Why Did It Take A Pandemic To Make Me Slow Down?

“Slow down, you move too fast,” the lyrics from Simon and Garfunkel’s Feelin’ Groovy, have struck a note with me lately. As a person who suffers from anxiety, I am conscious of my tendency to rush through life without taking a breath, shortchanging myself of the full benefits of life’s simple pleasures.

I’m semi-retired, but most days I still feel like I’m chasing my tail and there aren’t enough hours for everything I want to achieve

Girl lying down on the grass relaxing.
Photo by Eunice Stahl on Unsplash

Admittedly, my inability to say no is a big part of the problem – because I do waste hours of my week on unnecessary activities, and then get cross with myself for compromising what time I have left to do what I enjoy.

But even when I’m walking the dog, my mind is often elsewhere, thinking about that email I need to write, the call I need to make, or the machine load that needs to be emptied.

But the world won’t stop turning if I don’t empty the washing machine immediately

And on the rare occasions I allow myself to breathe, to throw the ball to the dog on the beach, or take in the natural beauty of where we live, my head clears, and I kick myself for not doing it more often.

Because, relaxing is easy, and doesn’t cost very much, and aside from my new hobby of swimming in the ocean, I’ve rediscovered many long-lost passions recently, like reading, walking, and listening to podcasts, not to mention my love of watching mindless tv series on the sofa.

I’m not saying I walk happily to the trolley bay when it’s on the other side of the supermarket car park or I don’t grit my teeth when the traffic lights ahead turn red, but I am making a conscious effort to try to walk rather than run.

Sometimes, it’s enough just to be. To be me. To be happy in my skin

I’m sure spiritualists have some fancy term for the art of “enjoying the moment” – something like unconscious mindfulness, I imagine. But each time I’ve tried to be intentionally mindful in the past, I’ve struggled to close down the tabs in my brain – this, despite my belief in the importance of living each day as if it is your last – an awareness of the unpredictability of life that was foisted on me by the loss of my mother in my teens – although, I don’t recommend it.

But if you don’t believe me and need any more convincing about the right order of your priorities in life, check out the biggest regrets of the dying, because one of the top five regrets is how much time they wasted on work rather than spending it with family and friends, or doing things that made them happy.

Unfortunately, a clink in the armour of the human brain is that many of us only realise what we have when it’s gone

Fortunately, COVID has rammed the importance of the philosophy home for me, and the physical effects of ageing are helping with the slow down. While I moan about the limitations of my body – and this year has been a real test – I am beginning to understand its language. When it lets me know I’ve pushed it too hard, I’m learning to listen to it, because those minor pains and aches quickly evolve into costly issues when they aren’t addressed.

Admittedly, it is easier to switch off or recalibrate physically than it is mentally. But another benefit COVID has gifted many of us is extra time at home. And although I’m certain my lockdown existence looks very different to the parents of young kids or essential workers, I don’t believe slowing down must necessitate being alone.

For example, when our kids were small, I used to dread the approach of the school holidays. And yet, it always surprised me how quickly the three of us adapted to the change of pace. Within a week, each of us started to slow down, to get up later, to take our time over meals and stretch out activities that we normally raced through. We communicated more, and because I didn’t have to manage that precarious balance between work, school, and extra-curricular activities, I was less irritable. Rather than the cabin fever I anticipated, we had more time and energy to try out new things, and the best days were those when we did absolutely nothing without feeling guilty about them – a foreign concept in our increasingly driven society.

It’s important to allow yourself days off, when you do absolutely nothing

Recently, a friend of mine took her two weeks of annual leave at home due to the current restrictions. At the time, she was feeling burnt out at work, and I know she was disappointed she couldn’t escape somewhere exotic for “a change of scene”. Nevertheless, she approached her two weeks with a positive mindset and a list of her priorities for her time off – relaxation foremost, with some walks, swims, catch-ups with friends, and some overdue organisational tasks if she found the time.

At the end of the two weeks, she was exuberant about her holiday at home, which had given her the opportunity to explore some previously undiscovered areas of our local landscape with friends and family, enjoy long breakfasts in the sun with her daughter, eat healthily, and replenish her sleep quota with daily naps. She returned to work re-energised, and when I caught up with her at the end of her first week back, she had rediscovered her old passion for her job.

Trips abroad, where we used to cram more into a day than we would at work, are not always what our body needs

I have fully embraced the return to simple living that COVID has necessitated, and I’m feeling quite nervous about my return to the hustle and bustle of normal life. I have to agree with Michaela Coel who mentioned in her acceptance speech at the Emmys the joys of embracing invisibility, rather than jumping straight back onto the demanding treadmill of our lives prior to COVID. I am loving this invisibility that has come with lockdown and middle-age. I have no desire to leap from our current restrictions straight back into my old life. Rather, I intend to set myself a realistic pace and be more mindful of how and when I really need to emerge from the shadows.

The 7 Changes Necessary For A Minimalist Lifestyle

“A minimalist home is very intentional,” Joshua Becker explains in an article for Good Housekeeping magazine. “Each possession is there for a reason.” 

Simplicity. A glass jar with gum leaves on a white background.
Photo by Alex Loup on Unsplash

I’ve spent the past six months bogged down in the restructure of my manuscript, hence why I’ve not been as vocal on this site as usual. Anyone who has been through the visceral pain of editing 90,000 words understands the need to isolate yourself, without distractions.

However, you must also balance that sacrifice of your free time with the reality that years of hard work may ultimately amount to nothing. That was one of the inspirations for my last post, in which I purported the idea that there’s nothing wrong with contentment – a state of mind that seems particularly relevant right now.

Learning to be content with what you’ve got is important if, like me, you are the sort of person who is pulled in lots of directions, and regularly feels in a state of overwhelm.

That’s why why I’ve decided to take the idea of contentment a step further and I’m endeavouring to create it through the idea of living with less – the principles of which can be applied to every facet of our lives.

This approach is called minimalist

Minimalism, as most of you will know, is a style employed in interior design and decoration. It embraces a modern, clinical feel, with no place for clutter – and you can adapt it to your lifestyle as well. These days, the term is being used more broadly to promote the appealing, pared back lifestyle many of us aspire to live, thanks to the stress caused by COVID.

Joshua Becker describes the meaning of minimalism in his article What Is Minimalism? in the following way:

“It is marked by clarity, purpose, and intentionality. At its core, being a minimalist means intentionally promoting the things we most value and removing everything that distracts us from it.

I could argue that this new idea appeals to me because I’m a middle-aged woman, sensitive to my invisibility, and it’s much easier to simply opt out of society than fight the ongoing ageism and gender discrimination. Or perhaps it’s because, financially, we have cut our cloth accordingly in line with our personal decision to semi-retire early.

Both reasons are valid

However, it is obvious that younger generations are also embracing this idea to change their priorities, and while I admit that in the past I ridiculed couples on those sea-change shows who opted out of the rat race, I think they may be having the last laugh.

Our priorities change with age

And what’s not to love about a way of life that promises more time to do the things we love and happiness, and contributes to the protection of our environment at the same time?

So how do you become a minimalist?

The minimalist lifestyle is about living with only the things you need. Minimalists are free from the desire to buy and accumulate more. Instead, they find happiness in relationships and experiences.” Joshua Becker

It sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? But it’s not simply about sacrificing your day off for a spring clean in your home – although, that’s a good starting point.

No, there’s a little more to simplifying your life than decluttering. There’s a lot of mental work that needs happen and ingrained habits that need to change. And for some people, it can be hard to know where to start.

So to help you out, below are seven changes that are working for me:

  1. Being more intentional. First of all, you must really think about the purpose of your decision and what you intend to gain from it. Intentionality means basing your changes on what you want in your life, not what your kids or friends expect from you, or even what your partner wants. This is your life – and if your partner doesn’t agree with your choices, remove them with the rest of the clutter.
  2. Forget about owning stuff and consumerism. This is difficult for me. When I’m in a funk, my weakness is my compulsion to buy new things for that sense of instant gratification. As a creative, I also get a huge kick out of simply wandering around to mall and looking at beautiful things. Where I am making changes in this area is by buying less crap and only quality things I really need or recycled goods.
  3. Change your mindset and your priorities. A bout of depression or serious anxiety is the best push to make changes in your life – but I don’t recommend them. Instead of waiting for either of those to happen, prioritise things in your life that promote wellness and good health. Step into nature as much as possible, listen to inspiring or entertaining podcasts, exercise or meet up with friends for some free therapy. Make the time to switch off and relax, and don’t feel guilty about it.
  4. Stop worrying about what others think. Remove toxic people from your life. People who don’t understand your choices, value your opinion, or who you can’t have a discussion without them shouting back at you, are not conducive to a minimalist lifestyle. Your friends should treat you with the same consideration you treat them.
  5. Stop competing with others. Forget about the Jones’. The ugliest part of our consumerist society is the way we pit people against each another, and social media has exacerbated the problem. In my thirties and forties I made myself miserable by comparing myself to others who had more, and when I attempted to keep up with them, all that did was make me unhappy. The qualities I envy in my friends now couldn’t be more different to the ones that impressed me when I was younger.
  6. Be grateful. I have why me days, where all I do is moan about what I haven’t got, or why shit seems to always happen to me, but I’m getting better at putting those negative thoughts into perspective. Feeling sorry for yourself is completely valid, as long as you don’t let the negativity overtake everything else.
  7. Create processes – I have a scatty brain, particularly right now, during menopause, and the days I don’t organise myself and write a to-do list, I achieve much less. Of course, it’s much easier to get distracted when you work from home – like many of us do now. One minute, I’m writing, the next I’m flicking through social media, the next I’m playing with the dog. But you must be accountable to yourself for how you prioritise your time. You don’t have to be productive all of the time – far from it – you just need to be productive when you must be. Having processes means you’re not always chasing your tail, and you’re more likely to feel a sense of fulfilment at the end of each day. The old man and I share the chores in our home – like walking the dog, emptying the dishwasher and the cooking – and being organised prevents resentment building, and makes that first Gin and Tonic each evening even more special.