By the time you read this blog we’ll be out in the Algarve enjoying our first holiday in months. Whilst we’ve travelled around a geat deal in the last year, most of the time it’s involved working each day to some degree or a previous commitment for our time. Read about how we’re coping with our switch off.
This time we’ve committed ourselves to having a full week off, something we’ve not done for a seriously long time. In amongst the manic build up to heading away and scramble to get everything done I noticed a slight sense of anxiety building inside. Despite knowing that I need a proper break with no email, research, blogs or e-communication of any sorts, I found myself starting to worry about what I would do each day – how I will fill my time without work?!
There was a genuine sense of fear at the thought of not having a purpose or plan to my day and being devoid of work for a period of time. As someone who is passionate about health, it’s understandable I love my job, but equally depending upon it is no good thing either and makes me a hypocrite in a way. At Fitter Food we constantly talk about dealing with addictions like caffeine, alcohol, sugar or exercise, however, there are other forms of attachments and dependency that may be equally harmful yet more acceptable.
Too Much Of Anything Is Bad!
I’ve done ‘too much’ of a lot over the years and written about my battles here, yet slowly I’ve established a great sense of balance with my attitude towards exercise, nutrition, caffeine and such like. However, when it comes to work it’s not so clear cut. I like to know, understand, achieve and create all day long, sometimes until I’m totally shattered. I can only relax when I’ve done my ‘something’ (which can be a hugely unrealistic list) and I find it hard to close my laptop at night when there’s still more to learn and tick off. I’ve noticed recently on social occasions I find it increasingly hard to engage or follow actual conversations when in the company of real people as I have so many ‘virtual’ conversations ticking over in my mind.
What Is Your Fear?
I’m telling you about this experience as I’ve observed a similar pattern in many clients, it may be a fear to shut down emails, turn off a mobile phone, stop counting macros, tracking steps or break from your gym routine (which you have observed isn’t working!) or saying no to family/friends who are asking for too much time when you’re already stretched. We’re overcomplicating everything and overwhelming ourselves, yet people are genuinely scared to give themselves a break, in the meantime life is just flying by as we prefer to be too busy to live it. I’m constantly having conversations with people about simplifying and taking everything back to basics, yet I’m met with a genuine look of fear at the idea of a week off from the gym, a laptopless break or divorce from MyfitnessPal.
Instead we prefer to wear down our mental and physical health by keeping our brain racing at 100 mph all day long with information overload. Suddenly we no longer dream about falling in love, travelling and exciting experiences -instead we’re composing shopping lists, planning meals and counting macros in our sleep. Many clients have commented on losing the ability to laugh and enjoy themselves, how tragic is that! Yet I completely understand, the number of times Matt goes to great lengths to entertain me with a semi-naked dance, impression or pulling a random face yet is met with a blank look from me as I have too much going on upstairs to appreciate the humour.
So how do I plan to put the brakes on and detach? It’s never easy but I believe the following three steps will be the key for me and really we should all contemplate implementing them on a regular basis.
Three Steps To Taking Time Out
1. Have A Digital Disconnect
Staying connected all day with instant chat, photos, videos, email is total information overload, the constant stimuli means ours brains are overtrained with little rest throughout the day. Social media has been shown in studies to increase levels of dopamine in the brain, essentially making it addictive, similar to caffeine or alcohol. We look forward to logging on and get excited about the news it will bring, sadly on most occasions we’re usually faced with a stream of information that reinforces the pressure for perfection and simply makes us feel inadequate more than anything. The bright logos on our phones or laptop tempt us all day long saying “talk to me” “impress me” “make me laugh” “answer my question!” All of us need to disconnect on a regular basis and take our brains back to the BC era (Before Comms). You can do the following on a temporary basis (evenings, weekends, regular holidays) or even better a permanent basis if your lifestyle allows it:
- Delete communication apps from your phone (allow it to be just a phone)
- Turn off wifi at home at a set time each evening so you’re not tempted to log back on or google anything!
- Switch phone to airplane mode (or off) for an hour each day and take time for yourself.
- Remove all tracking devices – food, macros, steps, calories eaten/burned – all of it is extra information to collect and stress about, it needs to go!
2. Read For Leisure
We spend so much time using the internet to communicate and source information rapidly from different mediums like videos and images, we’re slowly losing the ability to concentrate for a set period of time and achieve a focused task like reading a book. Chris Kressser calls this ‘attention spread disorder’ which is such a shame as reading for leisure is the perfect activity to help you switch off as it requires you to be mindful, cloud out daily distractions and quieten your mind of mental chatter. I love reading autobiographies or true stories for this reason, it’s nice to lose myself in someone else’s life for a while I and be transported away from any daily worries. I’m fascinated by the experiences of others as there is always some important life lessons to be learned. My current holiday read is “The Year of Living Danishly – Uncovering the secrets of the worlds happiest country” a tale of a journalist on a mission to discover why Denmark is the happiest country in the world, turns out they work an average of 34 hours a week and 18.5 days a month for a start!
3. Stay Active Mindfully
I know I’ll personally struggle to simply lounge around on a sunbed sipping cocktails all day on our first few days away but there are other ways to detach and relax. You can practice mindfulness or ‘being in the moment’ with some active hobbies that distract from the usual daily stresses. Walking is the simplest, most accessible way to do this and use the sights and sounds to refocus your thoughts. Of course on holiday it’s much easier with the sun, sea and sand to awaken your senses. Ideally we should all be doing this everyday home or away. Our pal Paul Watson suggests using dogs as a guide as they’re constantly interacting with their environment stopping to take in the sights, sounds and smells along the way. They attach no outcome to their walk, no set speed, distance, steps or time, they simply do what they naturally feel like doing.
Active hobbies like a bike ride, rock climbing, stand up paddling or other skill based activity (ideally outdoors) can also be incredibly mindful but the key is not to set goals or defined outcome to the experience (ie. no quantification of time, distance, etc) you’re just out enjoying yourself 🙂
Creative hobbies can have a similar effect, I’ve charged up our real camera for the first time in months (no iPhone!) and plan to get out and about capturing the stunning coastline views. Photography is just one example of a past time that gets you outdoors, connected to nature and mindful in a positive way. Other mindful hobbies include painting, ceramics, drawing, dancing, colouring, singing, playing an instrument or creative writing. If you don’t have anything like this in your life it’s never too late to start, have a look around at local courses, it may also be a great chance to meet people and discover your hidden talents.