I’m currently experiencing what I describe as an ‘introvert hangover’.
After a period of intense social activity, I can often feel a bit out-of-sorts. Nothing terrible, just a bit tired and headachey and conscious that I’m less productive, focused and resourceful than usual.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who experiences this. In fact I’ve talked to lots of people who describe something similar.
For those of us who recharge by spending time alone being quiet, it can be easy to get a little bit overwhelmed by the world. It’s not that we don’t enjoy being out there in it, it’s just that being in stimulating environments with interesting people generates lots of ‘data’ to be processed. All that filing, categorising, making sense of, takes some doing. It’s like updating software on your computer whilst simultaneously trying to carry on with business as usual. Sometimes everything just grinds to a halt for a bit.
I notice that I can feel a bit anxious about the fact that I’m prone to these ‘hangovers’. I can think that I should be different from how I am. I can be tempted to try and distract myself with food or fidgeting or analysing things. But none of those things really help.
Here are some things that do:
Accepting that this just happens sometimes. It’s not wrong or something to be fixed. It just is – and, soon enough, it will pass.
Practising radical self-care. Allowing time for silence, rest, eating and drinking healthily, getting outside, breathing deeply, exercising…
Explaining to others that it may not be possible to be as productive / communicative / creative or energetic as usual on days like these but that normal service will resume shortly.
Taking a shower and enjoying the white noise, the immersive experience and the symbolic value of washing away all the accumulated busy-ness.
Doing something distracting and unstressful – like watching or reading something entertaining, doing a puzzle or playing a computer game.
Some people find that it helps to have a cry – not necessarily because they feel sad or that there’s anything wrong – but simply because it can be an effective way of discharging tension in the body. Others find they can physically shake it off. Yet others find that breathing techniques and mindfulness can help them to move through the experience more quickly and easily.
Thanks so much to everyone who wrote and called in with “Things I wish I could tell my 18-year-old self” for last week’s radio show.
There were some gems. From the deeply pragmatic:
“Eat less sweet stuff”
“Get a haircut”
“Avoid credit cards”
“Take that trip to New Zealand”
“Learn to drive”
“Make sure you wear ear defenders”
to the reassuring:
“Forget trying to impress everybody else and just do what you want”
“Mistakes are fertile learning ground, so don’t be afraid to make them”
“Don’t worry – there’s no such thing as normal”
“Getting things wrong probably makes people like you more, not less”
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way”
“You are, most definitely, enough”
“Don’t spend time worrying that you don’t know what you want to ‘be’ – just make the most of any opportunities, explore them and accept each step as it comes”
and the inspiring:
“Every day give some attention to what gets your creative juices flowing”
“Don’t look back at yesterday and say, I wish I’d done that. Look back at yesterday and say, well, I gave it a shot…”
“Anything is possible – say yes to every opportunity and make it happen rather than listening to the fear”
Finally, there was this, from Jane, who said: “If I could go back to my 18 year old self I would play her Sunscreen by Baz Luhrmann. Job done.”
So for anyone, like me, who hadn’t come across this before, I’m sharing it here. Enjoy…
The show’s available online for a few weeks longer – if you’d like to listen, you can find it here.
(With special thanks to Dave, Pavo, Mike, Tina, Simon, Brenda, Ceri, Liz, Mim, Amanda, Catriona, Grace, Maxine, Jim, Vicky and Jane for sharing these and to everyone whose messages I read out in the show.)
Ask yourself, what single habit would I like to create in my daily routine? Now ask, why?
“If you want to be calmer, if you want to be able to respond rather than react, meditation’s a great habit. If you want to get fitter, then your habit might be to walk for half an hour three or four times a week, the same time of day on designated days during the week. Or it could be reading poetry or it could be having a phone call with someone who makes you feel good regularly; reaching out in some way. Whatever the habit is, start today, but be clear on your why. What’s it going to give you? How will it improve your life? How will it create better, deeper connections? Because it’s the why that is instrumental in motivating us towards the behaviour we want to create every day… So many people want to change half a dozen things, which is overwhelming so they don’t start. Don’t worry, just choose one. That’s it.”
Look at people you pass in the street and silently wish them well.
“I look people in the face and wish them well for their day. Just in my own mind and my own thoughts, I wish them well – I don’t voice it. Wishing good on other people, particularly people who look troubled, I find incredibly powerful and energising. It helps me. I mean I kind of believe that we’re more connected than we believe we are, that we’re not all just these separate individuals. And if you think of it like that, if we’re connected, it’s kind of wishing well upon the system of which we are a part. And ultimately by doing good to others, you’re doing good for yourself. So I just have this practice that I find really helpful of ‘wishing well’. In a kind, gentle way, just doing that to 5 or 10 people as you walk along the street, I find really powerful.”
Take a few moments during your lunch break to practise yoga.
“Lunch yoga is the Little Challenge that I’d like to offer you. Not eating lunch while doing yoga (although maybe I shouldn’t knock it until I’ve tried it). Lunch yoga is simply doing yoga during your lunch break. There are a million videos on YouTube iff you want to just follow along with someone, One thing that I’ve done, not that I’m brand loyal or anything, but I’ve used the Nike Training Club App. They have a lot of exercises. You can just filter by yoga, pick one that fits the amount of time that you have and you’re good to go.”
Choose a small object that has meaning for you that you haven’t thought about for a while. Put it somewhere obvious. Each time you notice it, pause and notice the thoughts that come up.
‘Three Simple Steps To Find Meaning From A Personal Object’.
“Here’s what you do. Find something wherever you live that’s kind of small, something you’ve had it in some place for so long that you’ve really stopped noticing it, but it’s important to you. It might be something you picked up on a vacation or a gift that you were given at some point, but you put it initially in a spot and it had meaning for you, but now it’s been there so long that you’ve kind of lost track of that meaning. Take it and put it somewhere else. A conspicuous spot where you’re going to see it and then, each day, when you come across it, just pause for a split second and see what comes up in your mind. Pay attention to what happens and just take note of that. It could be, now you’re thinking of this person who gave this to you. Or you’re thinking of the vacation that you got it or whatever the case may be. That could be enough right there, but if you really want to extend it, take a minute to jot that down. Write down what feelings, emotions, people that this is evoking and then act on one thing if you want to go a little bit further. You could jot someone a little note and say, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about you”. If it’s a memory that that triggers, maybe you’ve got a photo or two that you want to share or maybe you were on that trip with somebody and you want to talk to them about it.”
When you’re in a stressful situation, pause for a moment and think of three things you’re grateful for.
“When you get really anxious or mad or unhappy with something – let’s say you’re in traffic jam and you’re getting really riled up and you can feel your heart beating and your temperature rising – you’re locked in an emotion, a stress reaction that is really hard to get out of. And that’s kind of like the lizard brain has taken over, and that can be quite harmful because you’re producing a lot of stress hormones. When you’re in a situation like that, find three things you’re grateful for. Because two things are happening. First of all, you are forcing your brain to use a different part of the brain. So it’s interrupting the stress response because you’re having to think for things that you’re grateful for. And the second thing is that you’re rewiring your brain to become more sensitive to positive things. And it can be something really silly like, “The sun’s shining”, “The car smells good”, or, “I like the way my hair looks today”! Whatever it is, every time you feel yourself getting into that spot of darkness, just come up with three things you’re grateful for and you will see yourself immediately calm down. Over a period of time, within two weeks, you can actually find yourself being a happier person.”
Find out more about the line-up of guests for Series 2 of Adventures in Behaviour ChangeHERE.
It’s the end of series 1 of Adventures in Behaviour Change: the Little Challenges podcast and I’m taking a little time out to reflect on all the wonderful conversations there have been so far.
At the end of each episode, I invite our guest for the day to suggest their own Little Challenge that people can try for themselves. There have been all sorts of different ideas of tiny, practical things that can help to make life just a little bit easier, happier or more meaningful.
Here are the first 5 Little Challenges our guests shared:
Use a guided meditation app such as Insight Timer to help you meditate for just a few minutes a day.
“When I first started a mindfulness practice a little over five years ago, I had read a book and it was suggested 10 or 20 minutes a day and I thought to myself, “That’s just way too long – I can’t sit that long!” And so the way I approached it was I said to myself, “What is the smallest amount of time where at the end of the day, I can’t say to myself, I was too busy, I didn’t have time for that even though it’s really important to me?” And so I came up with two minutes. And so for two and a half years I meditated for two minutes every single day. Now I meditate a minimum of 10 minutes a day, but even the two minutes a day for those two and a half years, really had an impact on my ability to react to stress differently, because it gives you that skill to just pause instead of be very reactive.”
Choose a task or an activity you’ve been meaning to do but putting off. Now ask:
Is there a barrier that’s stopping me from doing it? If so, what is it?
How can I adjust my routine or environment to make it easier to do it?
How can I remind myself to do it when it’s the right time, right place?
How can I make a public commitment to doing it?
“I think everybody will have something that they have been wanting to do but haven’t quite got there yet. A ‘Little Challenge’ could be recognising that thing and first working out, “Is there a barrier, or is there friction to me doing that thing?” And, if there is, then looking at ways to get rid of that barrier or reduce that friction. Then thinking about, “How could I make it more obvious for myself to to do this thing?” It might be if you’re taking some pills and you keep forgetting, you know, “Where can I put them so I’m not going to miss them?” Thirdly, thinking about the right time, right place. So actually I may be thinking about this behaviour quite consciously now because I’m doing the ‘Little Challenge’, but when it comes to actually doing it, I may not be, so what is the perfect time and place to nudge myself to do this behaviour? And then finally, the commitment piece, so, “Can I find a way to externalise my commitment to myself to do this thing? Can I physically write something down, sign something, could I make that public in some way? Could I tell somebody, put on a website? Can I write about in my blog?” And so, so maybe just thinking about whatever it is that you’re not doing and try to follow through those steps.”
Breathe in through your nose and breathe out, slowly, for a longer amount of time than you breathe in.
“My ‘Little Challenge’ would be to create a bit of space for yourself in the day. Just breathe and be really conscious of your breathing. In particular breathe in through your nose and breathe out, slowly, for a longer amount of time than you breathe in – so you could maybe breathe in for two counts and breathe out for, say, eight counts, which will slow you down. It’ll oxygenate your blood, it’ll bring you into the moment. You know, particularly at times if you’re stressed or you’re anxious, this is when you need it most.”
Make a daily appointment on your calendar to do something that’s just for you.
I think we’ve forgotten how to make serious appointments with ourselves and put ourselves first so that we’ve actually got a full tank to be of service to others. And so I want people to get their calendars out and put something in their calendar every single day that’s for themselves. Maybe it’s five minutes of just sitting on a chair staring out a window and just being mindful for five minutes and it’s your five minutes. And it could be doing some gratitude journalling or it could be five minutes of pulling out your favourite recipe book and finding a recipe. It doesn’t matter what it is, but every single day, something just for you that is scheduled. It’s non negotiable. It’s for you. The interesting thing about using your calendar is that it feels kind of counterintuitive, that if you fill your calendar up, you don’t have freedom, but the opposite happens. The more you’ve actually scheduled your day to account for you, the work you need to do, the people you want to be with, the activities you want in your day, and the more they’re scheduled in, they become guiding posts for you. You’ll actually have that freedom because you built it in.”
Share a little bit of honesty with another human being.
“My ‘Little Challenge’ would be to create a truth, something honest that you’re going through or that is affecting you, and share that with another human being. It doesn’t have to be something big and horrible, but just a bit of honesty. If you’re not using social media, then you can do it in real life, or you could write a letter. We’re evolved to be in a tribe, in a village, and our modern society doesn’t really work in the same way with us looking out for each other, so we can create a virtual village by doing that using the internet or using analogue means to share some truth. So that’s what I would suggest to people: think of a truth and share that with someone.”
When I was growing up, my parents always napped after lunch. Each day at 1:30pm they were to be found fast asleep in their respective armchairs, rugs upon their knees and the television murmuring quietly in the background. At the time I didn’t realise that they were unusual in doing so – that most people didn’t work from home and couldn’t nap even if they wanted to – and it came as quite a surprise to discover that napping wasn’t a universal practice.
Like many people I went through a phase of wanting to do everything as differently from my parents as possible, so for a while I was a determined non-napper, using caffeine, sugar and sheer obstinacy to help me through the saggy bit of the afternoon. However, in recent years my behaviour has started to change – largely because I can’t help but notice that a brief period of sleep has the most extraordinarily restorative effect on me. It’s like an afternoon ‘reboot’. In just the same way I might try turning electronic devices off and on again when they start malfunctioning, I find that I think better, feel happier and am more creative and resourceful after just a few minutes of switched-off-ness. And it seems I’m not alone…
It seems that the length of nap is all important. In this study, researchers found that the optimum nap length is 10 minutes. Much shorter and the associated benefits (improved cognitive ability, increased vigour and reduced fatigue) don’t show up. Much longer and there’s a risk of experiencing ‘sleep inertia’ – waking in a state of confusion, mental fogginess and exhaustion.
This study suggests that early afternoon is the best time for a nap and that napping regularly works better than occasionally.
It’s also worth knowing that very frequent or long-lasting daytime naps can be associated with reduced mental and physical health (more here).
In Daniel Pink’s excellent book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing he explores the subject in detail, including a description of how to take the perfect ‘nappuccino’ – a coffee/snooze combination that seems to bring the greatest benefits of any type of nap.
So, after all these years, I’m beginning to think that my parents were onto something with their little siesta. How amused they’d be to hear me say that…
Out walking in the woods the other day, I was greeted by an unexpected smile.
I couldn’t help but smile back. In fact, after continuing along the path for a little while, I stopped and retraced my steps so that I could take a photograph of it. I thought I might like to smile at it again later. Here it is:
I don’t know who drew the smile but I wish I could thank them. You see, before I found it I was immersed in an episode of Unnecessary Seriousness in which all sorts of not-important things had suddenly become very important. (I don’t know if you are susceptible to Unnecessary Seriousness too, but if you are, you’ll know that it isn’t a lot of fun.)
The smiling tree interrupted all that and left me with a much better sense of perspective again.
This experience got me thinking about the benefits of smiling, so when I arrived home, I decided to do some reading on the subject.
It turns out that there have been all sorts of experiments to find out if our expression affects our emotional state – a concept known as the Facial Feedback Hypothesis. For example:
this one, in which participants were instructed to hold a pencil in their mouths in specific ways to elicit a range of expressions, and then monitored whilst being shown a selection of video clips designed to provoke a positive or negative response.
this one, in which participants were told to do something similar using a chopstick, whilst engaging in physically or mentally stressful activities.
or this one, in which participants were asked to mimic a range of positive and negative facial expressions they were shown, either with or without being able to see themselves a mirror.
Overall, it would appear that smiling (even if we’re not feeling very smily at the time) can help us to feel happier, make funny things seem funnier and even support our cardiovascular system in recovering from stressful experiences. If we see ourselves smiling, the effects can be even more pronounced.
Of course, if we do something that makes someone else smile, we can experience a whole range of extra social benefits as a result. In fact, there’s a suggestion that people whose names include sounds which use the same facial muscles as a smile (‘eeee’, for example) may find that others are more likely to help them than those whose names don’t.
So, in those stressful, not-much-fun moments that crop up from time to time, it might be worth experimenting. A quick smile at yourself in the mirror when you pass by might make the rest of the day feel just a little bit easier.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
However, for many people actually getting regular exercise is a problem.
Amongst all of the other demands on our time, it can be hard to find the 30 minutes five times a week we’re encouraged to take. And for those of us who are feeling out of shape or lacking in confidence, the idea of going out and exercising can be utterly daunting. (Where do you go? Will you feel stupid when you get there? Do you have to wear Lycra?)
If the above sounds familiar and you like the idea of exercising regularly but find that you don’t actually do it, you might find this encouraging…
A study published earlier this year found that the total amount of exercise is what counts, regardless of how long each period of exercise lasts. So if you walk briskly for 150 minutes each week (even if you only do it for a minute or two at a time), the effect on your health is the same as if you do five 30-minute exercise classes. What matters is that you are doing some kind of moderate / vigorous activity regularly.
I used to have a rather all or nothing approach to exercise and would think it was only worth doing if I had the time, energy and self-confidence to go out and take part in a class or go to the gym. As a result, I passed up lots of opportunities to be just a little bit active a lot more often. And at times when I was feeling bad about myself, I would find myself doing less and less exercise (which had the result of making me more tired, more depressed and more reluctant to do anything at all).
These days I’m a big fan of doing very small things, so I’m delighted to find out that – in the case of physical activity, at least – there’s good reason to believe that even very small steps are worth taking. Particularly if they get you just a bit out of breath….
So I’m curious…what are your favourite (most amusing / unusual) ways of keeping active?
If you’re not as active as you’d like to be, what is it that gets in the way?
I was fortunate to meet and talk with with Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE, the founder of Parkrun, at this year’s Do Lectures. As a former non-runner who discovered the joy of Parkrun – a place where people cheer you on simply for showing up, even if you walk slowly round the course and don’t run at all – I was really touched by the story of why and how it all came about. If you’re interested, you might like to watch his talk….