By Jeremy Godwin
What is slowing down, and why does it matter for your mental health? That’s what I’m talking about this week on… Let’s Talk About Mental Health — the weekly podcast about looking after your mental health, with simple ideas you can put into practice immediately.
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This podcast episode was originally released on 17 July, 2022.
Hello and welcome to Episode 140, and thanks so much for joining me!
I’m Jeremy Godwin and I talk about looking after your mental health. I spent most of the 2010’s dealing with severe anxiety and depression, after a breakdown in late 2011, and that led me to want to learn more about my mental health… so I went back to school and studied psychology and sociology, and now I share simple tips for how to improve your mental wellbeing, from someone who actually understands what it’s like to go through mental health challenges. Each episode I look at how to improve one specific aspect of your wellbeing.
This episode is all about slowing down and I’ll be talking about what slowing down is, why it matters, and how to slow down in a thoughtful way. So, let’s talk!
A quick reminder that my book Let’s Talk About Mental Health (Volume One) is out now; you can buy it on Amazon or Apple Books using the link in the episode description and it’s full of practical ways to improve your wellbeing.
Alright, now on with this week’s episode about slowing down…
The absolute irony of this episode is that when I wrote last week’s episode, where I do a little blurb about what’s coming up on the following episode, I specifically said “if you push yourself physically, mentally or emotionally (or all three)… you become exhausted” and if you listened to that episode then you’ll know I had the flu (just in case the intense echoing sound my nose made every time I spoke wasn’t enough of a giveaway), and so not even an hour after I recorded that last episode and sent it off for editing, I collapsed onto my couch completely exhausted because I had been pushing myself to get my work finished. And guess what happened next? I was out of action for nearly three whole days (and even after that I still struggled for another few and I’m only just recovering now)!
My point is that when you push and push and push, eventually you’re going to run out of steam… and that’s what happened to me. So yet again it turns out that the topic I picked months ago is actually very, very timely for myself in the week that I go to write about it, and I hope that makes for a more interesting episode because it’s certainly going to be based on my personal current experience!
I think we’re all quite aware of the idea of physical exhaustion (even if we might sometimes try to convince ourselves that we can push through it), however there are lots of other types of exhaustion — such as mental and emotional exhaustion — and so I want to have a conversation today about all the different ways you can find yourself potentially needing to slow down. I also want to talk about how slowing down in general plays a huge role in greater life satisfaction.
So let’s begin by first going through some definitions and let’s talk about…
What is slowing down?
And it’s about choosing to do things at a pace that allows time for thought and consideration, rather than trying to do 50 things in the space of five minutes and then wondering why your nervous system feels completely fried afterwards. It involves making a conscious choice to prioritise calm and peace of mind, and then making choices aligned with those priorities.
Let’s just get this out of the way, shall we: we are so socially conditioned to go at full-steam all (or most) of the time that when we even consider slowing down a little, most of us can find ourselves feeling like we’re either going to explode or go into a meltdown (or possibly a bit of both). But just because everyone else is running at a pace that makes The Flash look like a snail on a go-slow strike, that doesn’t mean you are obligated to keep up with everyone else. In fact, by allowing yourself to succumb to the pressure to keep up with everyone else you actually become part of the ‘everyone else’ that puts pressure on other people as well!
Look, I’m definitely not perfect at this stuff and I have days where I’m good with it and other days where I’m a mess. I’m writing this on July 7 and the first few hours of today weren’t great, to be perfectly honest; yesterday was my birthday so I had planned to take the whole day off (which I did — I spent it on the couch watching documentaries, like a total nerd, and it was a lovely day!) however that meant that today I had to frantically play catch-up on a few things, especially because it’s book launch day and that meant needing to update multiple pages on my website before the announcements went out plus getting ready for several client appointments. My point is that I was running at a ridiculous pace (and still feeling drained from the flu, although I’m slowly on the mend) and it meant that my stress levels began to go through the roof until I finally just forced myself to pause and breathe through it. My point is that by pushing yourself to rush with things, you can often wind up making things even worse for yourself because you can trigger the fight/flight/freeze response or other similar stress responses, and when that happens it can send your stress levels into overdrive. Which actually leads quite nicely into the next part of today’s episode…
Why does slowing down matter?
And I probably don’t need to say this but I’m going to anyway: it matters because the opposite of slowing down is speeding up, and that just creates stress (which in turn can lead to exhaustion).
Like I said at the end of last week’s episode, when you push yourself physically, emotionally and mentally you can quickly find yourself feeling exhausted… and exhaustion can very easily throw you so far out of balance that it can feel almost impossible to find your way back to a place of calm. However it is possible (but — spoiler alert — it takes work) and since I very often make a point in this show about saying that prevention is better than cure (because it is), let me say now that it’s better to be proactive about incorporating regular moments of slowing down into your life rather than waiting until you’re an exhausted mess lying on the floor unable to get up (but even then it’s not too late, however it will probably take more work over a longer time… but you will get there).
There’s a term that you might have heard used to describe the way that we feel obligated to cram as much as possible into every day, and it’s “hurry culture” — which can often contribute to us feeling like we’re constantly in a rush. It’s one of the main reasons why you may find yourself becoming impatient if you’re stuck in a queue at the supermarket, or becoming frustrated when you’re stuck behind a slow driver because you’re thinking about the next four things that need to be done once you reach your destination (which you’d be able to get done quickly if it weren’t for this idiot driving slower than a turtle… and yes, I am definitely guilty of those thoughts on a regular basis!).
This is what’s referred to as ‘time urgency’ and in a 2013 study published in the Journal of Loss and Trauma the authors stated, “an overwhelming and continual sense of urgency… in which a person feels chronically short of time [means they tend] to perform every task faster and [become] flustered when encountering delay…” (and the link for that is in the transcript which is available in English, Spanish and Italian at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes and that’s linked in the episode description) [find it here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15325024.2013.763632].
The entire time I was researching this episode I found myself humming a really old song, Feelin’ Groovy by Nana Mouskouri (which is a cover version but that’s irrelevant). The song was released in 1969 and the first line is, “Slow down, you move too fast,” which is incredibly ironic given that Nana released more than 200 albums in at least 12 different languages throughout her career, so I don’t think she was doing a lot of slowing down herself! Oh, and ask your grandmother if you don’t know who Nana Mouskouri is… my point is that there’s really nothing wrong with keeping busy and doing what you love, but that’s very different than keeping busy for the sake of being busy (which really does seem to be a lot of what gets celebrated in our culture). I find myself continuously shaking my head in disbelief at memes and videos on social media where people are almost celebrating the fact that they’re working on the weekend or while they’re supposed to be on vacation. If I’m on holiday then I don’t care if the entire office goes to crap while I’m away; it’s someone else’s problem until I’m back at work! Having said that, I work for myself now in my home office so clearly it’s only me to deal with it but, you know, you get my point… in general, most things that we think need to be dealt with as emergencies are just that way because we over-inflate their urgency, and it’s worthwhile asking yourself how many of your deadlines in life are actually self-imposed (because I’m going to guess it’s a lot of them).
Anyway, that makes me think about patience and I know that I’m not the most patient person in the world, however the thing is that I think a lot of that comes down to feeling almost conditioned throughout most, if not all, of my life to feel like it’s necessary to get things done as quickly as possible so we can move on to the next thing… and do you know what happens when you do that? You miss out on celebrating all of your wins and milestones along the way. The other week I mentioned to my therapist that I had just finished submitting everything for my book, ahead of its launch, and she asked me how I had celebrated and… well, I had no answer because I hadn’t. I literally hit ‘submit’ then I picked up my to-do list and went, “OK, what do I need to do next?” which is, quite frankly, mind-boggling for someone who writes about better mental health and wellbeing for a living! But it just goes to show you that nobody is perfect and it takes conscious daily practice to slow down and make time for celebration and contemplation so that you’re not quickly rushing on to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing after that, without ever pausing to see the progress you’ve made so far.
Consciously slowing down from time to time — even for just a few minutes a day — can help you to feel more balanced and it can lead to greater life satisfaction. And then the other thing I want to say is that sometimes your body or your mind (or both) will tell you that you need to slow down, whether you like it or not, and you really need to listen if and when that happens (rather than trying to just push through it). If you don’t have the physical, mental or emotional capacity for something, or just in general, then it’s better to give yourself a rest break by consciously slowing down (for a few hours, a few days or even a few weeks) instead of trying to push every last ounce of energy out of your reserves and then wondering why your engine gives out in the middle of that important piece of work you’re dealing with.
And speaking of work, I have an issue with our culture of demanding people give 110% or 120% or whatever. First of all, basic mathematics says that 100% is the maximum so maybe back off. And secondly, how dare you ask me to draw every last drop from the well and then potentially leave nothing for myself and my loved ones?! It’s a very common expression in general but even more so in the corporate sector (and we’ve previously established my lingering corporate trauma, so consider yourself warned as this rant continues), and I’m sharing this because it’s not noble to burn yourself out so that a piece of work can get done for the benefit of management or the shareholders (or both)… in fact it’s not noble, it’s stupid. The fact remains that your job is just a job and as much as you might feel like you’re indispensable, I guarantee you that you would be replaced in the blink of an eye if you were to leave today… so then why would you allow yourself to work yourself to the point of exhaustion and beyond?! I feel like this episode has become an extended opportunity for me to basically say, “Slow down!” and “Don’t wear yourself out!” and do you know what? I’m at peace with that, because it’s a message we all need to hear (myself included). I have days where I over-extend myself and I need to be better about providing myself with plenty of time to just be so that I can enjoy life and recharge my batteries on a regular basis, otherwise I’m just trying to fill from an empty cup… and so that message applies to you as well.
So how do you do that? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this week’s episode and let’s talk about…
How to slow down in a thoughtful way
And let’s start with one of my all-time favourites, be clear on your priorities — there’s an exercise I’ve done quite a few times with clients who might be struggling with something pressing in their work or their lives generally; I ask them to list their main 3-5 priorities, and 99% of the time the thing they’re stressed about doesn’t even rate a mention in that list. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the things we think we’re supposed to worry about, but when it all boils down to it we really only need to give the bulk of our energy and attention to the things that actually matter to us, like being able to spend quality time connecting with our loved ones. OK, next…
Make slowing down a priority — look, I’m not going to tell you how to live your life but if you want calm and peace of mind then running around like a chicken without a head every day isn’t really going to help you achieve that, is it?! Build extra time into your day to be able to go about your business at a calm pace; for example, I make sure I always have a buffer between meetings and client appointments so that I can just take my time to process things and then gently get myself ready for the next thing I have to do. When I worked in corporate I used to book things in back-to-back and then I’d wonder why it felt like I spent all day rushing around (it felt like that because that was exactly what I was doing!). One way to do that is with my next point…
Start your day as you mean to continue — so I have something to share here which is probably going to horrify some people; my partner and I get up at 5am so that we have a full hour and a half of drinking coffee and easing into the day before we have to start getting ready at 6:30. I know that’s not for everyone but even being able to give yourself 15 minutes in the morning to just sit with a bit of breakfast and not feel super-rushed will help you to create a calmer start to your day. And I hope this goes without saying but give yourself plenty of time to get to wherever you need to get to, whether that’s your home office or your workplace or the kid’s school or whatever; don’t rush out the door at the last minute because that means you’re starting your day in a rush. Leave a bit earlier and ease your way into your day, which helps you have a slightly slower pace to the morning that can create a sense of calm throughout the next few hours. OK, next…
Take your lunch break away from your desk — and now I seem to have gone really specifically down a line of advice that is work-focused but I’m going to stick with it for a minute; please don’t eat at your desk, cramming food in your mouth while you frantically try to catch up on emails. Why? Because that’s not slowing down; that’s just staying switched on while you pretend you’re taking a break. Get away from your desk and go somewhere else or, better yet, have your lunch outside or take a walk. Even just 20 minutes outside will make the world of difference and it will help you to feel calmer and more in control for the rest of the day (and, by the way, I covered calm in Episode 103). OK, moving back to the broader topic of slowing down, my next point is…
Focus on satisfaction rather than chasing happiness — because happiness is fleeting and not permanent, whereas a sense of general satisfaction with the way your life is allows you to feel calmer and more at peace with where you’re at (while also being able to recognise that it’s probably not perfect and there is always room for growth and improvement). Two things can be true at the same time; you can be satisfied with your life in general while also seeing your potential to grow and become the best version of yourself possible. One of the main ways to do this is to focus on your needs rather than your wants, because our wants tend to be those bright shiny objects that we think will make us happy but which, in reality, tend to not lead to lasting satisfaction. I talked about how to do that in Episode 137, about needs, so check that out for more on the subject. OK, next…
Focus on what you have (instead of what you don’t) — which is an extension of the previous point because when you are grateful for what you already have in your life, you tend to find more and more to be grateful for rather than giving all of your energy and attention to what you think you might lack; as I’ve said in past episodes, whether you focus on the positive or the negative, what you focus on is what you will find. I talked about gratitude in Episode 46 and satisfaction in Episode 110, so check those out for more tips. OK, next…
Throw out your wish list — because it’s just yet another thing that serves to remind you of what you don’t have rather than what you do. I think it’s important to have things to strive towards, but they should be a general vision rather than specific outcomes that you get super-laser-focused on, because then that leads you to want more and more and more which limits your ability to be present and to slow down and enjoy the here and now (and, by the way, I covered being present back in Episode 83). I’ve been actively stopping myself from looking at my analytics for my podcast and YouTube channel because it creates this weird thing in me where I just begin to want to push harder and harder, and that takes me away from why I started this work in the first place: to put out quality content that I feel proud of and which is the type of stuff I wish I had have been able to find when I was struggling with the worst of my own issues a few years back. Know who you are and what matters to you, and go back to basics. Speaking of, my next point is…
Don’t cram your diary — and this applies both for your day-to-day work and commitments as well as your life in general: make space for slowing down, and make space for you. I make a point of not working on the weekends and I make sure my work is done by 2pm on a Friday so I can start my weekend early. I also make a point of starting the work day by identifying what the main two or three things are that I need to achieve for that day, which is much more effective than creating a to-do list as long as your arm then wondering why you feel exhausted by the end of the day! You need to actively create space in your day, and in your life, so that you can work at a smart and unhurried pace, and so that you can have time to just be. One way to do that is with my next point…
Make time for hobbies and interests — and by this I mean slow and relaxing pursuits like crafts, reading, writing, gardening… if your idea of relaxation is participating in adrenaline sports then I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I will say that it’s not exactly ‘slowing down’. Make time at least once a week to do something quiet and peaceful, even if that’s just sitting outside for half an hour, because that will help you to consciously slow down and allow your mind time to rest. And continuing on from that, my next point is…
Create micro-moments of slowness — because it might seem like you need to allow lots of time for slowing down, but in fact small activities throughout the day can have a positive impact too. Put your phone away for five minutes and just sit quietly. Make yourself a tea or coffee and give it your full attention as you sip it. Or my personal favourite on a nice day, especially since it’s winter here so ‘nice days’ are few and far between: go and sit outside for five minutes (without your phone) and just enjoy your surroundings. Even just consciously tuning out distractions while you focus all of your attention on one task can be a simple way to slow down; I use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ function on my Mac at least once a day so that I can fully focus on whatever I need to get done. You’ll find that the more you do this stuff, the easier it gets (and by the way I talked about mindfulness in Episode 42 where I share even more simple and quick ways to take this type of break). OK, next…
Take a break regularly — and that means a proper break, away from work and where you can really just slow down and unwind. Why? Because prevention is better than cure!
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to slowing down and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: When we try to push ourselves to go harder and faster, we can very quickly become exhausted… and once you hit that point, it can be a lot tougher to recover. When you think about what really brings you satisfaction and meaning in your life, is any of it the stuff that demands your attention (like work and status and keeping up with everyone else)? Or do the things that matter to you have more to do with your relationships and your sense of belonging in this world? You can either let your life pass you by in a blur or you can choose to actively slow down and savour every single moment… and only one of those options will bring you a sense of calm and peace of mind.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by unknown author, and it is:
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”Unknown
Alright… that’s nearly it for this week.
Next week I’ll be talking about beliefs. What do you believe about yourself and, more importantly, how do you know that those beliefs are true? A couple of weeks ago I talked about values and there’s a deeper conversation to be had about how the things we believe about ourselves and others — those stories we tell ourselves and the narratives that our ego can create sometimes in the absence of clear information — how all of that can lead us to cause ourselves pain and suffering if we don’t learn how to observe them objectively and manage them. So, next time I’ll be talking about what beliefs are, why understanding them matters, and how to manage your beliefs in a healthy way.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 24th of July, 2022.
In the meantime, you’ll find more content about better mental health in my new book, Let’s Talk About Mental Health (Volume One); you can buy it in print or eBook from Amazon or buy the eBook from Apple Books… it’s linked in the episode description or visit my website at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au.
And watch my weekly videos on YouTube for more tips on better mental health, plus sign up to my mailing list for my free weekly newsletter, Thursday Thoughts, where I share a quick dose of inspiration (and those are all linked in the episode description).
And if you enjoy what I do and find it helpful then I’d love it if you supported me on Patreon where I offer exclusive benefits for my supporters, and you can also show your support by leaving me a five-star review on the podcast platform you’re listening to me on. Plus check out my Instagram @ltamentalhealth and say hi!
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time!
Let’s Talk About Mental Health is proudly produced by Reconnaissance Media, helping you find gratitude and meaning. For more information visit reconnaissancemedia.com
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Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2022 Jeremy Godwin.
The information provided in this episode is for general awareness on the topic and does not constitute advice. You should consult a doctor and/or a mental health professional if you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing. You’ll find additional information on the Resources page of this website.