Mindfulness is such a hot topic these days. We’re all talking about it, and we know it’s good for us. But how often do we actually implement it?
Every week, we have so many things to squeeze in: work, exercise, sleep, appointments, chores, and time with our partners, friends and family. All of these things tend to take priority and it’s no wonder that time to ourselves, mindfulness and self-care often fall to the bottom of the list.
However mindfulness, when incorporated daily and weekly, can actually enhance our experience of all that other stuff – meaning better sleep, sharper focus and just generally more calm when it comes to handling whatever life has to throw at us.
My ‘perfect’ week?
Just over a month ago I started a new job. Although the anticipation leading up to my first day involved feelings of excitement, I was nevertheless still nervous. I knew I would need to be at my best, as well as having to adjust to early mornings again (no longer being able to rise with my natural body clock as I had been during my brief time off). I knew my days would be longer and fuller and I wouldn’t necessarily have all of the time in the day to complete all the things I like to do.
Yet somehow my first week went off without a hitch. I managed to prepare all of my own lunches and dinners; fit in regular exercise, tick a good few things off my to-do list and grab between 7 and 7.5 hours a sleep a night…all while fighting off some cold symptoms and miraculously keeping my apartment from turning into a bomb site.
How did I do it? On this occasion I’m sure there were multiple factors at bay (including lots of luck!). But it dawned me that probably the most influential factor had been mindfulness – the process of staying calm and taking small moments out for myself at certain points in the day. This in turn helped me keep my stress levels down, be even more productive and not feel totally drained come Friday.
I don’t say all of this to brag, by any means. I know as well as anybody how getting through your average week can feel like a complete juggling act. Of course, some weeks run smoother than others, and that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
But I didn’t let this good week pass me by. I reflected carefully on each day, with the hope that I might somehow reverse-engineer it.
And after doing so, I can safely say here are the ways in which I stay mindful and have a successful, productive week, without the unnecessary stress.
No social media 1 hour before bed (and what I do instead)
Most of these types of lists start with talking about the mornings, but I’m starting with the evenings.
Because it’s so much more difficult to have a good morning, when it’s not preceded by a good night’s sleep!
Sleep is SO important (not that I need tell you!) – for our moods, energy levels, mental clarity, hormones, metabolism, the lot. I won’t stress you out by talking about what happens when we don’t get enough sleep, because if you’re anything like me, hearing this doesn’t make you feel better when the sleep gremlins aren’t good to you. Sometimes you can do everything right – including getting to bed early – and you still aren’t blessed with the best sleep ever. It sucks, I know.
But what we can do, is prepare ourselves for a relaxing night regardless. Not only will this increase our chances of falling asleep quicker; it also means we won’t be so tense, worried and anxious when we don’t fall asleep. When your brain is calm and your body relaxed, it’s far easier to still jump up feeling restful in the morning, even though we may not have clocked up our 8 hours. On the other hand, lying awake with a racing mind and restless body means you’re more likely to rise feeling tired and irritable.
What’s my number one rule for avoiding a chattering brain at night?
I don’t use social media at least one hour before bed.
So, okay, sometimes I’m not perfect with this. There are those evenings where I may post a picture to Instagram late, or I’m up trying to finish a blog post.
But other than that, the majority of time I avoid looking at my phone or my laptop one hour before bed (sometimes more).
As we all know, the blue light from our phones can disrupt our body’s natural circadian rhythms, making us more likely to feel wired at night. And on top of that, looking at social media is basically like having a bunch of voices shouting over one another in your head. It’s a great place for inspiration, ideas, discussion and community, but at night, that’s the last thing your brain needs. Any plans, thoughts and ideas can wait till tomorrow.
So what do I do instead of looking at social media?
Well, it’s simple enough. I:
- Hang out with Christian and watch something on Netflix (something low-key and light-hearted, nothing too heavy)
- Write a gratitude list in my journal.
- Read for 10-30 mins before turning out the light (I’m currently loving Susan Jeffers’ Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway).
- Listen to a meditation, either on YouTube or using the Calm app.
- Listen to a ‘soundscape’ or soothing piece of music.
- Listen to a ‘sleep story’ also via the Calm app.
A note on gratitude lists
As well all know, gratitude is one of the most important tools for living a happy, satisfied life. It can enable us to truly see the good in our lives and change our mood in an instant.
Writing a gratitude list is a great way to ease your mind before bed and end the day on a high note by realising all of the great stuff that happened that day. But it’s a practice that doesn’t have to be saved for evenings – you can write your gratitude list whenever you want, as often as you want.
Some people prefer to make a gratitude list in the morning, to set their day off on a positive foot. I tend to do mine in the evenings, particularly on Sundays as it allows me to reflect on everything that happened throughout the week.
A note on the Calm app
On this particular week, I was trying a free trial of the Calm app. This post isn’t sponsored! I just really love the app and think it’s a great tool to help people incorporate more mindfulness into their lives.
For bedtime, I highly recommend the sleep stories and soundscapes. I found that these all worked really well for me in aiding sleep. The app also has plenty of other great tools too, including a library of meditations for every purpose, and a breath counter for regaining calm in those stressful moments.
You can try the Calm app for free for seven days, after which it costs £35 per year. There are monthly subscriptions available too.
YouTube is also a great place to find sleep meditations. My favourite is Positive Magazine Meditation, I could listen to that lady’s voice all day!
2. Working out physically (or mentally) in the mornings
Not everybody is a morning workout person, I get it. Though I would much prefer to work out in the mornings, it’s been a long time since I was properly in the routine of doing so.
This is largely because my boyfriend comes home from work a little later than me, and so we stay up that little bit later to squeeze in extra time together. It’s for this reason that I’ve been in the habit of working out in the evenings for a while now, because that’s just what happens to fit my schedule.
But I can’t deny how different I feel when I work out in the mornings. As well having more energy, I also feel more mentally awake, and love the feeling of being able to slip straight into my pjs when I get home (who doesn’t?!).
On this particular week, I actually managed to get myself up early enough to have time to work out in the mornings. Now, I want to say quickly that perhaps the adrenaline and excitement of starting a new job helped, as once I’d gotten comfortable, I definitely didn’t keep it up! But it is something I would like to, because the benefits are so clear to me.
If you’re not quite into exercise first thing in a morning (maybe your joints are stiff, you lack space or you simply hit the snooze button one too many times…!) then that’s not the only type of workout you can do. Mental workouts are just as important as physical ones, in preparing for the day ahead.
It’s for this reason I make a special effort to either do one or the other before work in the mornings. If I don’t feel like working out physically, I spend ten minutes on my mental health instead. This might look like:
- Doing a guided meditation using earphones, or just sitting quietly by myself
- Writing a gratitude list (as we talked about earlier)
- …or even just something as simple as sipping my smoothie slowly, as I look out of the window. This is something I never made time for before I got this new job (often opting to take my smoothie to work instead) but it is honestly making all the difference to my mornings!
And let’s remember that working out physically doesn’t have to involve an intense cardio session or lifting heavy weights. It can literally be as simple as just taking the time to stretch.
For me, exercise in the morning is usually pilates or yoga. I love kettle bell workouts, but it’s unlikely I’ll do them in the mornings as my body needs time to warm up and feel limber. Do whatever works for you and however you feel like getting your body moving. Even the gentlest of exercise can make all the difference, and 5-10 minutes is always better than none.
3. Taking time out after work to pause and breathe
If you’re like me, you arrive home from work with a list of things to do that evening. Often we get home, hang up our coat, remove our shoes, unpack our bag, and then it’s on to the next thing…and then the next, and the next, and the next…
Though it might sound counterproductive, taking a moment to pause and breathe when you arrive home from work is much more beneficial than simply racing to get everything done. Most of the time we arrive home feeling frazzled, tired and hungry. By diving straight into tasks and chores, we lack clarity and direction and can often end up working ourselves even more into a tizzy.
By slowing down, we create that peaceful space between work time and home time. Just taking a few moments to acknowledge that the working day is over can really help us relax and make the evening more focused and productive.
There are a few ways of doing this. My favourites are:
- ‘Nesting’. This is where I simply go around, making my home a cosy, comfortable space to be. I might plump all the cushions, put all the lamps on, light a candle, and put one or two things away, etc. You’re not looking to tidy your whole house here – just do one or two things that instantly make your home more inviting.
- Exercise (if I haven’t already done so that day, I’ll usually change straight into my workout clothes and do 30 minutes of pilates or yoga. This always leaves me feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, shaking away any office cobwebs.)
- On my lazier evenings, I’ll go straight to washing off my make-up and getting ready for bed. I’ll also often give myself a relaxing face mask or eye mask.
- Simple stretching or post-desk yoga. If I don’t have the energy for full-on exercise then this is super helpful for injecting some energy back into my body.
- Meditation, or just some simple breathing exercises (the Calm app breath counter is handy for this).
4. Using lunch breaks to get some screen-free time
It’s all too tempting to jump straight on our phone when we have a bit of free time at work. Especially if you’re an influencer or if social media forms a part of your income, it’s so easy to feel like we need to always be ‘on’.
But if you can, getting some screen-free time during our work day can be incredibly beneficial for our well-being. Not only does it give the eyes a rest, it also acts as a ‘reset’ button for our brains so we can return to our desks feeling more focused than before. Due to having shorter lunch breaks than I used to, I stay indoors to eat my lunch and now use my afternoon breaks to get out of the office instead. I’ll always go for a walk and get out in the fresh air, and if I feel like it, do a little guided meditation along the way.
Here are my favourite ways to get screen-free time during the day:
- Go outside (rule number one!)
- Be in nature, if possible (not always an option if you work in a city like me, but if you know of a nice garden or green space, definitely use it!)
- Meditate for at least ten minutes (I like to use guided meditations via my phone, which are nice when sitting in a green or otherwise quiet space. Walking meditations are great too for getting you moving, while also recharging your brain. There are lots of good ones on YouTube).
Of course I’m not always successful at doing these things every day. But the more time you can spend not looking at a screen, the more benefit you will get from your breaks. Even if I end up spending my whole break running errands, I know it’s better than sitting back at the office staring at my phone.
So that’s it! Four ways I stay mindful throughout the week. Of course not every week is perfect – sometimes life happens, and some things have to take a back seat. But overall I’ve found these habits to be the best approach at keeping me grounded, focused and happy – not stressed, frazzled and burnt out.
Soon I will be doing a post all about sleep – how I get as much as I can, and how I counter sleepless nights (which I’m all too familiar with). So be sure to keep an eye out for that.
How about you guys? Do you have any habits or routines that help you stay mindful? Would you give any of these ideas a try? I would love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave a comment in the box below.