Is there an art to switching off your mind?

Is there? Is there an art to switching off your mind? On day two of maternity leave it’s something that I’ve found myself unexpectedly grappling with.

I’ve spent weeks counting down to my maternity leave. I was (am) ready to stop working. I found sitting at a desk all day uncomfortable and found my mind flitting towards baby-related things far too often. As a freelancer, not being able to say yes to new opportunities was frustrating, too. I just wanted to put my out of office on and nest down for the final few weeks of my baby-free life.

Fast forward to yesterday. I spent an inordinate amount of time wandering around the house. At one point, I thought I saw a bird in the bush outside the window and I got so excited I ran (waddled) to look. It wasn’t even a bird, and in any case, there are plenty of birds in our garden. I’m not sure what made this one special.

James came in from the office to find me bedraggled under a blanket watching Escape To The Country. A truly dismal programme if ever I’ve watched one.

READ MORE: Here’s how the moon makes us feel moody

Why am I struggling when it comes to switching off?

My need to work is quite evident from this blog post. It’s a wet, miserable Tuesday afternoon and I could think of nothing better to do than write. I see this as a good thing; I love my work. But, it has left me questioning my need for something (anything) to do.

For many people, a day of nothingness sprawling in front of them would be the ultimate dream. Sure, once in a while is a nice little treat but every-damn-day? Er, no thanks.

I used to aspire to being a housewife

There’s a fun fact you might not know about me. I don’t even know where it came from – my mum and dad both worked growing up. Thankfully, times have changed, but when I was younger, I truly believed that I’d grow up to get married, give up work and have children.

Not many women my mum’s age worked when I was 13 and considering that was just 17 years ago, there has been quite a shift in working behaviours since then.

I can understand (and certainly don’t judge) women who decide to give up work forever, but it’s not a decision I would personally say is a ‘priveledge’. It’s not a treat to be a ‘kept woman’ anymore; hopefully for the people who do choose it, it’s a choice. It’s a decision that makes them happy rather than a societal norm.

What changed?

Over the years I’ve noticed my inability to switch off. I’ve also noticed how the majority of my friends and family are exactly the same.

We’re a by-product of overstimulation. When I was a teenager, it would be enough to get ready in the morning. Now, I have to get ready listening to a podcast or watching a YouTube video.

Nowadays, we can’t just watch TV. We have to watch TV and have one eye on the group chats. I can’t just walk the dog, I have to walk the dog while listening to music. Commute while watching something on my iPad. Cook while listening to Audible.

We’re in a constant cycle of over-stimulation that when it comes to ‘taking time out’, many of us find the prospect almost impossible.

READ MORE: How to work mindfully and beat distractions

The art of switching off

Now more than ever, switching off from the outside world is imperative. So many of us are working in our living spaces, too, which doesn’t help.

I decided to do some research into how to switch off – not just from work but from whatever environmental stressor is bothering you. I’m going to make it my personal mission to try these out over the next few days and see if any of them work for me.

Still plan your week

If you haven’t got anything going on (for example, maternity leave before the baby arrives), it’s easy to wake up each morning asking yourself ‘what do I do now?’

A list might seem a little counterintuitive to the whole switching off thing, but hear me out.

Plan nice little things to do with your day. I’m planning on doing my Christmas shopping while I’ve got a bit of time pre-baby, so that’s something I’ve added to my list – just a couple of gifts each day. Arrange to meet a friend or to bake or do some exercise. Whatever it might be, add it to your diary so your days don’t seem quite so daunting when you wake up.

This is also great if you’re newly retired or just looking for ways to do more of what you love at the weekends.

Cut back on time spent on your phone

I’ve always needed my phone for work, so whenever I thought about spending less time on my phone, I’ve countered that with ‘well, I need it because I need to work’. In the interest of switching off, I’m not taking that approach anymore.

I don’t really have the work excuse anymore and yet, I’ve still found myself going down a social media rabbit hole of epic proportions.

In the world we live in, you are – of course – going to scroll on your Instagram feeds for a little bit too long from time to time. Experts suggest you don’t make that a daily occurrence so you can spend time exploring other things that help you to completely switch off.

Cook a fresh meal

I’ve been doing some batch cooking for when the baby arrives and I must admit, doing this has made the day fly by – in a really good way. When you’re trying to measure out ingredients and get everything planned out, there’s little room in your brain for work or any other thoughts.

By the end of this time, you’ll get a delicious (hopefully) meal out of it, too, so it really is a win-win. This is one I’m going to keep going with. I do love cooking – and that helps – but I really do think anybody can love cooking if they give it a chance. It’s definitely a good way to relax.

READ MORE: Why are we only just realising people have lives outside of work?

Reading

Weirdly enough, I’ve had no desire to read in quite a while. As soon as I sit down and force myself to read, I really enjoy it, but it’s never something I fancy doing.

Reading ranks pretty highly on the switching off list of things to do, so I’m going to make that part of my daily routine. The idea of waking up in the morning and spending some time reading in bed sounds heavenly – and yet, when it comes to doing it, I never feel like it.

Well, that’s going to change as of tomorrow. I’m going to enjoy the slower pace of not having anything to do and I’m going to make myself a cup of tea, put some soft lighting on and enjoy an hour (or more if I want to because – who’s counting?) of reading.

If you’re looking for a good book to start you off, this is all you need.

Spend more time on your ‘routine’

When you’re busy with work, raising a family or doing other things that leave you feeling dilapidated, it’s easy to skip the extensive morning and evening routines. Whether that’s an elaborate skincare plan you’ve been wishing you stuck to, or just chilling in bed reading Apple News (one of my favourite things to do), spend more time doing it.

Note down the things that bring you happiness

Spend time trying out new things. Not everything will be for you, of course. I’m ready to accept that not everything I’ve put on my list is going to work for me, but I’m pretty confident that some things will.

When you know which tasks bring you a little smidgen of happiness, write them down so you remember them.

Note to self (but also probably to many others): Don’t allow yourself to just sit there and waste away the hours sitting on your phone or watching TV that you’re only watching because it’s on.

I know this time isn’t going to last forever, so my plan is to embrace the art of switching off in any way I can. Whether you’re on maternity leave, retired, furlouged, have been made redundant or you’re just not working at the moment, you can have fulfilled days of purpose.

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