All of our lives have changed dramatically over the last couple of months and I think it is highly probable that some of the changes that we have experienced may be with us for the long term, even when lockdown restrictions are eased.
The crisis has been frightening and dreadful on so many levels, but although it has been unbelievably hard, I realise that personally, my life has not only become a lot less hectic… but also a lot less complicated. I fully intend to keep it this way even as we slowly start to move back to towards a “normal” life.
I have had some time and space to reassess and I like the idea of living a more simple life. If we can simplify our lives, we can probably learn more about ourselves and what is really important to us. When we are not flying around frantically trying to complete the days tasks, constantly wired up to the news, scrolling through various social media sites, bingeing on TV boxsets, or even shopping online because we are bored, we are not giving ourselves the time and mental space to be grateful for what we already have.
Simplifying for me is really about doing less and having less, because I am coming to understand (better late than never!) that having more and doing more, doesn’t necessarily lead to a sense of happiness and fulfilment. It’s about finding the joy in simple things, and being content with solitude, quiet, contemplation and enjoying each individual minute, without your mind rushing on to the next frantic task. Being forced to stay home during lockdown has made me realise that a lot of the running around I have been done is actually completely unnecessary.
Simplifying your lifestyle doesn’t have to be difficult. Slight changes in daily habits and a subtle change in perspective can be all that is required to have noticeable effects on your state of mind and happiness levels. It can be achieved in a few short steps and you can take it as far as feels comfortable for you. A more simple lifestyle may involve de-cluttering your possessions and getting rid of what you don’t need, of thinking carefully before making new purchases, making sure they are really needed. It may involve limiting your time on social media and your phone and stopping trying to do a million things at once. Doing some or all of these things can bring you great benefits and happiness (even if the idea of some of them may initially fill you with horror!)
For me, the important thing simplifying offers is the opportunity to stop and breathe. I’m quite an anxious person, I worry a lot and sometimes that stress is evident in physical symptoms like IBS and headaches. I am coming to realise that my previous hectic lifestyle does not these issues help at all. I took up yoga in January and became a vegetarian, and although then I had no idea that this crisis was coming, I genuinely feel that those small changes have helped me to cope with these unsettling times. Yoga has not only strengthened my body, but is has also helped me to become more mindful and spiritually aware. Vegetarianism, (initially for environmental reasons), has opened my mind and experience to a completely new way of cooking, cutting out not only meat, but a lot of convenience processed foods.
Buying groceries without much thought for what they contained or where they came from, went hand in hand with my other vice: Clothes shopping. I have always been a world class shopaholic. But I’m finding to my surprise that during lockdown I can easily manage without my constant fix of visiting my local John Lewis and spending money on luxury clothing, perfumes and skin and body care. I realise that I was buying far more than I needed. Since becoming interested in environmental issues last year, its seems that buying less of anything seems to be a good idea. And when we do need to buy, being mindful of source and need. Buying less clothes is a great place to start for me. Thanks to fast fashion, the textile industry is now one of the biggest environmental polluters and consumes eye watering amounts of energy throughout the manufacturing and supply chain. I can’t promise I will not buy new clothes ever again, but I’m buying a lot less and making sure that I buy from companies that are using ethical and sustainable methods to produce their styles.
I am even rethinking my job and the way that I work. I can’t escape deadlines, meetings and report writing, but I am finding that having to do all of this from home has relaxed my world so much more. I read somewhere that ‘We create our own struggles‘. All the stress, worry and anxiety, and all the rushing around can often make us feel panicky and out of control, especially if we are trying to do 30 things at once. I am now taking regular breaks, sitting in the garden doing nothing at all for 15 minutes or so and I genuinely feel much more at peace with myself.
I have been practising mindfulness since the lockdown and have been trying to concentrate on one single task at a time. Someone suggested thinking about your life in terms of your laptop screen: How many tabs do you have open at one time? Too many, if you are anything like me. Try and imagine that everything you do, whether it be a work meeting, answering an email, cleaning up in the kitchen, cooking or eating a meal is the ONLY tab you have open, so that you can fully concentrate on that one task and not get distracted by anything else. Give yourself over to that task alone and be fully present as you do it. Try it. When something has your full attention, you are more likely to enjoy it and make a better job of it.
In the past I have tried to cram as much as possible into any one day. And I have come to realise this is extremely stressful! I underestimate how long things will take, and am “mindless” (as opposed to mindful) when doing things like brushing teeth and preparing meals. Ever wonder why you can’t remember if you brushed your teeth or not? We never feel like we have enough time because we try to do too much. Now I’m finding the time to pause between tasks, to acknowledge the accomplishment of the last task, and to mindfully experience every part of my day… And all this as a result of being forced to slow down because of the current crisis.
I am also planning to have a big sort out next weekend and de-clutter things that I no longer need or want. I also like the idea of getting rid of unwanted commitments, though I know that will be harder. I am hoping that both will lead to a reduction in distractions, giving me more space to breathe and focus on what is important to me. Apparently de-cluttering has been proven to boost levels of concentration, reduce irritation, and promote a more productive lifestyle. Lets see!
I am not suggesting for a moment that the Coronacrisis has been a good thing. The suffering it has caused on a global scale is staggering. But the idea of our now resetting to a simpler way of living, to being more mindful of what we have done to the planet and to try and create a kinder, less materialistic world, can surely only be a good thing.
“…there are often many things we feel we should do that, in fact, we don’t really have to do. Getting to the point where we can tell the difference is a major milestone in the simplification process.”
― Elaine St. James
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