotonin and you feel ok.  I say ok, simply because like any good addict, you become used to these drugs and just having them in your system is enough to stabilise your mood.

Now think what happens when your morning routine is disrupted?  Any new parent will know what it’s like to have their brand-new bundle of joy scream and destabilise their day at the beginning by demanding attention.  However, if you have not had that pleasure, imagine the morning when you oversleep, or a meeting is brought forward at the last minute and you get a call before your alarm goes off, your body is immediately thrown into threat mode and gone are the stabilising neurotransmitters.  You do not need to feel good anymore, your brain is under attack and you feel your heart racing, your shoulders start to tense, and your thinking becomes urgent and hyper focused… your brain is screaming at you “get back to your old routine”.  We are at war!

You see your brain’s job is to keep you alive, and one of the tasks it performs to do this is save energy.  Saving energy is doing things in a habitual way, so your brain creates neural pathways for repetitive tasks that operate at speeds far faster than you can think consciously, so that you can live the majority of your life in a controlled, stabilised state.  Any threat to this stabilised state is seen as dangerous, as to “change” requires neural pathways to either be rewritten or built from scratch, which requires energy that your brain protects jealously.

Now our brains are incredible manipulators and they have developed the perfect weapon to defeat us, our self-talk!  Your brain knows all of your fears and secrets, it whispers to you constantly justifying why you are doing, or not doing things and convinces you that you are right, but it also challenges you and maintains control by limiting your self-belief if you let it.

“don’t do that, you know you failed last time”.

“I know you’re tired, but they need this now.”

“there you go again, making a fool of yourself, when will you ever learn”?

“no, don’t speak up, they will think you’re stupid.”

I said at the beginning of this point that being kind to your mind was simple, and it is.  All you have to do is reframe this self-talk.  Catch the thoughts in your mind and discard the negative and replace them with positive statements, and it starts when you first wake up.

As soon as you wake up, stop!

Sit on the side of the bed and collect your thoughts, deploy your conscious mind, and ask yourself “how am I feeling today?”; do you still feel tired, are you energised or are you feeling fear for the day?  Address those feelings and choose how your day will begin; are you gong to be gentle with yourself today because you’re feeling tired or are you energised and ready to take on the world?  If you are feeling a little uncertain or afraid, try to objectively analyse the feelings, and what they are specifically triggered by. What potential events in the day are you worrying about, are they really going to happen or are they just one of many possibilities?

If they are one of many possibilities, have a positive conversation with yourself and maybe write down the potential event and how you will deal with it, but commit to not worrying about it unless it happens.  If the event is definitely happening today, then agree with yourself a time in the morning to prepare for the event and then “choose to be positive about the rest of your day”.

Remember your brain will try to fool you, and you may wake up and hear “oh I can’t be bothered today, I will do it tomorrow, I just need to get going…” and this is where the hard part comes in.  To break the habit, you must have discipline, your brain needs to realise that this new way of thinking is important and to do that, you must be disciplined to repeat the action multiple times.  The myth is 21 days to break a habit, however, the truth is 21 days breaks the resistance.  If you are disciplined enough to commit to a new way of thinking then after 21 days your subconscious brain realises that this is important and stops fighting you and starts to help you build the new, more positive, and productive habit.

Now you have started the day positively when during the day you catch yourself in negative self-talk, reframe the language into positive action focused talk.

Again, the brain will resist but if you are disciplined enough and really want to do this, you can re-educate your brain to support you and not hold you back.

“last time I made a mistake, I have learned from that and this time it will work!”

“This will have to wait, I need to take a break, I am tired, they will understand!”

“I made a mistake, what can I learn from this, making mistakes is a part of developing.”

“I have a great idea that they need to hear, I am going to speak up!”

And finally, to be kind to your mind, you need to allow it to wind down.  Those who have worked with me over the years know that I am an ardent fan of mindfulness and gratification diaries.  I believe finding fifteen minutes to separate your workday from your homelife is critical to being kind to your mind.

At a time you decide, you turn off your computer, laptop, mobile device and sit quietly for fifteen minutes.  For the first three minutes, just focus on your breathing, close your eyes relax your shoulders and just breathe.  At the end of three minutes, and for the rest of the twelve minutes, reflect on the day and what were the three things that made you happy and that you are grateful for.  If you can only find two then make a commitment to make the third happen that night.

Neuroscience has proven that being kind to your mind in this way, has multiple beneficial effects, including reduced stress levels, increased levels of Dopamine and Serotonin and improved sleep quality.

Being kind to your body

Again, this is a very simple thing that is so easily overlooked.  The answer is MOVE!  You do not have to get into great fitness regimes or become an Olympic athlete, but what you do need to do is stand up, move around, and get some fresh air.  It’s an obvious thing to say, but given today’s strange world, it’s even more important, and in terms of “me time” it’s critical that you get at least one session of alone time per day to physically move.  Take a walk outside if possible or a walk into the garden or even just stand and stretch in a doorway, but my guidance is for every 90 minutes you spend in front of the screen, give yourself a minimum of fifteen minutes away from it and whilst you are using your screen, UK opticians suggest the following.

“It is important to take regular breaks to avoid eye strain when working for prolonged periods of time.  The general consensus is that it is important that for every 20 minutes of screen time to shift your eyes away to an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds, this is known as the 20-20-20 rule.”

Overall, the discipline to plan movement into your day will help mobilise the chemicals in your system, increase your metabolism and improve your brain as well as your bodies functions.

Being kind to your beliefs

This is probably the hardest of all of my kindness rules, and I say that because what we believe about ourselves has been created over many years of the mind’s self-talk.  We have a vision of who we are and what we are in the world, but it is controlled by our subconscious mind, not our conscious mind.  When we consciously think about who we are and what we are, we can create an image and justify why that is the right image and how we will behave to create that image in the real world with our actions.

Unfortunately, often the reality does not match our conscious belief, simply because as I mentioned earlier, our brains want us to run preprogramed habits to save energy, and sometimes these preprogramed habits have been adapted to aid our survival in certain situations.  Martin Seligman in his book “Learned Optimism” talks about the impact our self-talk has on our beliefs and how this in turn impacts our behaviour.  He looks at the concepts of pessimistic people and optimistic people, and to my surprise, I found that even though people would say that I am one of the most positive people they know, I am actually a pessimist by thinking pattern.  I worry about my place in the world, what people will think of me and I blame myself for events that do not go right, whilst not patting myself on the back when they go my way.  After all, that was just luck!

In the past, I have let this affect my behaviour.  I have withdrawn from situations and not pushed myself into situations where I felt out of my comfort zone; but through my studies, I have learned to deal with these inner voices challenging my confidence and turned their language into positive affirmations and support.

I recognise that my early education taught me that failure was wrong and that because of this, I feared taking risks, because if I got it wrong, bad things would happen.  Now I take risks, calculated risks, but risks none the less, and do things go wrong?

Yes… but also things have gone amazingly right, and if you learn from the things that go wrong, you grow, you develop, you succeed.

I have learned that it’s ok to ask for help, I am not superhuman but that is ok, no one is.  I have learned that sometimes I have to say no, and sometimes I have to walk away.  But that is ok too, that gives me the ability to grow and still achieve my goals, because they are realistic.

Don’t get me wrong, people still say I try too hard; they say I set goals that are too high, but for me they work, for me they are being kind to me.  Because if I listened to the pessimist in me, I would not risk anything.

I think being kind to my beliefs is really about liking yourself and being your own biggest supporter.

So that is it, that is what finding “me time” is all about for me, but what about you?

Do you know what your “me time” is?  Are you getting enough?

If not then stop and take some time to think about yourself and what your mind has done to reduce your “me time” and reclaim that time for yourself, you deserve it.

You NEED it!

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