WE ALL wake up to a grand total of just over 86,000 seconds to spend each day, whichever way we please. How do you allocate yours? I ask, because we live in a time where so many of us feel time-deprived, constantly under pressure to make everything fit, scarcely taking time to breathe. The thought of taking time out to do somethng fun, frivolous or non-essential probably seems absurd to you. Well, can I ask you to at least consider doing just that?
You see, we’re in Mental Health Week just now and, as a naturopathic consultant, my approach is always geared towards prevention rather than cure. Learning techniques to keep your mental, emotional and physical health in optimum condition will stand to you like a personalised insurance policy.
Have you ever noticed how small children are instinctively tuned to what they need, whether it’s to eat, sleep, cry, run, climb or laugh? Then, as they get older and become conditioned to timetables, trends on TV shows, an online world, peer pressure and study, the spontaneity gradually dwindles, until they reach adulthood and have to take courses in how to move, play or flex their creative muscle.
Have a quick scan through your day. How much of your time is spent focusing on external factors? Consider just a few:
- Bills to be paid
- Where to park
- What’s happening on social media
- Fighting over the remote control, the loo seat or putting out the laundry
- Buying a house, planning a wedding or any other key life event
- The leaky tap that needs fixing
- New wrinkles appearing
- Wanting the latest new phone/tablet/handbag
My question is, if a substantial part of your time and energy is spent on these external factors, what’s left to look after your mental, emotional and physical health? We have trillions of cells doing their best to keep us in good health 24/7, 365 days of the year. Those cells are highly influenced by the hormone they are exposed to. Hormones, like the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, are perfectly fine and even necessary in regulated, small amounts, at key times which correlate with our internal body clock. Left to run out of control, stress hormones can prove toxic to our overall health, triggering pathogenic genes to switch on. This leaves us vulnerable to a number of illnesses, mental health issues amongst them. You may be thinking that you’re just wired that way and you’ll simply have to live with the consequences. But the fact is, we can train ourselves to alter behaviour, once we have an awareness that a change is needed.
So my challenge to you is this. Can you take your 86,000 plus seconds and even just for a week, plan your days with fun and spontaneity front and centre? Switch your focus from all those external, mostly distracting factors, and take a moment to tune in to how you feel. If you’re exhausted but feel you have to say yes to a task, if you’re resentful over some past slight but feel you have to swallow your feelings, stop for a moment. Take a slow, calm breath and see where your attention is being drawn. Maybe you realise you need to stretch or roll your shoulders, stand up, lie down, drink some water, laugh or do some colouring. You can bet as a small child, you would have instinctively felt that need and acted on it. So try it.
Gradually expand this out to see what you’re drawn to do next. Maybe your kids want you to come outside and play, but you’re simply too busy. Just do it, if only for five minutes. You’ll release endorphins, get some fresh air, move a bit and maybe even laugh, so you’ll return to whatever urgent task you were doing in much better form. Maybe you feel like writing to a friend you haven’t contacted in some time, or planting some seeds so you can harvest your own fresh herbs. Perhaps swimming is your long lost love. The activity is totally up to you, just commit to doing it. And remember, in case you are panicking about shirking your grown-up obligations, even if you convert 5,000 of those seconds to fun, that’s not even an hour and a half, plenty time to return to your list of tasks. You’ll feel rejuvenated and hopefully more inspired, as you’ve detached yourself from some redundant habits, like checking social media and keeping up appearances. Instead, you have created some actual memories or real-life experiences that give you the boost you need to face the more mundane. Rather than clinging to that elusive annual holiday, storing up your fun points to spend in one block, sprinkle them throughout your life and see what changes it brings to your outlook, wellbeing and sense of freedom.