And Relax…

Over the summer I devoured The 4 Pillar Plan (How to Relax, Eat, Move, Sleep Your Way to a Longer, Healthier Life), an inspiring book by Dr Rangan Chaterjee. It came at a time of anticipating new beginnings, as we were in the throes of a house move, so I eagerly embraced the ideas within it. (My husband might not share my enthusiasm for it; he has got a bit fed up of ‘Dr Chatterjee says this…’, Dr Chatterjee suggests that..’!)

As you can deduce from the book’s title, Dr Chatterjee claims that if we can develop healthier habits within each of those four pillars- relaxing, eating, moving and sleeping- then we will enjoy healthier lives and suffer from less illness. Indeed, he argues that unhealthy choices in each of those areas are likely to be the cause of many of the illnesses and conditions that the population live with.

Maybe that doesn’t sound ground breaking- it certainly makes sense to me- but I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is because it was packed with lots of practical advice on how to make those changes. So, I will be spending four months trying to follow some of his advice to make changes in each of those pillars.

For September I chose Relax.

With hindsight, it was perhaps not the best month to start with that pillar. We had just moved into our new house and so seemed to be unpacking boxes and sorting all of the life admin that goes alongside a house move in all our free time! Still, you can make excuses til the cows come home; there’s probably never an easy or convenient time to make changes to your lifestyle!

Dr Chatterjee suggests 5 ways to make positive changes to your life for each of the pillars, and unpacks them within the corresponding chapter. So, I will use those recommendations as the basis for these blogs:

 

1. Me-time every day

I found this one really hard! It totally makes sense to me why we should do it- we can’t run on empty, need to reduce our cortisol levels etc- but 15 minutes to myself each day when I have two children to look after feels really tricky to fit in. (Although, clearly that’s precisely why I should fit it in!) Dr Chatterjee reminds us it’s not something we should only do after everything else has been done, but needs to have its own space carved out.

I have embraced the me-time on the two days a week where the kids are both in nursery/school, so I’m not a total failure! I’ve:

  • listened to podcasts
  • read my book
  • had a mooch around town and enjoyed a leisurely coffee
  • written blog posts
  • done some yoga
  • spent the day at the Eden Project.
  • napped

On the days where I have either/both children with me at home I’ve found it harder to implement! But, if I’ve felt particularly tired that day then I’ve treated myself to a catnap on the sofa whilst the kids watch some TV. One afternoon in September saw my children playing so beautifully together after school that I managed to read an entire ‘Big Issue’ cover to cover. But that is a rare thing! A friend of mine puts at least 15 minutes quiet time into her family’s routine, where the kids sit in different rooms after lunch and sleep/play quietly which also gives her some time-out too. Genius. I fear I’ve missed the boat on that one, but maybe it’s not too late for you…

I’ve tried too to have me-time some evenings, and ignored my MAHOOSIVE to-do list, enjoying a bath or TV programme instead (though I’m not sure that would fit into Dr Chatterjee’s recommendations as it includes a screen!).

 

2. Weekly screen-free Sabbath

Dr Chatterjee points out the addictive element of mobile phones. He argues the neural pathways associated with reward are activated every time someone ‘likes’ a comment or picture on social media, and so you end up craving more and more ‘pings’ on your phone! Scarily, we’re often not even aware of how dependent on our phones we’ve become. There is also the concern of ‘perfectionist presentation’ where it feels like everyone else’s life is better than yours because they only show the good stuff on social media.

He makes some suggestions for actions to take to get to the stage were you have a ‘screen-free Sabbath’ one day a week. I’ll admit I’ve not even attempted the screen-free Sabbath yet, though it does appeal, so enough of the excuses Soph! However, I have put some of his action points into practice:

  • Switched off many of the push notifications on my phone.
  • Deleted the Facebook app (though I can still access it through the internet browser so perhaps that was a bit pointless!).
  • Unsubscribed from redundant email lists (of which there were plenty! How do these companies convince us to sign up?!).
  • Started turning my phone onto airplane mode 90 minutes before bed (on the most part!). This was such a welcome change; I was getting so frustrated with my husband and I just faffing around on our phones in bed, and I’m sure occasional texts at night disrupt your sleep, even if you don’t remember hearing them come through.

 

3. Keep a gratitude journal

This felt like an easy-win for me. I have periodically enjoyed practicing thankfulness over the last 5 or 6 years, and have certainly reaped the benefits from it. I discussed it in a bit in a previous blog I wrote on dealing with feeling overwhelmed, which you can read here. My current gratitude journal is one I started back in March 2016 and I’ve varied it: at some points I’ve filled it out with my family, more often by myself, and at other times I’ve tried to simply focus on aspects of God and our relationship that I’m thankful for. There are gaps where I kept on forgetting to fill it out, and before this month, I hadn’t written anything since January 2019. (Not that I haven’t been practicing gratitude though; I’m often thankful for things that I’ve not written down!).

In September there have been a few biggies to be thankful for- two friends of ours both safely delivered their baby girls into the world, and another friend’s cancer treatment has been successful, hooray! There have been chance encounters I’ve been thankful for: seeing familiar faces when I was nervous about taking the children to swimming lessons for the first time in our first week here; randomly bumping into old friends and family members out and about around Cornwall. I’ve been thankful to the mums who have made the effort to speak to me, the newbie, at playgroup, and then remembered my name and chatted to me at the school gate. I’ve been thankful for sunshine (when we’ve had it!), baking, family days at the beach, the apple tree in our garden, the well resourced furniture charity shop that has been amazing as we kit out the house, answered prayers, and inspiring people fighting climate change.

It doesn’t mean that everything has been easy this month. We have had bad news, and the transition to settling into life somewhere new has felt a little bumpy at times. But there is something powerful about intentionally looking out for, and choosing to be grateful for, the good things happening around you.

 

4. A daily practice of stillness

‘My definition of mindfulness is being attentive and present to what you’re doing in the moment. Really, it’s about stillness.’ – Dr Rangan Chatterjee

Surprisingly, this is one of the actions that I’ve most enjoyed introducing into my life! I’m not sure I do it daily, but I’m certainly incorporating stillness into my child-free days. Once I drop the kids off, I walk home, slowly and quietly, trying to be mindful and present in my surroundings (it helps that it’s a very scenic route!). I resist the urge to put my headphones in and listen to anything- yes, podcasts are great, but sometimes it feels like we need to just quiet all the distractions in our lives. (I wonder if previously I’ve always busied myself because I’ve been scared of being alone in my own company?) I don’t rush home- the walk to school is always enough of a rush as it is!- but instead I’ve embraced stopping to meet and chat to neighbours, or people walking their dogs.

Once home, I like to set my timer and sit down for 10 minutes in silence. I haven’t been following a set meditation or centring prayer, but I use it as an opportunity to engage with God. The way I see it, this practice has at least two benefits:

  • Physically: It slows everything down and gives my nervous system the chance to move into the parasympathetic state, which is really important as we need a break from being in the fight or flight mode that seems all too common in our society.
  • Spiritually: Honestly, I don’t know how or even if God speaks to us, but I do know that if I don’t provide space or time for it to happen then I certainly won’t hear from the Divine!

 

5. Eat one meal per day around a table – without an e-device

This one doesn’t feel like a particularly big deal for me as we’ve generally eaten together around the table every day since becoming a family! I’ll admit though that at the moment meal times around the table don’t feel particularly conducive to relaxing; it can feel like a battle trying to convince my children to eat whatever I’ve cooked them. Perhaps I need to get more creative, or instead just lower my standards and just serve up ‘beige tapas’ from the freezer more often!

 

So, does it work? Do I feel healthier?

Since implementing some of these things into my life, I certainly feel like my life has slowed down, and I’m enjoying the benefits of that. However, simultaneously to this, we have moved to a more peaceful, quieter area than before, and are surrounded by trees, fields and woods, with a river nearby, so it’s hard to know which of these are to thank for the change in pace (most likely both!). As part of this month I’ve tried to be kinder and gentler to myself; even in the midst of writing this post I felt a bit tired so stopped to have a rest on the sofa, whereas previously I’d have just ploughed on, because that’s just the way I roll (or maybe rolled?!). Despite all these things, life still feels pretty full on at times, but I can generally pinpoint that to the madness of the walks to and from school!

But do I feel healthier? Not really! I’m finally getting better from a pesky UTI, and I’ve never had a UTI before. How ironic that as soon as I try to be healthier, I get ill! Although, on the flip-side, I wonder if that before my body had been running constantly on adrenaline, and so it was only once I started slowing down, and resting, that my body allowed itself to get ill. And despite not feeling physically healthier immediately, my mind definitely feels healthier, so I will continue with these changes in my life.

And on that note, I’m off to run myself a bath…

 

How about you? I’d love to hear how you build time to relax into your life! Or if any of the ideas that I’ve shared appeal to you at all? Have any of you read the book and if so, what did you think of it?

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