If you spent 2013 feeling overwhelmed by a bursting inbox, a packed diary and family commitments, it’s time for a rethink. Here’s how to adopt a more serene approach to life in 2014.
Mindfulness - the brain-training technique loved by everyone from neuroscientists to Silicon Valley CEOs – teaches you to focus on the present moment rather than worrying about what the future will bring. Through anti-anxiety exercises and practices such as yoga, you learn to stop the frenetic whirl of worry that can plague us on a daily basis, and instead focus on the now. The Mental Health Foundation runs an online mindfulness course atbemindfulonline.com (£60).
Experts say walking is an activity that allows our brains to go offline; it has a natural rhythm that can be as effective as meditating. Get off the bus or tube a few stops early and walk, and, as you do so, consider what you see and feel – the winter sunlight filtering through branches, your feet crunching through leaves.
‘If you are feeling overwhelmed by your day’s tasks, check in with how real they are,’ says d’Felice. ‘Do you need to get worked up about them? What are the priorities? Can you leave the rest on a to-do list? Can you let yourself just do the best that you can without worrying about being imperfect all the time?’
We know that too little sleep can leave us feeling sluggish and unmotivated, and now scientists have found out why. Research published in the Science Journal shows that deep sleep can wash your brain of toxins, leaving you alert.
To ensure good-quality sleep, sleep therapist Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, author of Tired But Wired, advises stopping using your phone and tablet an hour before going to bed. ‘This allows the brain to pack away that day’s information for cleaner, deeper sleep.’
While taking a daily nap isn’t possible for most of us, research shows that sitting in a chair and closing your eyes for 15 minutes boosts energy and lowers stress levels later in the day. If you can sleep, do – studies show a 15-minute nap in the afternoon is as good as an extra hour’s sleep at night.
The benefits of meditation?are well documented; just 10 to 15 minutes a day lowers blood pressure, boosts energy, and reduces stress and anxiety. And with the advent of meditation apps that allow you to practise any time, anywhere, there is no excuse not to make this serenity tool part of your everyday life. The mind gymhas an app that offers a free, guided meditation and mindfulness programme.
Help the brain stay calm by changing your breathing pattern, says clinical psychologist Dr Cecilia d’Felice. ‘Place your hand on your belly and breathe in,’ she says. ‘See if your hand rises with the in breath and falls with the out. If you are taking shallow breaths, your belly will remain still and, to the evolutionary brain, this suggests that we are hyperventilating, which means your brain issues stress hormones. Instead, at least three times a day, practise breathing into your belly for a few minutes. This will help your brain to retain balanced levels of oxygen.’