This last weekend some of my children and their friends came to stay and we got talking about self-care. Do we look after ourselves enough? We seem to carry on until something big happens. Perhaps a health issue – whether physical or mental – and only then do we stop and think about ourselves.
Of course the concern of the younger generation is based around their working life which is so different to my own. They live in a city and have demanding, often stressful jobs. Their social lives are also more full than mine. However, overall, we came to realise that none of us are good at self-care.
December: the busiest month
As we head into the festive month of December, we should all focus on ourselves a little more and indulge in some self-care. Maybe indulge is the wrong word as it makes it sound like a luxury, when really it is a necessity that we have often choose to ignore.
In the UK, we are very bad at self-care. Apparently 52% of us don’t take a lunch break. We’re 45th on a list of 50 countries when it comes to sleep quality. 40% of us check work emails five or more times out of work hours. One-third of us are sleeping for less than five hours a night.
These are statistics that should make us sit up and think.
Currently, one in three sick notes are due to mental health problems and one in four of us will experience mental illness in our lifetime. Things are pretty diabolical. Experts are warning not of a coming mental health crisis, but that “the crisis is here, the crisis is now”.
Other European countries
Just before we leave the European Union we might like to take a few leaves out of our fellow Europeans’ books!
France, at the beginning of this year, ruled that French workers in companies with more than 50 people were no longer allowed to send or read emails out of working hours. This was following a study showing that emailing out of office hours can cause people to become “emotionally exhausted” and cause “anticipatory stress” eventually leading to burnout.
Moving on around Europe. In Hungary thermal bathing has become a national pastime. Regular hot baths have been shown to help lower blood pressure, ease joint pain and lower heart rate. The waters, readily absorbed by the skin (the body’s largest organ), contain minerals such as sulphite, sodium, calcium, magnesium, hydrocarbonate, fluoride and metaboric acid. Hungarian men enjoy playing chess whilst soaking in the baths. The women use their time in the baths to chat and catch up with friends.
In Sweden ‘fika’ is a tradition that revolves around a coffee break (“kaffeepause” in Denmark and Norway). At work, everyone from the bosses to the junior admin staff stop twice, usually at 9am and 3pm, to drink coffee, eat biscuits or pastries and communicate with one another. Studies show “collective restoration” can be beneficial to your mental health. I mean how do we use coffee? As a fuel and a takeaway not as a break. It should be a time to sit down, relax and socialise?
That leads me to Italy where they have the expression, ‘Bella Figura’. This means taking time to enjoy the moment. It is living life in a more beautiful, sensuous and satisfying way. Food shopping in Italy is an event. Going to the market and choosing the best fresh food, enjoying and living the moment. CountryWives recently reviewed a book called Bella Figura by Kamin Mohammidi which is the author’s journey from living a stressful life in the UK to embracing a new life in Florence and, by doing so, she was healed.
Last year everyone was writing about the Danish tradition of ‘hygge’ – where is it now? Is that because we couldn’t understand it – it didn’t come with a set of practical instructions. That is because it is more a state of being. Taking time for unforced togetherness in a safe, nurturing environment produces the kind of “cosy” mental wellbeing that hygge is designed for. Time spent with family and friends should be seen as therapeutic rather than something you “have” to do before heading back to your sofa, watching Netflix and checking your mobile phone for messages.
Technology & Social Media
Of course this is another issue that we all have that dominates our lives, our phones. I am not just talking about social media but also the constant pinging of emails, what’s app messages etc that constantly interrupt our daily lives.
As my husband and I went for a long walk with our dog yesterday we noticed that of the other dog walkers over 50% were on their phones, not chatting to their partners or enjoying the moment.
I freely admit that I am joined at the hip to my phone and now that Apple send me a message each day telling me how much time I have spent on it I have become increasingly aware of how attached I am. I am now turning it off at 9 pm in order to have a phone free period before I go to bed.
My children have turned off their social media, they don’t ‘do’ Facebook anymore. They are wary of Instagram as they feel it promotes the totally perfect lives of others and it must be even more distressing to those struggling with life issues.
My youngest son has persuaded me to take a course on Buddhism and meditation which is, for me, another attempt at some self-care. Our tutor is showing us the science behind meditation and how we need to take more time to live in the ‘Now’. I can see how good it is for me however emptying my mind of everything I will be honest is challenging. I am doing my best and I know that if I can achieve it I will be a better person and have a more rewarding life. It is making the time as it is so easy to say we are too busy to take 10 minutes out of our already overstuffed day.
Time out from our busy lives is a must as we move forward in our overfull life that is constantly being interrupted by the outside world wanting to get in touch.
‘Stop the world I want to get off’ as a life mantra, seems more called for now than it has ever been. I don’t want to get off completely but I do want some me time to self-care.