Ever get the feeling that time is slipping through your fingers and all you can do is watch in motionless horror? It’s the second week into 2019 and already I’m in a panic thinking about all the things I still have to do before I return to work in October- after my luscious 18-month maternity leave. If I looked up studies on mood levels around this time of year, I get the feeling they’d likely note that this is the week when all the excitement of the New Year dips low and all the goals we made for ourselves start to go by the wayside. We start to get suffocated by the clouds rolling in and instead of the New Year “I can totally do this” attitude, we might slowly transition into the “but can I really?” phase.
When I feel these negative feelings creeping in I try to be proactive in recognizing it, calling myself out on it and doing what I can to practice gratitude in order to stay positive. This is, of course, easier said than done. Here are some ways I have found helpful to combat these impulses from dragging me under.
Lean on your support systems. This can be especially difficult if you are typically a private person. You may be someone who likes to handle issues on your own or with your significant other. And for some few instances this can be ideal, but most often sharing your hardships can alleviate a lot of the anxiety around what you’re going through. Others may be feeling the same way or they may be able to inform you of a different and critical perspective you couldn’t see on your own. Whether you are closer to friends than family or vice versa, lean on someone who knows you well and can help you process your thoughts appropriately. The key here is to just reach out to at least one person. If you have supports but find it hard to open up to them, let them know the reasons. Be honest with them because they are likely unaware of what’s stopping you from reaching out. The last thing they probably want is for you to feel uncomfortable discussing deep issues with them.
Get organized. The word “organization” can mean different things to everyone. Being organized may look different to me than what it looks like to you. I don’t necessarily mean physically straightening up things in your pantry, although that can be helpful too. I really mean sort your mind. Every day there are tons of things we each want to get done or start on but we get sidetracked for whatever reason. Reorganize your thoughts. Think about the things that matter most in your life and begin to prioritize those to-dos, relationships and then, maybe even aspirations. Put a bit of elbow grease in and just start with one thing. A lot of times we think about all the things we need to do and it becomes overwhelming, then we simply give up. It always helps me when I break it down into parts. Unpack it- put pen to paper and make a list. Take it one step at a time and as you accomplish one thing, that feeling of completing the first thing then the next thing will start to snowball and get you motivated into continuing on in your endeavors.
Declutter. We all, in some way, hold on to things that don’t matter or things we think define who we are. I am 100% guilty of this. I hold on to clothes way longer than I should. I realized I (and I’m sure many others feel the same way) have been holding on to clothes I know I will never wear simply because I had a vision of who I wanted to look like. That person was trendy, put-together, creative, spontaneous, sophisticated and most importantly, lean. It doesn’t mean I’m not most of those things separately, on different days, but I had a certain look in mind and that specific look was a size 2 unfortunately. For me, it took taking a hard look at myself and not so much giving up on that vision I had, but understanding that it’s been ten years since I had that vision. If it hasn’t happened in ten years, it probably isn’t ever going to happen. I had to learn to accept who I am and create a new healthier version of myself. Just after the holidays my girlfriends and I came up with a great idea to help us declutter. We decided to round up all the things in our homes that we no longer had use for- anything from clothing, jewelry, housewares to old hobbies, books, the list goes on. We got together (you know, ordered pizza, drank some bubbly, went ham) and did a group purge. We all made use of each other’s “trash” and donated the rest. It was a fantastic exercise and we are now making it an annual affair.
Make one simple goal, perhaps without a hard and fast deadline. Having goals are wonderful but not everyone responds well to deadlines. Some become more motivated than ever, and others feel bogged down with the clock ticking and don’t know exactly where to start. I find just having the courage to set one goal and having a loose time frame on when you wish to complete it works well. Of course this can’t be applied to every task but think of the things we tend to put off for a rainy day. Focus on the things that aren’t on the must-do list but belong on the “it would be nice” list. Those are the things we should be keeping on our constant radar because I think those are the nagging tasks that, if completed, would do wonders for our spirit.
Learn one new thing. I moved out of my mom’s place at the age of 29 when I bought my first home, and until then I rarely cooked. It wasn’t that I liked my mother’s cooking- quite the opposite actually. I seldom took the time to practice because I never felt comfortable in her home and knew I’d barely use the skill anyway. Once I moved out I slowly started learning, then finessing my cooking skills. Mind you, I ate a lot of the same things over and over again because it would take a while to perfect a recipe but once I got comfortable, that’s when I started to venture out. Cooking soon soothed my soul and gave me a small feeling of accomplishment every day. I loved trying different things too, but what I rarely did was follow a recipe for every meal. Cooking can be stressful for someone who doesn’t do it often or doesn’t know where to start. If you’re learning to cook for the first time, find one or two recipes and perfect it. Then, change it up a bit (perhaps make it your own): use alternative spices, try a different vegetable, substitute the protein, etc. Once you master the techniques on how to cook various proteins and the flavour profiles that appeal to you, cooking can become more of a hobby than a chore. My new favourite cooking hack (okay, it’s not really a “hack” but I really wanted to use that word) is frozen casseroles. I make a large batch and have some for dinner that same night; the rest are portioned and placed into the freezer. They are a quick and tasty meal idea with so many different variations. On long, lazy or late nights it’s as easy as pulling out the appropriate portions from my freezer and putting it right into the oven (just like you would a pre-made, boxed pizza). Most often I will also make a fresh veggie side to go with!
Take time. Do one thing every day for yourself that brings you joy. This can be as uncomplicated as having that cup of coffee while the kids are napping, taking that bubble bath you longed for, working out in your basement, reading that book you have been meaning to start or writing that blog post that’s been swirling around in your head for days. And if you are lucky enough to have a true passion, do whatever it takes to reignite your inner soul. You may not get a chance to do it at the same time every day or even consistently, but bookmark it and make the space in your life to create your own happiness. Happiness isn’t just a luxury, it is actually your health- the most important aspect of your life. If you don’t have health (physical, mental, spiritual) you don’t have anything. Your husband, children, family and/or friends depend on you and you cannot take care of anyone if you, yourself, are unhealthy.
Lastly, practice gratitude. I always tell my husband you can’t take back moments. We live one life and every day is a new day that you can’t redo. It’s up to each of us to be grateful for what we have instead of forever chasing what we don’t have. Think about it, if you are always wishing for what you don’t have, you will (by definition) never be happy or satisfied. I used to keep a positivity journal and would force myself to answer three questions every day: what was the best thing that happened today, what is one thing you want to let go of and what is one thing you hope to accomplish? Also, in my late 20s, to help me practice gratitude every day, I made a list of all the things I had in my life. For example, I wrote: I have great friends, I have sisters who are my best friends, I have independence, I have freedom, … my own condo, … a moderate savings account, … a career I am proud of, etc. Then, I went back and changed the word “have” to “wish”. My list then became: I wish I had great friends, I wish I had sisters that are my best friends, I wish I had independence, etc. This exercise really helped me put into perspective how fortunate we each are, and that someone out there is always longing for a piece of what you already have- all you have to do is appreciate yours. This is, by far, the most valuable life lesson I’ve carried with me. Want what you already have because you may not have it forever.
So when you sense those clouds closing in, just remember to take a deep breath and hold out for the sun because it’s bound to shine through eventually.