2020 has not been kind to many of us. The world is blanketed in uncertainty – politically, economically, socially. Stress and anxiety are at an all-time high. And now, more than ever, we need to take better care of ourselves and focus on making little changes to improve our overall wellbeing.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share a few inexpensive habits that helped me to stop feeling overwhelmed and improved my mindset. Sometimes, just a few minutes out of every day can help reset your mind and provide more balance in your life. The following helped me feel happier and more focused and productive at home and at work.
1. Stop comparing
It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others. Mindlessly scrolling social media is rarely a positive experience and often leaves us feeling inadequate. Online, our lives are condensed into carefully curated squares of happiness – travel, smiling faces, perfectly baked cakes, and bouquets of fresh flowers. But I realized that every time I was judging myself against someone online, I was comparing my internal feelings against their external persona. Influencers never show the argument they had with their partner, the time they missed their train or the parking ticket they got. Remember: Social media is nothing more than a highlight reel and ultimately, they are marketing platforms designed to make you want to spend money. Whenever I do catch myself comparing online, I try to remind myself of my value. Focus on creating your own dream life rather than obsessing over the lives of others.
2. Trying to get more sleep
I can’t count the number of times I’ve started a new show on Netflix, only to realize that several hours have passed, it’s the middle of the night, and I am halfway through the boxset. While it’s tempting to finish a series, getting an extra hour of shut-eye is more beneficial than we think. Up to 70% of adults suffer from sleep deprivation and experts recommend getting between seven to nine hours a night. Any less than five hours can cause serious long-term health problems and even premature death. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on high thread-count sheets and fancy alarm clocks which will gently wake you while mimicking a sunrise. I try to make my bedroom a calm space, with as few tech items as possible, and if I struggle to fall asleep straight away, I try reading a physical paper book or journaling rather than scrolling on my phone. At first, I found it difficult to fall into a good sleep pattern and it took a while, but it’s worth working on it for the long-term health benefits.
3. Spending more time in nature
I go out of my way to spend more time in nature, even if it’s just a 10-minute detour through the park on my way home. The color green is said to calm the nervous system, and there’s a reason why the Japanese practice of forest bathing is so popular. Nothing beats feeling the cold ocean lap over your feet and the soft crunch of sand under your toes, the smell of the forest on a cold day, or the crunch of copper and amber leaves as you kick through them in autumn. So much of nature is accessible and free. I also like to bring as much of the outside, inside my home. You can keep windows wide open to welcome the breeze, grow herbs on your kitchen windowsill, and decorate corners of your home with succulents – those little plants nourish my soul.
4. Taking stock of where I am and feeling more grateful.
We may need less than we think we do to live a happy and fulfilling life. For example, it was impossible to feel sad when I realized how much I was surrounded by great friends, a stable job, and a little home that I love. Don’t be fooled into thinking a new car or designer handbag will make you happy — it likely won’t. I’ve found that happiness comes from being content, and the first step towards contentment was acknowledging everything I already had. I try to look for tiny joys in everyday life – a delicious home-cooked meal, lighting a candle and listening to your favorite podcast, getting lost in a good book for several hours, petting a dog. Find these small joys and appreciate them.
5. Drinking more water.
I used to forget to carry water with me and would then find myself dehydrated, agitated, and spending money on a single-use plastic bottle. Now, I always carry a reusable bottle of water with me and it feels like a micro act of self-care. I find that the amount of water we drink can seriously affect my energy levels and brain performance. If you find plain water too boring, add fruit or a sprig of rosemary or lemon and mint to make it feel like a wannabe mojito which you can sip at work.
6. Decluttering and cleaning my space.
I love nothing more than being in a clean home, where everything has its designated space. There’s no need to go full Marie Kondo and shed most of your belongings and live in a near-empty home, but most of us are holding onto things we do not like or need. These things take up both physical and mental space. Sell them, donate them to charity, or give them to a friend or family member. I find the process of decluttering or cleaning can be long and emotional, so I make sure I’ve got some time specifically set aside for it, along with a good playlist and plenty of drinks and snacks to keep me going. Afterward, I love seeing my beautiful, clean space and bags of donations ready to go to their new homes. It’s satisfying and rewarding. It also saves me time because I am no longer running late looking for things.
7. Moving more.
Keeping active doesn’t have to cost a penny and you don’t have to run marathons or spend hours in the gym to get that endorphin buzz. Just taking a walk around the block, dancing in the kitchen, or cycling to the shops is enough to make me feel that little buzz and happiness boost. You don’t need a fancy gym pass or to splash out on boutique workout classes. YouTube videos were my savior during lockdown (Yoga With Adriene and MadFit were the highlight of my day during those long months). You also don’t need expensive workout wear in order to move – just some comfortable leggings and a t-shirt will do the trick, but if you are going to invest anywhere, I would recommend a good sports bra.
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