A couple of years ago something started happening.
Simple chores, like filling up the car or attending a school event, began to feel much bigger than they really were and I found myself only truly relaxing when I was safely tucked up at home.
I’ve always been an extroverted introvert, a confusing contrast of attributes that meant I was either life and soul of the party, or hiding away from the world. But this was different; my mildly sulky reticence was evolving into actual anxiety – pounding heart, a sick feeling of dread, a wish to do ANYTHING else than leave the house.
Tiny things were setting me off – a looming work deadline, or even something as simple as having to make a phone call.
I’d never had anxiety before (aside from ‘normal’ levels ahead of stressful events) but within months it had become my daily companion, a constant flutter of worry. I realised I needed to make some lifestyle changes.
I’d fallen into the freelancer’s trap of making myself available to clients all day, every day, which meant I was often working ridiculously late at night (also the working mum’s trap) and on weekends. Teamed with the 24/7 demands of a young family, I had nothing left for myself.
I thought I was doing the right thing, prioritising myself behind family, household and work, but – as the saying goes – you can’t pour from an empty cup.
The anxiety, I realised, was partly in response to this – I’d spent so many years rushing around, trying to cram 30 hours into each 24-hour day that I’d constantly flooded my body with the stress hormone cortisol. Essentially, my ‘fight-or-flight’ mode had been activated so often I could no longer switch it off when it wasn’t needed.
Something had to give, and I didn’t want it to be my mental health.
I finally gave myself permission to prioritise myself. What that meant for me was saying no to things I didn’t want to do, only accepting work I felt passionate about and not feeling guilty when I switched off. I started by creating clear work boundaries – no working after 7pm during the week and absolutely no weekends.
I’d always been dubious of the whole mindfulness concept, dismissing it as an excuse for people to do nothing, and call it something. But I’ve come to realise it is, in fact, an essential counterbalance to the frenetic pace of modern life.
My journey towards better mindfulness began with a gym membership that gave me access to a range of exercise and yoga classes. When I was younger I found yoga too slow – when I was supposed to be meditating my mind would be racing instead, thinking of all the things I still had to plough through. Taking the time out from my to-do list felt selfish and indulgent.
Now I consider that I’ve earned that time for myself; I dedicate all my attention to it and refuse to let other thoughts intrude. That one-hour is an oasis of calm in my day, where I can slow my tumbling thoughts. I come out feeling better, both physically and mentally, and it helps me to take on the rest of the day.
I’ve worked hard to make my home a more tranquil environment too – when we renovated two years ago we created an open-plan kitchen diner that became the heart of our home. We’ve decorated with comfy sofas and a living plant wall that brings the outdoor in, and adds a soothing, natural element. My ongoing project last year was completely redecorating my tired old bedroom so I had a sanctum where I could close the door and forget about the world – temporarily, at least!
I consider myself quite a tech-savvy person, but one of the biggest changes I’ve made is to simply switch off. I’ve set my phone’s ‘Do Not Disturb’ function to kick in between 8.30pm – 7am. It’s almost ridiculous how much this tiny change has improved my evenings, now I’m not being distracted by the constant ping of messages and notifications.
My conscious decision to close my laptop more often has lead to some lovely rediscoveries – now, when I have thoughts and ideas I want to preserve, I go ‘old school’ with pen and paper. When I started out as a journalist nearly 30 years ago, everything was analogue. If you were really fancy you had a mini tape recorder, but otherwise it was notes scribbled with a pen on a spiral-bound notebook.
I was lucky to be approached late last year by the team at Pen Heaven, the stationery addict’s dream come true, with a range of luxury brand pens and journals to make your heart almost burst with happiness (if you know, you know!).
They invited me to choose a pen and a journal from their gorgeous selection, and after much deliberation I finally settled on the silver Parker Urban Metro rollerball pen, and the Amalfi medium leather journal in this rich shade of aubergine.
As the perfect finishing touch, I was offered the chance to have the pen engraved and the journal embossed with my initials.
I’d forgotten the simple pleasure of opening up a fresh, clean page and putting pen to paper. Yes, typing might be quicker, but there’s just something so satisfying about getting your thoughts down in old-fashioned ink (I’d actually forgotten what my handwriting looked liked).
But it wasn’t just that lovely nostalgic feeling of going offline and getting back to basics, journalling has long been recognised as a way to soothe and improve your mental health. Professionals believe that the concept of journalling to reduce anxiety works because it allows you to organise your thoughts, which can reduce stress. Also, by expressing your concerns and acknowledging them in writing, you’re a step closer to tackling them. Seeing your thoughts written down can also help you to spot stress patterns and either work through (or, even better, avoid them completely).
It’s such a simple, positive change you can make, that Pen Heaven have launched the #LoveYourLife campaign to stress the importance of making time for yourself, even if it’s just a few minutes a day.
A journal can be anything you want it to be – from a place to keep track of your daily ‘to-do’ list, to affirmations, to a book of your wildest hopes and dreams. There’s something very cathartic about writing things down and it’s long been realised that by crystallising your thoughts and seeing them in front of you increases accountability, and your chance of making them into reality.
Journalling to reduce anxiety is such a simple way to increase mindfulness – here’s to a calmer, more productive 2020.
HOW TO JOURNAL
• keep your pen and journal to hand, so you can write whenever the urge strikes
• don’t overthink it, just start writing
• write as much or as little as you like
• allow yourself time every day, even if it’s just a few minutes
• write naturally and in your own voice
• re-read what you’ve written and celebrate your accomplishments – even the tiny ones
• remember it’s your journal and your space – anything goes, so long as it makes YOU happy!
Because they’re so committed to improving mental health through journaling, Pen Heaven are donating 10% of sales from their £22 Green Palmi Grained Leather Journal to the Mental Health Foundation.
My Pen Heaven pen and notebook were provided for the purpose of inclusion in this post about increasing mindfulness and writing to reduce anxiety.
Have you read? Office Oasis – Creating my Perfect Workspace at Home