Charlotte Willis reveals how to take stock of your life and learn to re-prioritise by inviting mindfulness and meditation into your life.
Living life on 24/7 schedules can lead to something called job-related burnout. This is a stress-induced condition that involves physical and psychological exhaustion, reduced personal identity, and can lead to further mental health complications, including depression and chronic stress.
Added worries from additional juggling of our partners, friends, social events, children, and even simple tasks such as cooking, can lead to burnout in our everyday lives.
In her book Rushing Women’s Syndrome, Dr Libby Weaver details the threat to our health posed by a never ending list of tasks. Being tired but wired is an expression coined by Weaver, describing the feeling of pure mental exhilaration resulting from burnout-related exhaustion. We have a desperate need to carry on, save face, and breakdown later on. All because it’s hard to say no.
It can be hard to see yourself burning out, or indeed to admit that you may need to take a step back. Our relentlessness to keep calm and carry on can lead us to develop a distinct disconnection with our bodies and minds. We get too busy to notice signals of distress, we fight through illnesses and push ourselves harder every day.
If you think you might be experiencing burnout, or are concerned about how much time you dedicate to your work, this exercise may help you to identify the problem.
To help you analyse your current state of mind, begin by making a list of everything that you have whirling around inside your head, and I mean everything! From work tasks to moments in your personal life, and everything on your mind that falls in-between and outside these categories.
Next, allocate an estimate of how much time in your day each one of these thoughts dictate. Be honest with yourself. You may work 8 hours per day, but how much work do you take home with you? How much time do you spend scrolling through social media? How many hours do you spend thinking about your budget for the month?
I’ll put good money on your hourly total being a surprisingly high number. If estimating is difficult, make a diary of your thoughts every day for a week, and note the times your mind wonders to various topics. When I did this exercise, I found that I spent an overwhelming amount of hours thinking about work, sometimes in excess of 12 hours per day. If you can relate, perhaps it is time to re-think your relationship with yourself.
You may even decide the time has come to say no more often
Another great way to reconnect with how you are feeling about your current schedule is to keep an emotional reflection journal, taking notes every day of how each activity makes you feel.
For example, how is your mood on your commute? How did you end your working day? Are you left feeling satisfied and accomplished, or exhausted and strained? How much sleep would you achieve in an average night? Do you awake feeling refreshed, or reaching for the snooze button? Emotional reflection is an essential part of being more aware of yourself.
We can fall into a vicious cycle of working hard, rushing around, living from meeting to meeting without so much of a thought as to how we are feeling. After all, there’s no time to be emotional or stressed out when you’ve got that much work to do.
Failing to acknowledge how we feel every day can leave us blind to our emotions. So much so, that when something wonderful happens to us, we have a rather muted emotional experience. Not because we are underwhelmed with the event, but because we aren’t used to feeling excited or elated. These emotions become dulled down as we have spent so long ignoring them every day, overwhelmed by stressors in our lives.
Re-connect in 5 minutes
One day, quite recently if I’m being completely transparent with you, I decided to say no. After one too many working weekends, countless colds, and a newly acquired, extremely one-sided work-life balance, enough was enough. I made one of the healthiest decisions for me, and began to focus on developing myself.
I began to turn my attention back towards my body. I stopped suppressing my friends and family, putting back into perspective what I really wanted to achieve each and every day, and prioritising a balance between what was required from me both professionally and personally. How so? I began to meditate.
Nope. You don’t require an award-winning, Instagram-worthy morning ritual. You won’t need to own a single stick of sage to burn. Nor do you need to regularly practice yoga, rub your chakras with crystals, nor listen to vibrations.
All you’ll need is a little silence, five minutes every day, and your breath. A simple combination of three free ingredients, with an extremely effective outcome. If only you could bottle it and sell it for a premium price, eh?
It’s time to begin your journey back to yourself
Disclaimer alert: I am no meditation expert. I have not spent half of my life with Buddhist monks, showering myself in the enormous grandeur of silence that pours from the peaks of great mountains in far-flung locations (yet). Still, the untapped potential in the power of breathing and inner focus, is undeniable.
Beginning your journey back to yourself is as personal as both your biological and psychological fingerprints. Each of us will have a preferred way to re-connect to ourselves, and a different definition of what achieving a connection will entail.
For some of us, re-connecting will involve combining our working day with meaningful reflections, regular breaks, and walks around the city.
For others, a more in-depth re-centring may be necessary, involving immersive reflecting using diaries and group support sessions. Regardless of where you decide your path leads you, the journey back to yourself usually begins at the same crossroad as everyone else – making the decision to change.
Reap the benefits
You’re stressed out, but you’re making money. So why should you decide to alter your lifestyle now? There are many incredible advantages to be discovered when you decide to lean out a little more often, rather than constantly leaning in.
By practicing regular meditation, you may experience a reduced level of anxiety and stress, and with it an improvement in mood, enjoyment of life, and sense of purpose. You’ll heighten your self-awareness, gaining much-needed insight into how daily activities and work affect your emotions. Hey, you may even decide the time has come to say no a little more often.
One of the most common options for individuals beginning their journey into selfreflection and re-connection is to use a form of guided meditation. These videos, coaches and podcasts will help lead beginners through the basics of meditation, using softly spoken prose and journeys into your thoughts. You’ll learn how to master breathing, focusing your mind, and take note of how you feel.
Luckily, you don’t need to know a Sensei to begin your practice towards mindfulness. There are some truly wonderful YouTube videos, and apps such as Calm, to help you begin your journey.
A guided meditation can last as little as five minutes, or as long as an hour. For your first week or month, I would begin slowly, building up your meditation time only when you feel you are able to focus for your entire session with ease.
Try to meditate at least twice per week, paying close attention to how you feel on days when you are particularly stressed, strained or overwhelmed.
Prior to meditation, it can be beneficial to write all of your thoughts down. This acts as a mental dump (no, really) to help your meditation become more focused on your emotions and breathing, rather than being distracted by any impending deadlines and tasks.
A truly wonderful way to embrace mindful meditation and breathing practice is to try out Yin Yoga. Unlike traditional Yang Yoga, which is extremely high energy and kinetic, Yin focuses more upon breathing practice and appreciation of your body.
Yin utilises traditional beliefs of Chinese medicine, holding gentle poses for prolonged periods of time, which are designed to stretch the tendons, smooth muscle and ligaments. If you’re struggling to find a form of exercise which calms you, Yin practice once per week is an ideal place to start.
Finding your way back to your inner self is a difficult and challenging journey, but one that is tremendously rewarding once you decide to take those important first steps. By reminding yourself of your emotions, taking time to appreciate your mind and all of its individual thoughts, and reassessing your priorities, I hope that you will laugh harder, clear some space in your calendar, say no a little more, and never cancel on that friend in need.
Charlotte is a freelance journalist and health writer who has worked with Veganuary, the Vegan Society and other online vegan publications. Her fields of expertise and interest include vegan nutrition, holistic healthcare, mindfulness and fitness.