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Sober October!

So long Scroll Free September, make way for Sober October!  I have been looking for a playful euphemism or a colourful metaphor to dress this up, but the truth of it is, for the last while I have been drinking too much.  Not in the “drinking problem” sense but simply in the “this is not good for my overall health” sense.  My husband and I have been planning to take a break from alcohol for ages now, but there was always some reason (read excuse) why it wasn’t a good time.  There was always a wedding, holiday or other occasion on the horizon, which made the idea of going tee total a daunting prospect.  We now find ourselves at the closing of the year.  Christmas is fast approaching and party season will be here before we know it, so it was pretty much now or never.

Those of you who are regular readers will know that 2018 has been a bit of a roller coaster for me.   Between my full time job, of which I have had three, and my side projects, I can end up feeling like I am working all the time.  There have been a lot of changes and often by the time the weekend comes along, I am too exhausted to attempt anything more energetic than binge watching Netflix in my pjs with a glass of wine or a nice cold beer.   Alcohol became a way to differentiate weekend nights from week nights!  I wouldn’t describe myself as a binge drinker, I rarely, if ever get drunk.  However, two or three drinks, a few nights a week quickly adds up to way more than the 11 unit safe drinking limit (17 for men.)

These habits crept in over the space of about a year.  What had once been limited to Friday and Saturday started creeping into some of the other evenings too.  I was definitely starting to feel the effect on my energy levels.  It’s never as easy getting up in the morning after even a couple of drinks.  As well as that, I am not getting any younger.  I will be turning 37 next month and it’s time to stop taking my health completely for granted.  I am well aware of the health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption, especially for women, and I am not arrogant enough to think I should be lucky enough to escape them.  From this week I will be teaching an extra Zumba class.  This brings the total to 4 per week, and with the stress this will put on my body, I need to do all I can to mind it.  Alcohol certainly will not help with that!

I am sure there will be lots of other benefits of having a dry month.  I am looking forward to having more energy and to waking up refreshed on the weekends.  I am also looking forward to having a little more money in my purse.  But mostly I am looking forward to the challenge.  I am sure the first weekend will be difficult.  We Irish are notorious for having our social lives revolving almost entirely around a pint!  Like many Irish families, ours has not escaped the effects alcoholism.  I am acutely aware of this, and of its tendency towards heredity.  This makes it even more important for me to get my drinking under control before it actually does become a problem!  Who knows, it might become a permanent change.

As always, feel free to join me in my latest challenge.  Wish me luck (and please send cinema recommendations) I will keep you posted on my progress.  Be well xxx

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7 Days Done!

So here we are at the end of week 1 of the Social Media Blackout experiment. Honestly it has been so eye opening. I have not missed scrolling a fraction as much as I thought I would. Far from feeling disconnected, I actually feel more in touch with what is going on around me.

At the beginning of this challenge I was extremely nervous. I was afraid I would be bored and I had a serious case of FOMO! It is a pleasant surprise that so far neither of those things have happened. I haven’t had a chance to get bored and I don’t think I have missed out on anything, but if I have, I can catch up on October 1st.

Let me know how you are getting on. Be well xxx

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Scroll Free September!

Tomorrow I will be starting what may prove to be my most difficult challenge to date, Scroll Free September. For 30 days I will be staying off Social Media. I will be logging off my personal Facebook and Instagram Accounts (I don’t understand Twitter, so I don’t use it much anyway.)

I sure this is going to be extremely challenging for me, as I spend an inordinate amount of time mindlessly scrolling through these sites. I am excited to see how I feel after the first few days of digital DTs have passed. I am also interested to see if I find myself with more time for things I actually enjoy, like reading!

I will still update my Zumba With Arwen page with class times etc. Luckily I don’t have to log in to my personal page in order to do that. My blog automatically posts to Facebook so that will still be happening too, but other than that I will be going cold turkey.

Many of you may not need or want to take on this challenge for a whole month, but I would encourage everyone to try to get even a small amount of unplugged time. As well as that, if anyone in your social media feed creates any sort of negative feelings for you (regardless of how rational these feelings may seem) just unfollow them!

I will let you know how I am getting on! Wish me luck and be well xxx

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100 Days of Headspace

I first discovered the Headspace app back in February of last year.  I can’t remember what was going on at the time, but a friend of mine recommended it over coffee one day, so I thought I would give it try.  I immediately loved it.  It is guided meditation, and Andy’s voice is so soothing, he could probably relieve someone’s stress by reading the phone book to them!  I kept it up for a few days and could feel the benefit, however, like with a lot of things, I missed a day or two and before long I had kinda forgotten about it.

Over the next year and a half, whenever life got hectic, as it invariably does, I would dip back into Headspace.  I would come away from each short session feeling better and the cumulative effect was brilliant.  However, it always ended up the same way.  After a few days I would give up, and often not return to it for several months.

At the beginning of the summer, I knew that there were going to be big changes happening.  I was about to start a new job and I was well aware of the stress that would cause me.  Even if everything was working out perfectly, the upheaval would still create anxiety for someone who struggles with change as much as I do.  I decided to revisit Headspace again, but this time I committed to it fully.  I made a promise to myself that no matter what happened, I would complete 100 days in a row.  I announced this publicly to help me stay accountable.

Initially, I did find it difficult.  I found myself saying things like “I have to go do my meditation now.”  I had to make a concerted effort to find the 15 minute window of peace in the day in which to get it done.  This alone speaks volumes as to how frenetic I had allowed my life to become, but that’s a post in itself.  As the days and weeks went by, I began to get into it.  I loved how grounded and peaceful I felt after each session.  I found myself hiding in empty offices during the day to sneak in an extra mini session, especially if the day was really crazy.  I was amazed that no matter how stressed and even panicked I felt going into that room, I left feeling ready for anything.

During the past 100 days there have been so many times when in the middle of the meditation I have thought to myself “this isn’t working,” or “I’m not doing it right,” or even “I’m not getting anything out of this.”  Regardless of how often these negative thoughts popped up during the session, at the end of it, when the guide told me to pause and reflect on how I felt, I always felt better than I had at the start.  Magic!

I am not good at homework.  The app often recommends little exercises to do throughout the day so that you get more bang for your buck as it were.  90% of the time I completely forget.  They always sound like great ideas, but the only way I am going to remember to do it is if I write it down or set a reminder.  I might try to be better at that for the next 100 days!  In spite of my lack of conscientiousness, I am convinced that this experiment has had a lasting effect on me.  I am certain that I would not have been able to survive all the drama in my professional life as well as I have without meditation.  In fact, I think I would have become a complete basket case.

The effects seem to be noticeable to others as well.  A couple of weeks ago I was out for a meal with some girlfriends I hadn’t seen in forever.  I was giving one of them a lift home when, unprompted, she said to me “Arwen, you seem very chill!”  What you need to understand is that this is definitely not how people would usually describe me.  Uptight, highly strung, control freak, anxious, would all be closer to the mark.  The thing is, I feel very chill.  For the first time in my life I feel in control.  Not in control of my life or anything going on around me, in control of myself.

Being educated in a Catholic school, spirituality was spoken about daily and meditation would often come up as part of that.  As such, I have been aware of it and it’s advantages for as long as I can remember.  Certainly long before it started being mentioned in the same articles as kale and goji berries.  I never really thought of meditation as a way to improve health or increase productivity.  When you think about it, these very modern concerns were not around when meditation was first recorded.  The Taoists and Buddhists weren’t overly concerned with “personal effectiveness.”

I always thought of meditation as promoting stillness and awareness, and having committed to a daily practice for a mere 100 days, I am beginning to understand what that really means.  I feel grounded and centered and like nothing can rock me.  I cannot recommend mediation highly enough and with so many apps available bringing it right into the palm of your hand, it has never been more accessible.  My advice to anyone, whether you feel stressed or not, is to give it a try.  Most apps offer a free trial period, some are free forever.  Commit to it for a period of time, even just a week and see how much better you will feel.  Be well xxx

 

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In Praise of Uni-tasking!

Has this ever happened to you?  You go to unload the washing machine, only to discover that although you loaded it and put in the powder, you neglected to actually switch it on?  It happens to me with frightening regularity and always when I have an overflowing hamper and can ill afford the time to wash clothes, I thought had already been washed!  Unfortunately this isn’t limited to the washing machine.  I routinely leave tasks half done, because I had become distracted by some other, seemingly more pressing thing.

I went to a Catholic Secondary School.  Not because my family are particularly religious, but because there was little choice in Ireland in the nineties!  I remember having a religion teacher who was a nun.  Her mantra, which she recited daily, was “you can’t do two things at once.”  She would go on to say that you can of course try to multitask but that everything will suffer.  In essence you can’t do anything properly unless you give it your undivided attention.  I spent 5 years in that school and remarkably, that lesson is one of only a handful of things which has stuck with me.

Of course, at the time I gave her wisdom little merit.  I was a typical teenager who assumed I knew better.  I did not credit this woman, who must have been in her seventies, with any life experience, and so twenty years later I am learning her lesson the hard way.

We live our 21st centuries lives at a breakneck pace.  We boast about how busy we are, how little spare time we have and how frazzled we feel.  We read books like “The 4 Hour Workweek” in an attempt to boost our productivity.  We are always striving to be able to fit even more in.  Lately I am beginning to ask myself is there a trade off between quantity and quality.  Is multitasking a myth?  Are we fooling ourselves into thinking we are achieving more, when in reality we are leaving a trail of half finished jobs in our wake, which will come back to bite us in the ass before long?

There are some things which I won’t even attempt to try to do simultaneously.  I cannot have two conversations at once (so if I am on the phone and you try to talk to me, don’t expect a polite reply!)  I also can’t text and talk.  Past attempts at this have resulted in my typing what I am saying or vice versa, neither of which ends well!  Similarly if I am driving and need to concentrate, I have to turn the radio down.  Whatever way my brain is wired, auditory stimulation overrides anything else.  Happily as we get older, we usually learn to recognise these limitations in ourselves and work around them.

Those of you who follow me on social media will know that I have been getting into meditation lately.  It started off as a challenge.  I wanted to see if I could commit to daily meditation for 100 days.  (As I write this I have clocked up 74)  However, as the days tick by, I am noticing just how much it is helping me.  I fully intend to make it a part of my daily life, for the foreseeable future.  As well as helping me to combat the stresses of modern existence, the meditation is helping me to understand the importance of being mindful in everything we do.  Being fully engaged and present in our activities, not just going through the motions like deranged zombies.

When you start to take notice of it, you will be amazed at how many things you do on complete autopilot.  For instance, have you ever driven somewhere and when you arrive at your destination you have little recollection of how you actually got there?  I have, and it is scary as hell!  Surely something as potentially perilous as driving should be given our undivided attention.  But we don’t do it.  We might be chatting to our passenger.  Singing along to the radio.  Doing a detailed postmortem of the meeting we had with our boss, or planning a future conversation (yes, I actually do that!)  This is especially true on a familiar route.  We don’t need to actively concentrate and so the mind wanders.

I am reading a book at the moment called Thrive and in it Arianna Huffington recommends taking one task each day that we do routinely, such as brushing your teeth or taking a shower and doing it mindfully.  Actually pay attention to what you are doing, and be engaged.  I tried this while brushing my teeth a couple of times this week and I am telling you it is so much harder than you think.  I was thinking about pretty much everything apart from the task at hand.  It’s a simple exercise, but it really opened my eyes to how much I am not present in my life.  I am often times merely going through the motions.  Is that what I truly want.  To sort of half experience life.  I don’t think so.

In an age where multitasking is prized and we are measured on our productivity, being mindful and doing one thing at a time is not the easy option.  Added to this, we are surrounded by devices which constantly vie for our attention.  We feel like we need to react to them instantly, no matter what else is going on.  I am so guilty of this.  Sometimes my husband will come home and I will be in the middle of a text chat, or scrolling through Facebook and when he comes in I will distractedly ask how his day was.  Invariably, when I put the phone down a minute or two later, I will ask him the exact same question.  It drives him insane and I don’t blame him.

It is not going to be easy to break the habit of a lifetime, but my attempts at multitasking have been so disastrous lately that I am going to try to stop myself from doing it.  I am going to attempt to complete one task at a time.  If and when I catch myself starting something when I am in the middle of something else, I will gently guide myself back to the task at hand.  I am interested to see if this actually makes me more productive.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but I wonder if in starting less tasks, I might actually finish more.  I wonder if by uni-tasking and concentrating on what I am doing a little more, I might be able to get through it more quickly.  As well as that, I am pretty sure it will help me to combat the feelings of overwhelm and burn out, which I often experience.

As I write this, I have been tempted to check my phone about 27 times.  Which brings me on to my next challenge.  Scroll Free September.  That’s right.  For the month of September, I will be logging off Facebook and Instagram (I don’t use Twitter because it confuses me too much.)  My blog posts automatically upload to Facebook, so when you see that happening, don’t think I am cheating.  I am not under any illusion that this is going to be easy.  I am a social media junkie, but I think a digital detox will be good for my overall well-being.  Oh dear, FOMO is setting in already!  I will let you know how everything is going.  Wish me luck and be well xxx

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Dear Millennial…

Typically each generation will lament that the one coming up behind them “don’t know how easy they have it.”  We will talk about walking to school in the rain, five miles, up hill in both directions, and what it was like to know the value of money.  My own generation is no different.  The technological advances I have seen between my teens and my thirties are nothing short of astonishing.  Even having to stand at a bus stop and just wait, hoping the bus might arrive at some stage, is a thing of the past.  We have unlimited information and entertainment at our fingertips now, but has it come at too high a price?

My generation may have been the last mugs to have to stand, shivering at the mercy of public transport, but we were also the last to enjoy certain freedoms.  I made plenty of mistakes and poor decisions in my younger days (I am still making them now) but my indiscretions were contained.  My transgressions were not captured on film and disseminated to the masses within seconds.  Any teenager doing a stupid thing back then would have had to face the shame of school on Monday morning, but would have been safe in the knowledge that it would have been blown over before the bell sounded on Friday afternoon.  Not so now.

Young people now are afforded no such reprieve.  Their every move is documented and subjected to the judgement of not just their inner circle, but to pretty much everyone.  I can’t imagine how stressful that must be.  Especially at that age, when everything feels so big and your peer group is all important.  When I was growing up, if you had a falling out with your pals, as inevitably happened, no matter how nasty it got, you could go home, close your front door and if not forget about it, certainly escape it.  Again, not so now.  Thanks to social media, bullies and begrudgers have access to their prey 24/7.

Even more sinister, dangerous and potentially devastating are two phenomenons my peer group definitely did not have to deal with.  “Revenge porn” and “slut shaming.”  In the digital era, everything is on demand.  Instant gratification is what it’s all about.  A quick selfie sent to a partner or potential love interest can come back to haunt you.  A lot of us have been there.  You get caught up in the moment and it seems like a good idea at the time.  However, as soon as you press send, that image is no longer within your control.

It is not only young people who are falling victim to this.  I am hearing stories with increasing regularity of men and women of all ages falling victim.  Often times these images, sent during times of intimacy or even love, can be used to blackmail and control victims.  The difference between teenagers and older victims, is that usually older people have developed better coping mechanisms.  They have had past experiences which have taught them that there is life after this.  Not matter how unbearable it may seem, you can and will get through it.

There is so much advice I want to try to pass on to those coming up behind me.  The truth however, is that I am probably ill equipped.  I haven’t had to deal with the challenges that face you.  From the outside looking in, however, I will offer you these words.

You are not your social media profile.  Please do not allow your likes, follows, comments etc. to impact on your self worth.  You have been put on this earth for a reason, one which may not become clear to you for many years, but I promise it is almost certainly not to become an “influencer.”

You are beautiful.  Your 18 year old body does not need surgical enhancement, your gorgeous face does not need to be filled.  Your uniqueness is the key to your beauty.  Nothing makes me quite as sad as seeing you all trying to look the same.  The ironic thing about our beauty is that we often don’t appreciate it until  years later.  You will have to trust me on that!

You will make mistakes.  Your life will be messy and sometimes your shame will be on display for everyone.  You will feel like you can’t possibly survive it.  I promise you, you can.  Hold your head high and keep going.  People have short attention spans and the focus will be on someone else before long.  You might even laugh about it someday.

Be safe.  When I was in my teens and early twenties I took so many risks.  I was depressed and although I never contemplated suicide, I wasn’t doing a whole lot to ensure I stayed safe and alive!  Looking back on that time, I think someone must have been watching out for me because nothing terrible happened.  I rolled the dice and miraculously escaped relatively unscathed.  Don’t be like me.  Don’t take chances with your life and your health.  Even if they mean little to you now, someday they will be everything.

Lastly, smile.  Don’t take life too seriously.  In reality, most of us are just winging it.  99% of the decisions you make now will not have a catastrophic impact on your life.  Adopt the rule of 5.  If you are not going to care about something in 5 years time, don’t spend more that 5 minutes worrying about it.  Take the time to smell the roses and appreciate not being stranded at the bus stop.  Be well xxx

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Anti-Social Anxiety?

We are approaching the half way point of 2018 and I find myself pausing to reflect on the past six months.  It has gone by in a blur and to say it has been hectic would be an understatement.  It seems like every weekend there has been something happening.  I was actually shocked when I looked at my diary today and saw a blank page where the upcoming weekend’s activity should be.

Between April and June we had three weddings to attend as well as my God Daughter’s christening.  The weddings were all beautiful, and each very different.  The first was my sister in law’s.  Next up was my best friend, I was her bridesmaid.  Last, but by no means least, was a very good friend of ours.  As I was getting ready to go to the third wedding, it stuck me that I was incredibly wound up.  Much more so than I would have expected to be.  After all, this was the third one in a six week period, it should have been old hat.  As well as that this wedding was the closest one to our house, a mere 15 minute drive.  Neither of us had a “role” in this wedding either.  We just needed to frock up and rock up.  So why did I feel like I was on my way to a job interview with an exam at the end?

I didn’t have much time to ponder this anxiety right then, I got in the car, and once at the hotel, with a drink in hand I started to relax.  It was a brilliant day and we had so much fun catching up with everyone.  In the days that followed, I started to feel pretty ridiculous.  What was causing this tension?  Was I suffering from some sort of social anxiety?  I had felt the same thing before the other two weddings, but I could kind of explain it away.  It’s natural to want to be at your best for a family wedding, right?  And of course being a bridesmaid is a big responsibility so my fears were perfectly rational, yeah?  But that doesn’t help explain why I was tense and snappy the morning of our friend’s big day.  Full disclosure, there may have been hair style related tears!

So what was causing this?  In truth, I have put on some weight and I am definitely not feeling as slim and slinky as I would like to, but this is not the reason.  I have felt like this at my biggest and at my smallest.  I have experienced it in designer dresses and in Penney’s best.  The only way I can describe it, is as a fear of being judged and found wanting.  I was chatting through this with a very good friend of mine last week and I likened it to the feeling you might get before going to a school reunion.  Worrying about how I would measure up.  Stressing about every detail of my appearance, and more irrationally, my life!

During the course of this conversation, I was amazed to hear my friend tell me that she often experiences the same thing.  She seemed all too well able to relate to my craziness.  She is one of the most together people I know.  If I had to give you an example of a woman with her ducks in  row, she would be top of the list.  I started to wonder, if she is feeling this way too, is everyone?  Are we all being plagued by the same feelings of inadequacy and dread when we are supposed to be having fun?  Are we going through an epidemic of anti-social anxiety?

The hilarious, and tragic, thing about the situation is that nobody really cares!  Most people are not going to give you or your outfit more than a cursory glance.  They certainly aren’t going to waste their time doing a full critique of your life.  Because, let’s face it, it doesn’t matter.  The proof of this is in my own experience.  While attending three weddings and one christening in close succession, I must have seen 300 people all dressed up.  Honestly, I would struggle to describe a handful of outfits, and as for hair and make-up, forget about it!

So, how do we prevent this feeling?  I wish I had the answer.  I wish I could tell you to dismiss it, put your best high heeled foot forward and have a blast, but that hasn’t worked for me so far.  The only thing which has helped me even slightly, is to recognise the feeling when it comes, and say to myself “Arwen, you have felt like this before and everything worked out fine.”  So, when it came to my gorgeous God Daughter’s christening, I did exactly that.  I was still carrying the extra weight.  Plus I had a huge cold sore on my lip, which was uncomfortable and prevented me from being able to wear my armour (lippy.)  However, I was determined to be truly present for my darling’s big day and not trapped in my own head.  So, I strapped on my big girl panties and off I went.

We all had a wonderful day and I know that when I look back on it, I will remember how happy we were and how honoured I felt to be asked to stand for her, not that my dress was a little snug.  Be well xxx

 

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Just Say No!

I would consider myself to be a fairly articulate person.  I have always loved language, and with my degree in English to help me, I don’t usually struggle to express myself.  Except, in one particular situation.  When it comes to saying no.  It is such a simple and inoffensive word, yet it sticks in my throat somehow.  So much so, that I will tie myself in knots looking for ways to turn the no into a yes, even if it means attempting the impossible.

There have been times when I have ended up being so hopelessly over committed, that I find myself thinking “please just let me get through this day.” “Just let me survive”  “Just let me find the energy to do all the things I couldn’t say no to, and I promise not to take on so much next time!”  I used to think this was because I was a chronic people pleaser.  Afraid to say no. lest I should let anyone down.  A while back, however, an aunt of mine challenged me on this.  Her exact word were “I wouldn’t take you on!”  It’s not often that you get to see yourself through the eyes of another, but this was one such moment of clarity.  It began to dawn on me, that my fear of saying no is not about other people, in fact, it is all about me.

Firstly, I hate conflict.  Not many people love it in fairness, but I absolutely cringe at the thought of it.  I have this awful habit of trying to avoid it and invariably it ends up causing more awkwardness.  You know how it is, you should call the person, but you chicken out and send an email, and then they don’t respond so you end up having to call anyway and now you have made things even worse!  Yeah, I do that stuff all the time!

Secondly, I don’t like accepting my limitations and I certainly don’t relish having to admit them.  Vocalising the fact that I simply don’t have time to take on anything else is tantamount to admitting defeat.  Why can’t I squeeze one more thing in?  Why wouldn’t I want to explore the next challenge?  In a society where we seem to score points based on how tired and over extended we are, just saying no seems like you are not willing to play the game.

One of the great things about having good friends, is that they are willing to call you on your shit.  Even when (and especially when) you don’t want to hear it.  I was chatting to a friend of mine recently, and I was full of excitement about starting the new job.  He warned me to be prepared for it to be more demanding and to take more out of me than I anticipated and to plan accordingly.  I joked that perhaps I should delay my plan to learn Urdu, but in truth he hit the nail on the head.  No sooner had I accepted the job, than I was looking up gyms in the area and wondering if I could squeeze a Pilates class into my lunch break.  This is classic Arwen, why walk when you can run while stumbling blindly!

Another example of me being crazy happened a few weeks ago.  I got a message from a school wanting me to teach a Zumba class for them, in September, as part of their adult education program.  I didn’t want to take it on.  Not that I don’t love teaching Zumba, because you know I do.  However, I am already teaching 3 classes a week.  I am still pretty new to teaching, so learning the choreography and practicing takes up a lot of my time.  There were plenty of other reasons why I didn’t want to do it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say no.  The weird thing was, this girl had sent a text to ask about the class, I don’t know her and am unlikely to ever meet her.  All I needed to do was reply and say unfortunately I am not available, but I am not kidding when I say it took me days to build up to it.  I even thought, briefly, about saying yes and then trying to get out of it closer to the time.  Absolutely lunacy!  Eventually, I did reply to the lady, and told her I couldn’t do it.  Amazingly, nothing bad happened.  She was very sweet about it, in fact.

The one good thing about getting older I find, is that you learn to recognise when you are being nutty and even laugh about it.  The truth of the matter is unless I want to spend my whole life being over committed and stressed, I need to get a whole lot better at saying no.  I don’t want to feel like I am surviving my days.  I want to able to enjoy and appreciate each new experience and even allow myself some time to reflect on them, instead of being distracted by the next shiny thing.

Those of you who follow me on social media have probably seen me talking about Headspace.  It is a guided meditation app that I have been dipping in and out of for a couple of years.  I have set myself the challenge of meditating daily for 100 days, I am currently on day 9.  Posting my progress towards this goal helps me to stay accountable.  It only takes about 12 minutes, but there has been at least 3 occasions since I started when I have thought to myself “I don’t have time for this!”  The irony of course being, these are exactly the days when I need it most.  It has opened my eyes a lot to just how busy my mind can be.  How difficult it often is to just let it settle and rest.  This has really underlined how critical it is for me to resist the urge to fill every available portion of time with “stuff.”

Rudyard Kipling famously wrote “If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with 60 seconds worth of distance run, yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it” I am starting to believe that the most important distance to run is the space between yourself and your peace of mind.  Be well xxx

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The Productivity Trap!

One of my husband’s oldest friends is getting married in May.  This week saw the lads all jetting off for his stag in Lanzorote.  We are still struggling to get Annie’s seizures under control and I decided to take the time off work, so that she wouldn’t be left home alone for too long.  We have a busy couple of months ahead, with three weddings, a hen party, some renovations in the house and our own summer holiday all happening at once.

Seeing as I was going to be off work for three days, it seemed like as good a time as any to get some “stuff” done.  We were getting new carpet fitted so being here for the fitters early Wednesday morning was the first thing on the agenda.  Alas, it wasn’t the only thing.  There was so much to be achieved, in fact, that I decided to make a list.  The problem was, every time I ticked one item off the list, I added at least two more.  It was becoming a little overwhelming.  I joked to my friend that I had enough on the list to fill three weeks, never mind three days!

No sooner had the carpet guys left, then I was on to the next thing.  Getting my badly overdue hair done.  With the crazy weather we have been having the last few weeks, it’s like everything is having to happen out of sequence (this does nothing for my inner control freak.)  When I got home from the salon, I had to deal with the mess the carpet fitters had left.  Two huge bags of off cuts were waiting in the hall for me to deal with.  They were never going to fit in the wheelie bins, and I knew if I stashed them somewhere for the “time being” that they would still be there the next time we get carpet!  A trip to the dump was the only thing for it.

Now, a sane person would have just thrown the two bags in the car and made her way to the landfill.  But not me, oh no!  I decided to go to the shed to see what else was in there that could do with being dumped.  Our shed was packed to the rafters with crap, which we had put there for the time being, throughout the decade we have lived here.  So, I began to load up my car with empty bottles, broken blinds, Styrofoam from every appliance we have ever owned, or so it seemed.  It was only at the point when I was trying to stuff an arm chair into my already full Fiesta, that I started to think perhaps this was ill advised!

It struck me that the armchair into the Fiesta debacle was sort of an apt analogy.  Our 21st Century lives are incredibly full.  We balance demanding careers, family, running a home, our health and fitness etc., etc.  However, instead of standing back and congratulating ourselves for achieving so much and managing to keep all the plates spinning, we constantly ask ourselves “what else can I fit in?”  How can I do more?  How can I be more “effective?”

We never seem to be satisfied, and social and main stream media don’t help.  Any time you log on, someone is extolling the virtues of the next thing we should all be doing.  This week it could be journalling, next week it might be meditation.  Practicing gratitude and colouring in were the big ticket items last year, along with finding fun new ways to use coconut oil and tumeric!  It’s so easy to get caught up with it all.  It’s easy to feel like if you haven’t been up since 5am to do a sun salutation and drink a green smoothie that you are somehow failing.

We even wear devices to track and monitor our sleep.  Both the quantity and quality can be measured.  Anyone who knows me can tell you I love my bed.  All my life I have been told I can sleep for Ireland.  So, imagine my surprise when at age 36 my FitBit tells me I am doing a crappy job!  I rarely get more than an hour of deep sleep a night.  Surely this can’t be enough?  How can I get more?  How can I do it better?  Rationally I know worrying about this is ridiculous.  Sure, I can TRY to control how much sleep I get, but the quality of that sleep is a little more complicated.  But my distress around this poor metric really underlined our obsession with personal effectiveness.

Are we taking it all too far?  Have we forgotten how to just be in the moment?  Do we even know how it feels to be relaxed anymore?  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good list as much as the next girl.  I have dozens of notebooks (some of them are too pretty to actually write in, but that’s another story.)  I believe in setting goals and strategically, methodically doing the work required to achieve them.  However, I am increasingly aware of how important it is to have some time to just chill!  Your day off shouldn’t feel like harder work than a day at the office.  We are so addicted to being busy, that we are afraid to admit we take our foot off the gas, even for a moment.

As human beings our time, energy and inclination are all finite resources.  The irony is that I took this time off work so I could be with my puppy, but on Wednesday evening I was so exhausted that I found myself being impatient with her.  The people, and puppies, in our lives deserve the best of us, not whatever is left over when we get to the end of our list.  Personal effectiveness is, of course, important, but even dynamos need a day off.  Be well xxx

Articles

My Tribe, My Vibe!

“Embrace your duality!”  This was some very good advice I received at a workshop I attended recently.  What the speaker meant by this, is that often we can have two seemingly opposite sides of us, which both need to be acknowledged at different times.  So, for example you might be very confident and self assured in the work place, but shy and reserved in social situations.  Neither of these is more valid than the other.  In order to avoid conflict within ourselves, we need to acknowledge and accept all of our many facets.  Easy, right?  In theory, yes.  In practice, not so much!

I have always been a fiercely independent person.  I enjoy my own company and usually gravitate towards solo activities.  Nothing makes me happier than curling up with a cup of tea and a good book.  I love taking long walks with a Podcast and the pupper.  I recognise that time spent alone and quiet is vitally important to allow me to restore and renew, especially at those times when it feels like everyone wants a piece of me!  Even when I was a little girl, I would often retreat for hours.  Infinitely more comfortable alone, or in small groups, than in the crowd.

A few years ago, I went through a rough time.  I was starting out in my career, and in typical Arwen fashion, I was determined to do anything I could fast track it.  I left a job, which was close to home, to work somewhere farther away, because I felt it was a step up.  I saw it as a necessary evil.  The country was deep into a recession and opportunities were few and far between.  In making the change, I was also leaving behind so much familiarity.  I was walking away from friends and colleagues I had been working with for years.  I was leaving the little pond to go be a little fish in a much bigger one.

When I started the new job, it was immediately apparent that it might not have been the “right” decision.  The commute was hellish and the workload was insane.  It was nothing overly complicated, I was simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work.  It wasn’t long before I was skipping lunch and bringing work home with me in a vain attempt to catch up.  I was in college at the time too and I honestly felt I was spending all my whole life working, studying or driving.  I had no time to see friends or do any of the things I enjoy.

However, this wasn’t worst part of it.  I am not afraid of hard work and I can usually gut out most difficult situations.  The thing, which impacted me most negatively was the people.  I DID NOT fit in.  The girls I worked with were cliquey and unfriendly (think Mean Girls)  I enjoy a gossip as much as the next girl, as long as it’s harmless.  Theirs wasn’t.  So, in order to avoid getting drawn in to the nastiness, I kept contact to a minimum.  I would often go through an entire day without having a single conversation that wasn’t work related with anyone.  It was awful.

I couldn’t understand why I was so upset by it.  It wasn’t like I was looking for a new best friend.  It took me a long time to understand what I was feeling.  I was lonely.  Desperately lonely.  Even someone was happy in their own company as I am, needs some level of human interaction during the day.  Going from 7am to 7pm each day without even a chat about what was on TV last night is extremely difficult.  If you don’t believe me, try it for a few hours.  I was totally isolated and felt like I had been sent to Siberia (think Erin Brockovich)

Thankfully, I wasn’t in that situation for too long.  I changed jobs again and met a whole load of like minded people.  I relished in the sense of camaraderie I had so sorely missed.  I joined a Strength and Conditioning gym where I made a lot of great pals, and began feeling so much better.  I was connected!  I had found my tribe!

Since then, there have been so many changes in my life.  New jobs, new gyms, new business ventures etc.  There have been times during all of that when I have felt disconnected and alone.  Feeling lonely is, at least for me, a difficult thing to recognise and an even more difficult thing to admit.  Especially when it seems like I have no “reason” to feel that way.  I am getting a little better and I have started to notice a things which trigger it.

I have experienced these feelings most acutely when a situation or dynamic changes.  For instance, when I went from being one of the team to being a “manager.”  This small change put a huge distance between myself and those reporting to me.  Even the transition from Zumba student to Zumba instructor hasn’t been an easy one.  It has set me apart from the rest of the tribe and I have found myself feeling like I am on the outside looking in!

Obviously these changes are a normal part of life and anyone who wants to forge ahead will probably experience these periods of loneliness.  Times spent wondering where, if anywhere, you fit in.  Times when you don’t feel part of a tribe at all.  In these times, it’s important to remember than everything is transient.  If you feel lonely and isolated now, remind yourself that you won’t feel like this forever.  Try to reach out to those who know you best and draw them closer to you.  It’s okay to say “I feel lonely.”  It’s okay to admit that you are struggling and need help.

I try to avoid regret, but I do honestly wish I had done something, anything differently when I was in that awful job.  I wish I hadn’t been afraid to let me friends know how much I needed them.  I wish I hadn’t seen it as a failure to say “I don’t fit in.”  It was many years later before I was able to tell anyone what I had been going through.  Those Mean Girls were definitely not my tribe, and I now realise how lucky I was to have avoided being indoctrinated!  Be well xxx

Tribe