Slowing Down for Your Health

If you’re feeling overworked, overscheduled and are struggling to juggle all the demands on your time, forever rushing from one place to the next, you’re not alone.  While technology has given us an abundance of time-saving devices, it seems that we are using that time to do more and more, and our lives are more frantic and fast-paced than ever before.

While most of us can cope with a demanding schedule for short periods of time, when it becomes a way of life the continued stress can really start to take its toll, on both our physical and mental health.  This includes increases in body fat (particularly fat stored around the middle), blood glucose  levels and blood pressure, along with lowered immunity and mood changes.

Stress is the body’s reaction to what it senses is a dangerous situation. Hormonal changes including an increase in our ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, mobilise energy stores to enable you to ‘fight’ – this is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response.  In certain situations (say running away from a vicious dog or reacting to avoid a car accident) this can be a lifesaver. The problem is that most of the stress we are facing today is not acute stress and is not resolved with the ‘fight or flight’ reaction.  In fact many of us are now facing daily long term stress that our body just isn’t well equipped to handle.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  You can put the brakes on and get out of the fast lane.  Enter the ‘Slow Movement’ which advocates a cultural shift towards slowing down our pace of life. What began in 1986 with Carlo Petrini’s protest against the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in Rome and the creation of the Slow Food organisation, has over time, expanded into other areas including slow living, slow cities, slow travel and even slow parenting (yes that means not overscheduling your kids time like you do your own!).

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
Gandhi

Slowing down isn’t easy but it is a choice you can make and one which will lead to better health and greater happiness and enjoyment of life.  Here are a few tips to help you move into the slow lane.

Top ten tips for slowing down

  1. Do less. Time is the one thing we can’t get more of – every one of us has only 24 hours in the day.  Write yourself a list of everything that takes up your time and give it a critical appraisal. If there’s no way that you will ever be able to fit in all these activities without being constantly overstretched, it’s time to be ruthless. What could you delegate, whether it be to your partner, children, a work colleague or outsourcing. Are there are some things you could give up altogether, or just do less often?  In his book, The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything, author Matthew May suggests that subtraction is the new skill we all need to develop.  So think about what is least important to you and start subtracting!
  1. Prioritise – even if you manage to delegate and eliminate some tasks, chances are there is still a lot left on your to do list. The number one key to managing a busy schedule is prioritising, or doing the most important things first, even if they are not the easiest or most enjoyable.  Do this and even if you don’t get through everything you had planned in the day you should be able to relax and feel good about the fact that you have done the most critical things on your list and the rest can wait until tomorrow.

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”                       Peter Drucker

  1. Set Limits. In his book The Power of Less Leo Babauta discusses the need to set limits on what we do, from the tasks and projects we take on to how often we check emails and surf the internet. Like prioritising, this ensures you focus on what is important.  His blog, Zen Habits, has plenty of tips on how to set limits and simplify your life.
  1. De-clutter. Having less time seems to go hand-in-hand with having more ‘stuff’.   After all, this stuff usually needs attention.  A cluttered house, office or desk can not only waste time (as it is usually hard to find things when you need them), but can also lead to a cluttered mind and make it hard to focus on the tasks in front of you.  We all know how satisfying it is to have a big clear-out and have a tidy house, room or office as a result.  So if clutter is causing you stress and getting in the way of you being productive, then scheduling time for de-cluttering will be time well spent.
  1. Build in time buffers – scheduling your day with back to back commitments and little time in between is bound to add to your stress levels. Instead, schedule some ‘buffer’ time between activities to allow for the inevitable delays that can occur, from traffic jams to being kept waiting for appointments, to kids who decide to throw a tantrum on your way out the door. If things do go wrong, you can remain calm knowing you still have plenty of time to get where you are going, and if things go smoothly you can enjoy some short breaks in the day to relax and catch your breath.
  1. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of being in the present, savouring the moment rather than letting other thoughts crowd your mind. It takes practice but is definitely a habit worth mastering.   Check out this fact sheet from The Black Dog Institute with tips on incorporating Mindfulness in Everyday Life.
  1. Stop multitasking. You may think you are being more productive and saving time but this is not the case according to research which actually shows that multitasking is stressful for the brain and dramatically reduces performance.
  1. Schedule downtime. For most of us, time to relax and do nothing occurs when we have done everything else…which means that it never happens!  If your reality is that there will always be more to do than hours in the day, then prioritise and schedule in some downtime like you do other important commitments – this is the only way it will happen.

“Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing”  Lao Tzu

  1. Disconnect. Laptops, smartphones and tablets mean that many of us are permanently ‘on’.  But do you really need to answer your work phone on weekends or holidays, or check your emails before you go to bed?   Try limiting your email and internet time, blocking out times in the day when you can’t be interrupted by phone calls or emails, and taking a ‘technobreak’ where you can enjoy some uninterrupted time away from all these devices.
  1. Follow the slow food movement. One area where slowing down has many benefits is when it comes to eating.  Slow eating is about taking time to gather, prepare and enjoy your meals. This could mean growing your own vegetables or visiting your local farmers market rather than a stressful trip to the supermarket, planning at least a few nights each week when you take the time to prepare a nice meal rather than a takeaway or frozen dinner, and eating around the table with others rather than in front of the television.  Taking your time to relax and enjoy your meals will mean you eat less and will be more satisfied so less likely to snack on those less-than-healthy choices, a benefit for your weight and health. You can find out more about the slow food movement in Australia at Slow Food Australia.
  1. Re-think exercise. We know exercise can help to manage stress along with its other health benefits.  But it doesn’t have to be slogging it out at the gym and if you have had a particularly stressful day then this could increase stress hormones further.  So rather than rushing to a high intensity gym class or being pushed to your limits at bootcamp, why not head outside for a relaxing walk or do a some yoga to stretch and unwind. Or if you are really under pressure with everything you need to get done and exercise is competing with other priorities then why not kill two birds with one stone and get out in the garden or put on your favourite music and put your efforts into cleaning the house.  All movement is beneficial and you will two things ticked off your to do list! This is one case where multitasking is allowed!
  1. Savour sleep. Sleep is the ultimate slowing down, a chance for the body to rest and recuperate. Unfortunately when other things compete for your time it is often sleep that suffers. Yet research shows that getting enough is one of the most important things you can do for your health and wellbeing. Lack of sleep can worsen insulin sensitivity and affect appetite hormones making it difficult to control your weight and blood glucose levels, and increasing diabetes risk.

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