As a general rule we spend our time awake in one of three states:
When we are under a lot of stress our sympathetic nervous system is engaged and the fight, flight, freeze reaction is activated. This reaction evolved to protect us, to enable us to run away from, or fight off wild beasts but often we now respond to minor stressors as if they were life threatening situations!
This is really not good for us.
Our brains can’t tell the difference between things that are real and those we imagine, which means that each time we worry or stress about something that may never even happen, our bodies think that we are really in danger and react accordingly! We should spend as little time as possible in this state.
Health and Wellbeing state:
When we engage in pleasurable activities like sport, or doing things that excite us, there is mild activation of the sympathetic nervous system. It enables us to be motivated, to win, to get things done or to rush around multitasking.
Many of us believe we thrive in this state (and in fact probably spend most of our time here) but too much of anything is not good for us.
When we slow down and allow ourselves to rest or carry out activities with a calm approach then the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged. This enables us to regenerate and recover.
We can engage this state by just “being” instead of doing.
We can connect to the present moment, focusing our attention and making a conscious choice to be here now. We then feel more contented and are no longer lost in the fog of automatic pilot.
It is absolutely vital that we allow ourselves time to engage this state intentionally each day for our physical and mental health. Coupled with a non-judgemental approach, this state enables us to bounce back from challenges and stressors more quickly.
So, where’s the problem?
The problems occur when we don’t spend enough time in the resting state. Be honest, when you look at the 3 states listed above, what proportion of your time is spent where? Do you often feel too guilty to allow yourself any real downtime?
We have this misconception that always being busy is a good thing.
Well guess what? It is precisely this misguided belief that is leading so many people to burn out. We have too many “windows” open in our brains and, just like a computer, they will often crash, or at least run slower.
So, do yourself a favour and slow down. Build in some time to just be, even if it is just for a brief period each day or you may find yourself being forced to. A quote I heard recently really resonates – “If you do not look after your wellness, you may be forced to make time for your illness”.
Tips to help.
When you wake up in the morning take a bit of time to check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Don’t try to change anything, just notice whatever’s there.
Each time you have a cup of tea or coffee, take that time to just be. Don’t be tempted to distract yourself with your phone. Really enjoy the drink.
Spend some time outside, even if it is for just five minutes. Sit and listen to the birds or take a walk. Focus on what’s around you as best you can not letting the mind think about all the things it needs to do. Just being.
Reduce your time scrolling on social media even by a few minutes. The brain needs silence and rest. Notice when your hand grabs for the phone and make a choice to focus attention somewhere else. Perhaps focus on your breathing instead.
If you notice your body showing signs of stress such as heart rate increasing or churning in your stomach, stop. Take a pause and breathe and just allow yourself some time before you rush off again.