For many of us, a surprising silver lining of the recent COVID-19 lockdown has been the ability to slow down and stop being a slave to our calendars.
If you’ve been lucky enough to have not caught the virus or lost your livelihood as a result of its subsequent social distancing, you may have discovered a unique opportunity to step back from the busyness and live a quieter existence in your own home.
As a textbook extrovert (or so I thought), I’d once pegged the thought of two months at home without a girlfriend and a rosé the very definition of dull. But instead the forced quiet time became an incredible opportunity to slow down and actually feel on top of my life.
ISO has shone a big flashlight onto how much mental energy goes into structuring a day. In my case, a lot of it is about baby nap schedules and toddler snack packing but even before kids, I’d be mapping out work to-dos and yoga classes and chai dates the moment my alarm bleeped.
Instead, I’ve had more time to bond with my newborn and engage my toddler delight in the most rudimentary of crafts. But it wasn’t just about the small humans – I found there was more time for a cup of green tea and a good book when I wasn’t lugging my people to childcare and grandparents and playdates in an effort to keep them ‘stimulated’.
“A lot of people have been surprised by how good this opportunity has been to slow down, have space, reconnect with family members and, most importantly, themselves,” Lyndall Mitchell, wellness coach and author of Chaos To Calm: Take Control With Confidence, tells body+soul.
“Ultimately we are all social and community beings but we now have this renewed sense of appreciation for our own time and a slower pace.”
Now that restrictions are easing and we can welcome our family and friends back into our lives, I’ve been left wondering how to re-build the bonds and savour the socialising, without completely booking myself out and becoming a slave to the associated mental clutter.
Luckily Mitchell and mindfulness teacher Kate James have some brilliant tips for bringing back our social selves without losing the blessed slowness.
1. Schedule some space
If you’ve relished more quiet time, then try committing to it regularly.
“It is really easy to have every moment tightly planned and to keep filling and over-scheduling our days,” Mitchell says.
“But when we live like this, we quickly becoming human doings not human beings. Taking space is an act of self-care, and our challenge now is to maintain in.”
One of the best ways of making sure you don’t inadvertently get back on the hectic hamster wheel is to block out a few windows in the week to see where the wind takes you.
“Ultimately you will be in a better headspace to offer time and energy and love to other people if you take care of your own needs first,” James tells body+soul.
“Personally, I map out my ideal week and make sure there are some chunks of time in there that are just for me.”
2. Don’t apologise
If you’re used to a busy social calendar, it might feel strange to decline an invite when you have a wide-open day, but James says there is nothing to be sorry for.
“Some people have a hard time setting boundaries and feeling like they can say no,” she points out.
“But when you bring that guilt, you can overdo it. You don’t necessarily have to explain too much – all you really need to say is, ‘Unfortunately I’m not available then but I could do this [date] instead.”
3. Gauge your vibe
After any catch-up, take a moment to assess whether you feel energised or depleted.
If you’re feeling flat, perhaps consider putting some parameters in place for your next catch-up to make sure it’s filling you up. That might mean scheduling a start and end time or meeting someone for a walk so you can tick off two things.
“[See] what feels right in a moment,” Mitchell suggests.
“Connect with your own inner wisdom, intelligence and feelings to find your own healthy balance … asking yourself, ‘What feels right for me today?’
Meditation can help this.”
4. Actually experience your downtime
As the world fires back up, there is naturally going to be more to fit in, so the challenge is for us to really soak up any quiet space we can get. Ultimately that means trying to be more mindful.
“[You want to] come into the present moment and actually engage with it,”
“It might mean putting your phone on flight mode for an hour or turning off notifications so you’re not distracted by messages coming in.”
5. Play a long game
Now that small social catch-ups are allowed, it’s tempting to lock in times with everyone you’ve missed over the past couple of months. But it might be wise to take a longer-term approach and scatter your catch-ups so you don’t end up back in the busyness.
“The key is not to put pressure on ourselves about whether to socialise or not,” Mitchell says.
“Instead come from a place of renewed self-care, stepping into the world with this new perspective with a calmer mind, simplified life attitude and deeper connection with your own body wisdom.”