I would love to lie down on a warm, sunny day in a field, with a blanket and a good book. Maybe I'd have time to lazily pick the daisies and make a chain. Or I may have brought something chilled and rose coloured to drink. The peace. The stillness. The totally unrealistic possibility of it all! This would be an ideal way to switch off, and may happen once in a blue moon. But what about the day to day of life? My summer holidays are spent with my family, there is little peace and quiet and whilst I love the days out and road trips, I used to arrive in September frazzled and running on empty.
"How do you switch off?" Is a question I get asked a lot by my coaching clients, many of whom are teachers and have a hard time switching down a gear or two. It is often that it will take a few weeks to fully feel the benefits of downtime, only then to be gearing back up for the start of work and the school term. When I taught full time, I would often spent the first few days of.a long awaited holiday unwell, having come down with a cold or sickness - my body giving in and finally being allowed to be ill. This would leave me feeling cheated, as though my body had betrayed me.
I have learned the importance of preparing for a holiday AND the time in work when I get back - covering both bases to help me fully unwind. I start by slowing down 2 weeks before my hols and in this time tick off or at least pre-empt some items that will be waiting for me on my to-do list.
"How do you switch off?" Is a question I get asked a lot by my coaching clients.
When I work with my clients, I also get them to prepare for holidays well in advance and complete tasks for the week they return before they have started their annual leave. This way the pressure is off - they can fully lean into the rest time they desperately need from day one, whilst knowing that first week back is taken care of.
As a wellbeing coach, I need to practice what I preach and lead from the front. I no longer go into holiday time with dread and emerge the other side worn out. How? By learning to switch off and making balance my watch word. And what a fine balancing act it is - one of doing all the fun stuff, without over stretching myself, my time and my budget! I have learned that they keys to switching off involve change. Just as when we go on holiday where our activities, location and speed are altered, so too can these three keys help me in my day to day at home staycation. Switching off saves my sanity (and my family's!) daily.
So let me share with you these three keys to reducing stress, unwinding and enjoying your precious downtime.
Key #1 - Change position
I am a great believer in changing your perspective and how this can transform your life, I've even written a book on it called Upward: The Power of Looking Up which you can buy here.
I know first hand the power of changing what you do, how you see things and relearning better habits of thinking and doing.
I have found one of the best ways to switch off, is to change what you are doing - literally change the action. For example, if I am pacing back and forth with worry, sitting down and taking a few deep breaths helps me collect myself and my thoughts. If I am lying on the couch feeling lethargic, standing up and stretching or going for a walk shifts my energy. When I cannot sleep, I write down my thoughts in my journal next to me or listen to a calming podcast/soundtrack/meditation.
Just as you turn a dimmer switch and change the amount of light in a room, so too can you change your energy levels - up or down - by altering your actions. Try it for yourself, and see what happens. The more curious and creative you can be with this, the better you will get to know what works for you and how your body and mind respond to different stimuli.
Here is a great post about changing our position: https://www.sarahalexcarter.com/post/advice-from-dawn-french
Key #2 - Change place
When I was particularly unwell with anxiety and still hiding it from my family and friends, we went on holiday to Devon on the south coast of the UK. The change of scenery soothed my anxious mind and I found the natural surrounding calming and restorative, There was a shift in my mood and energy and it gave me a window of hope into my mental health state at the time. However, within weeks of coming home, I felt anxiety creep back in and old habits return and soon enough I was back in the grip of fear and worry.
Holidays are amazing - especially ones where you are away from the daily grind and routine of life. But this is not always possible and even if you do have some respite, how do you keep this going when you return home? The key here is to take mini breaks from your environment. This could be for a few moments or a couple of hours. Changing where you rest, work, sleep, or eat can be a game changer. Take your breakfast outside. Work facing a different position in the room. Stand up to take phone calls. Look out of the window whilst drinking your tea or coffee.
Currently, I am using the seat in our garden for 15 minutes each evening to sit on with a cup of herbal tea and my bare feet in the grass. Everything about this restores me and gives me a good nights sleep. The key is to physically change where you are, even for a moment or two. This disconnects us from the familiar and stimulates our nervous system in a way that can reset our body and mind.
Read more fun ideas and thoughts on play as therapy here: https://www.sarahalexcarter.com/post/the-spirit-of-summer
Key #3 - Change pace
Slowing down inevitably helps us to switch off - like changing gears on a car or bike. Using this analogy, imagine you are in car going 60 miles per hour and then suddenly putting on the hand break or shifting into first gear - your car, you, your passengers and other road users would not be happy! To switch off in a way that serves us and others, we need to slow down first.
In the past, as a teacher, I would go a hundred miles an hour during term time and then pull the hand break and screech to a halt as soon as the holiday break arrived! This would usually result in my body suffering from a cold or some sort of sickness, and I would be laid up for the first few days of my longed for time off.
Changing your pace in advance of switching off is key to successfully benefitting from down time. This may need to happen over a few days prior to a holiday, but, again, what about the day to day of our lives?
Well, I suggest that we slow down during the day too, in order to naturally switch off at night aka sleep. Our day is like a cycle - seasonal in its rhythm. The morning is spring, where everything comes to life. Summer happens in the middle part of the day, with lots of activity. The evening is the autumn when the pace of life can slow down into the night time of winter where we sleep and renew.
If we are intentional about wanting to switch off, reducing the pace at which you do things will lead you to enjoy time off and time out.
These, as always, are ideas I have gathered and tried out over time. The important thing here is to find what works for you and your circumstances. Find what feels good to you and be kind to yourself in the process. If you would like more inspiration on looking after your wellbeing, subscribe to my website for regular updates on when my blog is published and also the online programs I provide.
Currently my Introduction to Women's Wellness programme is available for only £28.00 through August and is the perfect way to slow down, find your calm and take care of yourself. You can access it via the Progams tab on my website or use the link below: https://www.sarahalexcarter.com/challenge-page/af1ca2ca-a9bc-4f9b-80b3-6bccc3fd00df
Please share with those that need to switch off and enjoy some down time and let's live well together.