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Turn off, tune out, slow down

As the pace of the world gets faster, psychologists suggest we recharge ourselves instead of our phones

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How are you feeling? Tired? Run down? Has your email been inundated with meditation solicitations from chief of chakras Deepak Chopra and his buddy Oprah?

What about the numerous stress-relieving treatment offers — think hot stones and hot yoga — that land in your inbox on a daily basis? Are you tempted to sign up?

Top 10 timeouts

Take a deep breath and slow down. Every moment of your life doesn’t have to be filled with busy stuff.

For instance, you don’t have to fold laundry while you are watching a movie with your family. You can just watch a movie with your family. That’s not wasting time. That’s actually quality time relaxing with the people you love.

With that in mind, here are 10 expert tips to help you in your quest to quell the desire to be busy all the time:

1. Find joy in the moment. Practise focusing on being in the moment and being mindful of what you are doing. Go outside.

2. Be OK with doing less.  Differentiate between your wants and your needs, and prioritize the things that take up your time.

3. Don’t over-plan; be flexible. Don’t spend all your time planning ahead. That way you won’t be so disappointed when plans change.

4. Change what you can, accept what you can’t. For instance, if the person you are meeting for dinner is running late, relax and have a drink.

5. Take days off. If you have vacation time coming to you, take it — even if it’s just for a “staycation.” Take time off from exercise, too, if you usually push yourself to do it every day. Resting the body isn’t “doing nothing.”

6. Say “no” more. Don’t agree to anything without thinking about it. Then be OK with saying “no thank you” (the latter helps ease the sting on the other end).

7. Disconnect — literally and emotionally. Go for an electronics-free walk by yourself.

8. Do things more slowly. This is especially the case when eating and when driving.

9. Breathe. Practising meditation brings a number of mental and physical health benefits. If you can’t do 30 minutes — and most people can’t without training themselves to do so — start with 30 seconds of deep and mindful breathing. Notice the chatter in your head and let it be.

10. Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking lowers the overall quality of your performance.

— Postmedia Network 2014 Inc.

But do we really need to sign up to power down? Wouldn’t it be better if we just took some time to truly unplug?

As Gandhi said, "There is more to life than increasing its speed."

Psychologist Dr. Ellen Domm, who practises in Vancouver and Whistler, agrees. Now, more than ever, we should be hitting the brakes on our busy lives, she says.

"Life is short and the body only has so much energy," Domm says. "I think it’s extremely important to learn to observe yourself from an objective standpoint and really analyze what you are doing and what is working for you and what is not working for you. I think we are on automatic so much of the time."

We do too much and we are tired. And when we do have days off they are often spent recovering, says Domm.

"Where is the joy? Where is the self-care? It is not an expendable commodity, that time off. That time off is time off," emphasizes Domm, who adds that too many of us are getting stuck in a rut. "There’s real endlessness about it that gets to people after a while."

So how did we end up on this big hamster wheel?

"I think it is part of the zeitgeist. We live in a world where we have so much information coming in and we feel we have to do something with it and it cannot be filed for later," Domm says. "We feel like we have to respond to it right away. I think there is a real sense of urgency about life and that extends into many different realms of our existence."

Of course, all the cool new gadgets we have at our fingertips aren’t helping matters.

"Technology creates a whole level of busyness that isn’t necessarily healthy," says Domm, who advocates such crazy things as actually going outside without a phone.

"I think that’s why the big buzz word you hear now in psychology is ‘mindfulness.’ Any psychologist worth their salt is going to spend time with clients talking about how to pay attention to what you are doing, why you are doing it — because multi-tasking is dividing your attention."

So how do we start to slow down? "It sounds really simple, but do one thing at a time," Domm says.

"It’s the Zen thing: chop wood, carry water." And in the end, to succeed at slowing down you must meet one very serious criteria: "You know the old joke: How many psychologists does it to take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to really want to change."

Signs you need to slow down

Dr. Melisa Robichauld, a Vancouver-based clinical psychologist specializing in anxiety and anxiety disorders, describes some of the key signs that point to the need to slow down.

You can think of our capacity to manage stress as a cup. As life throws problems at us (work stress, financial problems, health issues, the pressures of balancing family and career), this cup gets gradually filled.

Self-care activities can be viewed as a spoon that empties a bit out of that cup. As long as that cup doesn’t overflow, we are doing all right from a mental-health perspective.

So how do you know when the cup is overflowing? Your body usually tells you in different ways, including the following:

  • You might be generally more irritable or easily frustrated (for example, you might snap at people in situations that don’t usually bother you).
  • Your attention and concentration might be noticeably lower than usual (maybe you need to re-read things several times when you don’t usually need to do this).
  • Your sleep might worsen, or you might find yourself getting easily overwhelmed by minor issues.

All of these signs are your body’s way of telling you to slow down. In general, good mental-health hygiene means keeping a balance between life stresses and self-care.

Although it is normal and appropriate to be busy or stressed in our daily lives, it is important to always take some time to relax and engage in pleasant activities. Self-care can include many things, and slowing down is definitely one of them.

— Postmedia Network 2014 Inc.


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