Category Archives: Relaxation and fitness

Productivity paralysis? 6 daily habits that help you get shit done

Daily habitsA little while ago I made a big life change, leaving my grown-up job for the greener pastures of freelance writing. It’s been a few weeks, but I’m still struggling to get into my productivity groove.

My current daily routine looks something like this: press snooze button, rush out of bed, quick shower before husband leaves for work (optional), throw down strong coffee. Yell at my kids to get their bloody shoes on cos we’re late and mum was supposed to start work 10 minutes ago. Throw sobbing children at childcare worker. Drive home erratically. Procrastinate. Check email. Check Facebook. Drink more coffee. Check Facebook again.

At the end of most days I tally up my ‘productive’ work hours and feel crap about myself.

So obviously I need to form some new daily habits.

Here are 6 daily habits I’m implementing this week in the hope they become as routine as my morning caffeine palpitations.

1. Green exercise
Working at home is bloody hard. I often fall prey to creativity-sucking cabin fever. So I’m getting out and doing some green exercise. A brisk walk/bike ride/stretch in nature can positively impact your health and wellbeing, relieve stress, and promote concentration and clear thinking. I’m sure there is a park or a little grassy area close to you, so no excuses. Get out there.

2. Mindful eating
I’ve got work to do – ooh what shall I eat? Chocolate or an apple. Yes, chocolate. Shit, no chocolate. I wonder if apples and peanut butter are a good combo?

Eating has become a form of distraction for me. I eat in front of the computer or on the go. I make dodgy choices. So I’m making a conscious effort to eat food that makes my body happy and to sit down when I’m eating (away from smart devices). I’m also trying to eat more slowly. Chewing until each bite liquefies makes your food more easily digestible, allowing you to absorb the maximum nutrients. Taking your time also helps your body notice when it’s full.

3. Meditation
I may have mentioned this – meditation doesn’t come naturally to me. I need short, guided meditation or else my chatty mind gets all anxious. I’ve been a fan of Headspace for a while, but my daily meditation habit has become more like weekly. So I’ve signed up to a paid program for some additional incentive and scheduled meditation minutes into my work calendar. The other issue is that when I do manage to meditate, I fall asleep. Which probably means I need to…

4. …Get 8 hours’ sleep a night
According to sleep experts, 6.5 to to 9 hours of solid sleep every night can lower stress levels, may reduce weight gain and can even lower your chances of premature death. Fewer than 6.5 hours a day and your risk of dying early increases by 10%. More than 9.5 hours and your chances of dying increase even more than if you sleep too little… Who would have thought that a lie-in could be life-threatening?

The time you go to bed is important too. According to the 24-hour chi cycle, the gallbladder detoxes the body from 11pm and 1pm, while the liver detoxes most effectively from 1am-3am. So get to bed before 11pm and help your body flush those nasties out.

5. Breathe
I sometimes feel like I’ve been holding my breath all day. Shallow breaths deprive the brain, blood and cells of oxygen, affecting concentration, making you feel grumpy and stressed, and stimulating the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. Focus on your breath for a moment. Breathe deeply in and out of your nose. Fill your lungs. You’ll get an instant dose of calm.

6. Digitally disengage
This is the biggest time-sucker for me. I work at a computer and spend so much time on social procrastination – flicking between writing, checking email, Facebook, blogs, the weather. It stops me facing the difficult stuff – the stuff I’m actually supposed to be doing. Be a hard arse with yourself. Close your browser and email. Turn off all notifications for Facebook, Twitter etc. If that’s still not working, unplug your modem or go somewhere that has no internet connection/WiFi – apparently these strange places do still exist.

Each of these daily habits takes just minutes to do. They may add up to an hour a day, but think about all the time you’re currently wasting on unproductive ‘stuff’ and you’ll see it’s an hour well spent.

Start small. Choose 3 habits and give it a week. Let’s get into the productivity groove together and get into a new habit – making shit happen.

Wanna find out how my ‘habits’ week went? See my Happy Habits Update (warning: it gets messy…)

Image courtesy of gratisography.

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A beginner’s guide to finding the beauty in burnout

I have to confess. I let things get the better of me this week. There have been tears before bedtime. And after bedtime. And in the office loos. And even a little train sob or two (cunningly disguised with sunglasses).

I’m a woman on the edge. I’m not sleeping. My skin is in teenage breakout mode. I’m snapping at my kids. I’m anxious about everything. I can’t get my shit together. I feel completely drained.

Stress? That’s part of it. Anxiety? Nup — doesn’t quite cover it.

Burnout.

Yeah, that fits. Burnout.

Burnout is the exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.

It’s a state of joylessness. And it feels pretty shitty.

I can’t tell you how to stop the burnout — I wish I could. But maybe, just maybe I can help you transform your thinking about burnout.

Rather than the idea of burnout as a failure or ending, try reframing it as the precursor to transformation and change. Burnout is a new beginning. A beautiful new beginning.

Here are a few steps that might help you uncover the beauty in burnout.

1. Take a break
When you’re in burnout phase, you actually can’t function, so if you don’t give your body, mind and spirit the chance to recuperate, you’re going to get stuck. If you can, take a holiday, a day or two off, or even just set aside some time to relax. Don’t put any pressure on yourself to ‘fix’ things. Take long walks. Take long baths. Meditate. Breathe.

2. Focus on the body first
When your body feels healthy and recharged, so does your mind. So eat well, exercise gently (but only if it’s fun), nap and get enough sleep. Sleep is critical. Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on cognitive function, productivity, lifespan, and causes irreparable damage to our brains. Get some sweet sleep tips here.

3. Be good to yourself
When we’re in burnout we tend to beat ourselves up. I can’t cope. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like XYZ? Why can’t I get my shit together? Because you’re burnt out. Your body is trying to tell you something. Practice a little bit of self-love. Stop being a meanie.

4. Now you’ve given yourself some space, create
You’re rested. Now get up and change it up. It’s too easy to simply get back on the treadmill and get burnt out again. Try doing this stuff instead:

Set some boundaries. Whether it’s work or family, say no when you feel you need to. And mean it.

Dream again. Spend some time daydreaming and pose some “what ifs”. Burnout makes you feel stuck. Now’s the time to imagine life without limits.

Be inspired and create. If your burnout’s work-related, start taking baby steps towards doing work you’d love. Start a blog. Do some internet research. Sign up for a course. Contact someone you admire professionally.

Take responsibility. Your burnout is no one else’s fault. Sure your boss is an arsehole and maybe your kids drive you crazy but stop expecting them to change. No one else is going to fix it for you. Assume responsibility and take back your power.

Burnout can be beautiful. It can be the best thing that ever happens to you. Because it can be the first sign of a new beginning.

Take small steps. Brick by brick, you can create something incredible and rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of your beautiful burnout.

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The secrets to self love, and how to drop your inner critic

So you’ve got this ‘friend’ right? She’s been a ‘friend’ for as long as you can remember. But most of the time she’s not very nice to be around. She’s mean. Really, really mean. She tells you you’re ugly/fat/scrawny/stupid. Sometimes she keeps at you until you burst into tears. She tells you your dreams won’t come true. That you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re going to succeed.

To be honest, you can’t remember the last time she said anything nice to you.

But you still spend a hell of a lot of time with this person.

Why? Why would you do that?

Because she’s you.

Have you ever stopped to think about the way to talk to and treat yourself? If one of your friends spoke to you the way you talk to yourself, would you think that was OK?

Of course you wouldn’t. So why are you letting yourself be so damn mean?

Stopping the self hate and exchanging it for kindness makes sense. But self love gets a bad rap – some people think it’s about being arrogant or having a big ego. It’s actually about healthy self-respect.

It’s a simple equation: higher self love = higher happiness.

So here are a few ways to be kinder to yourself and nurture self love:

1. Put yourself in your best friend’s shoes. Talk to and treat yourself the way your best friend would. Listen, empathise, comfort and soothe. Give yourself a hug. Tell yourself that you are awesome and that you are doing the best you can.

2. Don’t compare yourself to anyone. You are amazing. There is literally no one else like you. That gorgeous, confident work colleague you wish you could be more like probably wishes he was as creative, funny and wise as you. It’s all relative. And, if you do admire something about someone else, tell them. Everyone loves a compliment and it’s true that you get back what you give out.

3. Be discerning about who you spend time with. Toxic people drain you (you know who they are). Spend time with people who have a healthy respect for themselves, and for you.  And stop seeking approval. It holds you back and stops you being the incredible person you already are. Not everyone has to like you, but you have to like you.

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” 
Thich Nhat Hanh (Buddhist monk/teacher)

4. Write down all the things you like about yourself. 
This is really hard, but worth the internal struggle. At first you’ll find yourself criticising instead of applauding but push through. Start with something small or physical – maybe “I like the colour of my eyes” or “I like that I’m organised” and build from there. Keep adding to your list too. You’ll soon see that you’re awesome in so many ways.

5. Set a low bar for happiness. This sounds weird but by setting achievable daily ‘happiness’ measures (sunshine, a decent cuppa, a chat with someone you like, a hug from someone you love), you’ll reframe ‘everyday’ into ‘exceptional’.

6. Become conscious of straying from the self-love path. Wear a wristband and every time you catch yourself being mean to or critical of yourself, swap it to the other wrist. As you become aware of the frequency of your self critical thoughts, you’ll find that the wrist swapping slowly reduces.

7. Reward yourself with 30 minutes. Take a long bath, go out for a walk, read a few chapters of a good book, meditate, do a bit of yoga. If you can’t manage 30 minutes, take 10. You can spare it and you deserve it.

Seven simple ways to self love, but they all come down to the same thing.
You — inner meanie = happiness. 
It adds up. 

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Top tips for a sweet night’s sleep

I don’t mean to be a drama queen but I feel like I’ve been sleep deprived for years. My youngest child is a bit of night owl. Except for last night, when he slept through the WHOLE NIGHT.

So why do I feel so unbelievably eye-poppingly, body-achingly tired today? More tired than the mornings when I’ve had barely a few hours of sleep?

Temperamental toddler or not, most of you will have experienced waking up from a ‘good’ night’s sleep still exhausted. And what about the nights when you go to bed absolutely exhausted only to find yourself still tossing and turning hours later, unable to find your off switch?

Being sleep deprived has simply become part of life. A massive 96% of us report regularly feeling tired upon waking and almost 30% of us have taken a sickie due to lack of sleep. We’ve become experts at ignoring our body’s signals and pushing through our sleep-deprived state. We’ve got too much to do and sleep is the first thing that takes a hit.

Add to that our digitalised lives, which keep us ‘switched on’ all the time. How many of you sleep with your phone by your bed? What’s the last thing you do before you turn in for the night? Check your email? Twitter? Facebook?

Now, in addition to sleep deprivation’s negative impact on cognitive function, productivity and lifespan, a new study has revealed that lack of sleep causes irreparable damage to our brains

It’s time to take action.

Six solutions to sleep deprivation

1. Pre-sleep meditation
OK, so this is still using your phone just before bed. But using free meditation and mindfulness apps like Omvana and Headspace (my current favourite) to take ten minutes to relax each night will help you drift off to sleep more easily.

2. Get some exercise (in the day)
I know, I know. It’s that last thing you want to do. But in 2013, The Huffington Post reported on the National Sleep Foundation’s poll, which found that people who exercise regularly experience better quality and more consistent sleep than those who don’t. Try some yoga or Pilates, or even better, some outdoor or ‘green exercise‘, which delivers a host of other health benefits including improved mood and self-esteem, and lower blood pressure.

3. Go to bed and get up earlier
According to the chi cycle, your body functions better when you wake up between 5 and 7am and go to bed between 9 and 11pm. Your body will be more in tune with the earth’s circadian rhythms, which offers more restorative sleep. An early wake up also gives you that precious time to exercise before the rest of the house gets up.

4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol
Your choice of beverage is crucial to good sleep habits. Avoid both alcohol and caffeine 4 hours before you turn in. Caffeine is a stimulant – it makes it harder to go to sleep, makes you sleep more lightly and makes you get up to go to the loo more often. Booze may help you fall asleep initially, but it causes more frequent night wakings, nightmares and headaches.

5. Keep your room for sleeping (and maybe one other thing)
Your room is sacred – only use it for sleeping and sex. Don’t eat or watch TV or have a lively debate. And make sure it’s dark – don’t give your body any excuse to stay awake.

6. Take a nap
Cats and Spaniards are on to something. Having a siesta isn’t lazy – our bodies are hardwired to nap, so there’s no need to feel guilty. No good at napping? Neither was I until I had my babies. Napping is a skill. Learn it.

Start today. Go take a nap and get an early night tonight. Give the coffee and wine a miss and have a cup of chamomile and a quick meditate instead. Let someone else get up for the kids. Your sleep affects every aspect of your waking life – it’s time to take it seriously.

How to get over your anger in less than 2 minutes

I’ve been angry this week. Pretty much all week. I’m usually a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-raging-temper-then-it’s-over kinda gal but this week I’ve been holding on to my red mist/black cloud for dear life. Stuff has happened. People have not played nicely. I’ve been properly pissed off.
But today I woke up and thought right, enough of this. Time to let it go.
90 seconds of hell
Apparently that’s all it takes. According to brain researcher, author and TED talker Jill Bolte Taylor, it takes “less than 90 seconds” for an emotion to get triggered, surge chemically through the blood stream, then get flushed out – but only if you let it go.
Problem is you don’t, do you? You hold on to it. Or you resist it completely and it sits there, festering. Resisting anger/fear/pain sucks. It sucks energy and it sucks time and if you let it, it slowly sucks your life away.
Be with the feeling
Often rather than deal with uncomfortable emotions (anger, fear, guilt, pain) you avoid (drink wine, watch TV, engage in a little online retail therapy). But if you pay full attention to the emotion, feel it, acknowledge it – all without judgement or ‘shoulds’, it will dissipate. Sure, it may come back, but you’re in charge. Just repeat the process and 90 seconds later, it’ll be gone again.
Know it’s coming – physical signs and triggers
Listen to your body – chances are it’s giving you physical signs that the emotion’s on its way such as a tensed jaw, increased heart rate, palpitations, a tightening in the throat. Whatever your physical signs, these are your body’s alarm bells so pay attention. Also, know your triggers. If you’re meeting someone who is renowned for running late and lack of punctuality really pisses you off, be prepared and ready to manage the anger.
Breathe and vocalise the feeling
Take some slow, steady breaths to deliver a healthy dose of calming oxygen to the brain. Next, focus on what you’re feeling. Then vocalise it. Don’t judge, just say something like “I’m starting to get angry” or I’m feeling anxious about this”. Labelling your feelings buys you time and allows the logical bit of your brain to weaken the fight or flight response.
Meditate like Richard Gere
Richard Gere reckons meditation helps us access the space between thoughts and helps us restrain our impulsive emotional reactions. He uses a lovely analogy to explain this: we may be all stormy on the surface but meditating strengthens our ability to access the calm water below. And remember, a daily meditation practice doesn’t need to be a chore – see my post on meditation frustration for a few tips.
Anyway, Richard finishes his little video on a nice note, so I’m going to steal it. You can’t stop thoughts, but you can stop your attachment to them. It’s the same with emotions.
Anger – I’m sorry. We’ve had our moments but the moments have passed. I don’t want to rock the boat but it’s anchors up for you. Off you go on your stormy way. I’ve got some deep sea diving to do.

Merry Christ-mess

Ah, the festive season. Apparently ’tis the season to be jolly. Sorry if I sound like Scrooge but I’m just not feeling it.

The media’s hung up on fiscal stress this festive season but it’s not my pocket that’s suffering. I braved my local shopping centre this week. I got shoved in the lift, elbowed in Target and scowled at in the supermarket.

At home, heightened expectations of ‘family time’ or feelings of isolation, the pressure to shell out and free-flowing booze all add up to a serious health (and wellbeing) hazard.

So here are my ‘better late than never’ tips for a stress-free Christmas:

Be realistic. If you bicker with the family all year round, don’t expect Christmas with The Waltons. Keep family gatherings short, don’t discuss politics or religion or parenting. Don’t get too drunk. Send everyone on their way with a smile. Then bolt the door and breathe.

Say no. No, you don’t have to go to every Christmas party. No, you don’t have to buy presents for the cousins you haven’t spoken to all year. No, you don’t have to make a croquembouche. Cut yourself some slack.

Maintain healthy habits. Whether it’s alcohol or food, over indulgence is all too easy, but hangovers and an expanding waistline will just add guilt to the mix. Make “everything in moderation” your mantra, get plenty of sleep and make time for some green exercise.

Take a break. Christmas can end up being all about other people but its essential that you take some time for you. Meditate, take a walk, listen to music, read a book, breathe deeply.

Remember, it’s just one day of the year. Be good to yourself this Christmas. And please, don’t go shopping without full body armour.

Green Exercise

The Melbourne nights are drawing in and suddenly it’s getting harder to get out of bed in the mornings. I’m not much of a winter person. I love the summer and find it much easier to stick to my exercise regime when the sun’s shining.

For me, maintaining a regime of winter exercise is all about looking beyond the gym and getting back in contact with nature. Somehow it’s much easier to sustain the motivation to stay fit when you’re outdoors.

Outdoor or ‘green exercise’ can include anything from Tai Chi in the park to walking along the beach, hiking in the mountains or surfing at sunrise.

According to Jules Pretty, a professor of environment and society at the University of Essex, green exercise delivers health benefits that include improved mood and self-esteem, and can even lower blood pressure.

Research shows that interacting with nature can positively impact our health and wellbeing, relieve stress, and promote concentration and clear thinking. This is due to the stimulation of the changing scenery and terrain and the mood boost that comes from being outside in the sunshine.

Luckily, Melbourne’s parks, gardens and beaches make it easy for us to get outdoors. Take the time to wander in the great outdoors today, even if it’s just for 20 minutes at lunchtime. I guarantee your body, and mind, will thank you for it.