Even before pandemics upended everything, life was pretty stressful for most of us - short on downtime and chock full of commitments.
A low hum of anxiety has very much become the norm so it's not surprising we try to counter it by all sorts of means. "Modern life is having an impact on how we take care of ourselves for many reasons,” says counsellor Trish Farrell. “One is the increasing blurring of lines between work time and 'me' time. This means that it's harder to carve out time that isn't subject to interruption or compromise and one's plans can always be scuppered or changed at the last minute for a variety of reasons. Another reason is the constant interruption of social media. We are in a perpetual restless state of indecision, unable to choose a single option in the face of so much choice and the ever-present fear of missing out (FOMO)."
Giving two fingers to stress
These days it’s common to fight against the demands of daily life by clawing back time or treating moments of pleasure. If your day doesn’t feel like your own because of the demands of work or family a few hours carved out before, or instead of, bedtime can seem like a reward. Or after months of shopping trips being curtailed thanks to COVID-19 an online splurge doesn’t just seem like a treat but a, ‘Screw you, the universe, I’m going to enjoy myself’ revolt. It’s giving two fingers to the stress and restrictions we’ve experienced - and maybe even to Covid-19 itself.
These treats or rewards are actually an attempt to redirect our frustrations and take back some control in our lives. They've become known as revenge behaviours or forms of compensation. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, compensation is something that makes you feel better when you have suffered something bad. So the thinking behind things like revenge spending (or saving) and foregoing sleep in favour of 'me time' is that we're taking something for ourselves. We may think we're cheating ‘the system’ when, really, it’s more a case of shooting ourselves in the foot.
Focus on your wellbeing
Just as overdoing the shopping can lead to a depleted bank account, not getting enough sleep will lead to tiredness the next day and long-term can lead to issues such as a lack of concentration and a weakened immune system. So how do you avoid this vicious circle that ultimately causes more harm than good? The key, Farrell says, is to prioritise yourself in your own life. Here, she shares a number of steps you can take to focus yourself and your wellbeing - the right way.
- Draw very clear boundaries between work and leisure times. If you work from home, define a time when the laptop is switched off and put away.
- At weekends, don’t be tempted to check work emails etc. Try to make a clear distinction between weekends and the working week. Treat yourself even if it means just keeping that box-set you wanted to watch until Friday evening. Have something to look forward to!
- Use technology to protect you from technology. Set up do not disturb times on your phone for example. Set screen time limits too (both iPhone and Android have tools to allow you set these limits). Remember to be quite wary of social media and ask yourself if any of it actually makes you feel better about yourself.
- Make your bedroom a device-free area. Remove the TV, laptop, tablet etc and make your bedroom a sanctuary of sleep. Impose a boundary between waking and sleeping activity!
- Get out of the house more, especially if you work from home! Even if it’s just for a walk, physical exercise is proven to enhance your mental wellbeing.
- Consider practising mindfulness. There are many courses available and it’s one of the best ways to establish true self-compassion and balance in your life.
- Don't try to 'catch up' with the things you've missed during the pandemic. What's past is past and you only need to consider the now and plan for the future. It's futile ruminating on what you've missed or lost in the past.
- If you feel that things are getting on top of you, prioritise your mental health and consider speaking with a professional counsellor. Always make sure they are accredited/registered with a professional body such as the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (iacp.ie).
Trish Farrell MIACP is a counsellor and supervisor.
Main pic: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash
A version of this article first appeared in Irish Tatler magazine