5 ways to find some head space in your day
All too often we find ourselves on a Sunday evening at the end of a hectic week, wishing we could have another weekend just to catch up on some much-needed downtime. With ever more of us taking work home and checking emails out of the office, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between our work and home lives. The less defined our boundaries, the greater our risk of burnout from neglecting our need for ‘me time’. The activities we find most relaxing and rewarding will vary from person to person, so it doesn’t matter whether your pocket of personal time involves a coffee with a friend or a few minutes to just sit and breathe. What is important is that you allocate yourself regular moments of rest, no matter how busy your schedule, to relax and reconnect with yourself.
When creating an article on the Swedish practice of Fika for our Spring 2018 issue, we were very taken with the way our Scandinavian friends place such importance on the restorative power of coffee breaks. Fika is not a hasty lukewarm Americano at your desk. Fika is the Swedish coffee break. Its focus is on intentionally taking a pocket of time out of your schedule to slow down with coffee (or tea), cake, and friends. We love this Swedish kladdkaka, a dark chocolate and almond cake with the gooey-est centre that perfectly complements a cortado coffee with a friend.
One of the very simplest ways of giving yourself a few minutes of stillness and breathing space is to, well, breathe! Breathing is one of the core facets of mindfulness practice and is a powerful relaxation tool that you can tap into at any time. Deep breathing exercises can have a profound effect on the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the rest and digest system) which reduces our stress levels. An easy way of decreasing our stress response is by practising mindful breathing, which involves breathing out for slightly longer than you breathe in. You can try it now: find somewhere comfortable to sit with a straight back, let your shoulders drop, and inhale through your nose for a count of four so that you can feel your belly expanding. Breathe out for a count of six, and in that simple exercise your breathing has slowed to six breaths per minute. Allow your mind to focus on the breath while noticing your thoughts as they come and go. Don’t feel the need to pursue anxious thought patterns but observe them from the outside. If life has become a little too hectic just give yourself the gift of a few minutes to sit and breathe.
Walk it off
A study at Stanford University found that its participants’ creativity levels increased by up to 60% both during and shortly after walking. Walking therefore not only has physical benefits but is also mentally stimulating. The study found that creativity improved regardless of whether the walking took place outside or on a treadmill, so if it’s particularly gloomy outside, take a few minutes to walk around your home or workspace. Taking breaks is so important for maintaining good mental health and productivity. Don’t think of a walk as reducing your work time, think of it as increasing your creativity: that way, you will work much more efficiently and effectively in a shorter period of time.
Nap out of it
An afternoon nap is a quick, effective way of working some ‘me time’ into your day, with benefits including increased alertness, cognitive performance and improved mood. Most of us experience a natural slump around 1-3pm, and a nap is the perfect antidote to this. The most effective way to nap is to ensure you wake up during light sleep. If you have more time on your hands, napping for an hour and a half will allow you to sleep through an hour of deep sleep (from which you would awake feeling drowsy and groggy) and half an hour of light sleep, which will leave you feeling alert and energised when you wake up. If the time you can allocate to rest is more limited, then a 10-15-minute power nap will leave you feeling rejuvenated for several hours after. Although it may sound counterintuitive, drinking a cup of tea just before your nap will make all the difference, as the caffeine will kick in just as you are waking up, leaving you ready to continue with your day.
Switching off your computer and getting away from your screen at lunchtime will give your brain a chance to recuperate. Take your time to have a healthy, filling lunch to ward off the afternoon slump; a great option is this carrot soup with granola. Try to eat as mindfully as possible, paying attention to every mouthful, as you will not only gain more pleasure from eating, but will also reduce your chances of painful bloating and indigestion later.