Here we are at the start of June and I have a suspicion that for many of you reading this last month whizzed past, be it with exams, deadlines of one kind or another, or a generally busy schedule. And, I wonder if like me, you’ve felt like you need a really good break after it all!
I was in that space last Thursday. My forehead felt heavy, I was tired and it was hard to concentrate; my brain was telling me I needed to stop. It’s taken three bouts of exhaustion over recent years and a lot of self-reflection to be able to recognise the signs when I’m over-doing it. I’m very happy to say that I’m now in a place where I can connect with what’s going on inside, listen to my body and take action to get my brain back to a happy place!
In general, I like to think I’m pretty good at looking after my wellbeing – I exercise regularly, I make time to see friends and family, I eat well, I have good sleeping habits, I try not to use my computer after 8pm. All good stuff….That said, on occasion I still get caught out!
Getting caught up with meetings, deadlines, the to do list, emails, general busyness; it’s like I veer off onto an unconscious path to psychological burn out (or I used to!). This is where our bodies are simply amazing – they give us signs when we’re not looking after ourselves properly (often in discomfort of one form or another), and that’s what my brain was doing last Thursday – letting me know that downtime was non-negotiable.
Getting downtime is essential to clear the mind, gain insight and clarity, and allow the brain to make sense of everything that’s gone on. It’s necessary for our imaginations, productivity and mental health and means we can come back to study or work feeling refreshed, able to concentrate better and with more energy. Downtime helps us to stimulate unconscious thought processes so we become more creative and better at finding solutions for problems.
So, what does this mean in practice? For me, I relished in downtime over the spring bank holiday weekend just gone and this is what it looked like:
Leaving my tablet at home, shut down and out of sight for three whole days. There was a time when I felt anxious even thinking about such a thing, and when that starts to happen it’s a bit of wake-up call that somewhere along the line, the attachment to an electronic device and work has gotten a bit out of control! I’m now mindful of that compulsive behaviour and aim to have at least one day a week where I don’t switch on my tablet.
Too much reliance on technology and work can lead to a lack of connectedness with others and physical and mental stress. It also affects our general happiness. Admittedly, I could see emails on my phone, but it was the weekend so I made a conscious decision not to reply. I’ve learned the hard way that power off buttons are designed to be used and disconnecting from it all is necessary for a healthy mind, body and soul.
Walking in the beautiful Cotswolds and not checking my phone for notifications. So many streams of online communication and information – personal email, work email, texts, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn…. Instead, I fully appreciated the scenic views, the blossoms, the sheep, the wild rabbits, the dogs and their walkers, the sun breaking through the clouds. I made friends with some cows and allowed myself to be absorbed in the moment stroking their heads with a big smile on my face. I even hugged a tree. 🙂
Being out in green spaces has so many benefits for our health and wellbeing. It’s gentle stimulus for the brain that has restorative affects. It allows the brain to take time out from its constant state of arousal and the need to be busy that modern society has come to dictate. It offers space to reflect and helps to reduce stress and mental fatigue. It’s no wonder that being out in nature is such a delight!
Drawing a picture of sand dunes. For years I convinced myself that I was no good at art and as a result I haven’t tried to draw anything properly since art lessons at school. Last year, I discovered colouring books for adults and always find it calming when I take time out to colour something in. This year, I decided to really let my creative juices flow and have had a couple of attempts at drawing with my latest effort being a copy of a picture of sand dunes.
While I’m no Picasso, I’m enjoying this new found pleasure and what I have discovered is the link between creativity and happiness and how good it can be for our mental health. Working on a piece of art helps to lower stress levels and as we get immersed in our creation we allow ourselves to be in the moment where time passes and we don’t even notice. When we create something this helps to increase levels of the feel good neurotransmitter dopamine, so we also experience the satisfaction with our achievement.
I also did a bit of reading, watched a movie and enjoyed spending time with my partner, with a small amount of social media activity thrown into the mix. It was a much needed, truly relaxing weekend.
If your exams and end of year assignments are taking their toll on your brain and mental wellness, make sure you too are getting some downtime and unplugging from it all. I hope this post has inspired you to have at least one day off for yourself in the not too distant future and to make downtime a regular part of your life.
Listen to your body. If you know that you haven’t stopped for a while and you’re feeling discomfort in some way, be it mental (anxiety, stress, depression, overwhelm etc) or physical (exhaustion, headaches, stomach pains, back pain etc), it could be that your brain and body are crying out for downtime. Put away your computer and phone, enjoy the spring weather and experience the benefits for yourself.
As for me now, how I am feeling? Calm. Happy. Refreshed. Ready for a new month, that’s not going to be manic.