Why Did It Take A Pandemic To Get Me To Slow Down?
“Slow down, you move too fast,” the lyrics from Simon and Garfunkel’s Feelin’ Groovy struck a chord with me recently — sorry for the pun. You see, as a person who suffers from anxiety, I was always conscious of my tendency to rush through life without taking a breath, thereby shortchanging myself of the full benefits of life’s simple pleasures, but COVID changed that.
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
Admittedly, my inability to say no was a big part of the problem — because I do waste hours of my week on unnecessary activities, and then I 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. I’m thinking about that email I need to write, the call I need to make, or the machine load that needs to be emptied.
The truth is, the world won’t stop turning if I don’t empty the washing machine immediately
Furthermore, 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, over the past few months I’ve rediscovered my love of reading, walking, and listening to podcasts, not to mention the joy of watching some 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 more conscious effort 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 whenever I’ve tried to be intentionally mindful in the past, I’ve found it impossible to close down the different tabs in my brain — this, despite my belief in the importance of living each day as if it’s my last that derived from the pain of losing my mother in my teens — an invaluable life lesson, although, not one I would recommend.
But if you don’t believe me, you you 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 that philosophy home, and the physical effects of ageing are also helping me 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; days 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 foisted upon us, which means I’m feeling really quite nervous about my return to the hustle and bustle of normal life.
And 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 exhausting treadmill of the life we’ve been primed for, prior to COVID. I am loving the 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 often I really need to emerge from the shadows.