Lizzyfied

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The meaning of meaningful rest

If you have been reading any of my recent posts, you will know that I have been in search of more rest recently. Meaningful rest, that is. After years of severely neglecting rest, it had become time for me to put it back into the spotlight. Prioritising meaningful rest has not come easily to me. I was so used to always doing something that I have had to figure out how to really implement this whole ‘nothing’ thing in an orderly way. January has been an incredibly restful month for example, whereas February saw me quickly slipping into old habits by filling up my diary to the brim. The beauty of having to figure out rest from scratch again means I have learnt a few things along the way. Things about what it means to rest and what makes rest meaningful to me. Let’s chat the meaning of meaningful rest.

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The problem of our concrete jungle (+ what you can do about it)

concrete wall leads to frustration stress

All living beings experience stress. Yes, even bacteria and other micro-organisms. This is because every time a being is threatened in its homeostasis, it has to adapt. And this adaptation process triggers a stress response. A single cell organism might only ‘experience’ this stress as a change in its pH-level. But due to our highly developed bodies and brains, humans experience stress in manifold ways – both physically and psychologically. Besides that, humans are one of the few living beings that are able to experience stress over hypothetical and frustrating situations, rather than dangerous situations.

The Bad News

It is these hypothetical and frustrating situations that have increased rapidly in our modern society. The threat of a potential break-up can be just as stressful as an actual break-up. If the break-up never occurs, but the potential threat continues to be there, the chronic stress response can lead to long-term health problems.

Different to hypothetical stress but similarly not linked to acute danger is frustration stress. This stress is triggered by disturbing environmental factors. Unluckily for us, our modern world is full of these stressful environmental factors. From fluorescent lighting and busy shopping streets to noisy traffic and concrete jungles, our environment doesn’t exactly make a stress-free live easy.

The Good News

Scientists increasingly study the relationship between environmental factors and stress. We know, for example, that blue light disrupts our melatonin production, which can lead to sleepless nights. And research from the World Health Organisation has shown that faint noise pollution can trigger our stress response, even when we don’t consciously hear the sounds.

Luckily scientists have some positive news as well. Research has shown that viewing scenes of nature aids the healing from a stress response much quicker than viewing scenes from an urban jungle. And viewing art or aesthetically pleasing objects makes your body release dopamine – you know, the happy hormone also made when eating chocolate. 

So what can we do to decrease these frustrating environmental factors that cause our stress response to soar through the roof? It depends on your personal environment of course, but here are some gentle suggestions:

  • Turn the lights on your electronics into night mode – even during the day.
  • Take a walk during your lunch break, particularly in winter.
  • Invest in noise-cancelling headphones to use in a busy office or when walking alongside noisy roads.
  • Go for long walks in nature at the weekend.
  • Bring nature inside by adding some plants to each room.
  • Turn your house into a comfy home. Hang up some artwork and tidy up every once in a while.

What are your suggestions for a stress-free environment?

The quiet beauty of a digital sabbath

Flower pot for digital sabbath

The average UK person spends almost 3.5 hours a day online, outside of working hours. I assume that many days I come close to that amount myself. Between blogging, catching up on shows and looking up trips and recipes, I can easily get lost in the digital world. And although I have become more and more mindful about what types of online platforms I use – I pretty much quit social media -, I definitely see the merit in connecting digitally and having access to the wealth of knowledge that is stored in the web.

The digital sabbath

But seeing merit in the digital reformation doesn’t mean we should spend hours a day dogmatically praying to our devices. I don’t know about you, but I often feel bogged down by the time spent online. Particularly when there are so many other things I would want to spend my time on. When I heard Pico Iyer talk about the concept of digital sabbaths (or a digital detox weekend) last November, I was keen to try out my own weekend away from the screen. The rules were simple. For one full day (or in my case a weekend), you turn off all screen devices, such as phones, laptops, and TVs. Let your loved ones know you can only be reached by pigeons for that day and the quiet beauty of the digital sabbath can unfold.

Empty Space

If you feel stressed or burned out, you probably feel like you need more energy. I did when I went through my health crisis. But we don’t need energy to feel more rested and balanced. We need space. Empty space, to be precise. In a time where we are always on, we lack the time to be off. Stress isn’t the problem, but the lack of meaningful rest. By clocking off the digital matrix for one day a week, we allow our body and mind to recover from the constant stimuli we are exposed to nowadays. Stepping away from technology more regularly has been one of the most useful things I have done the reduce my stress levels.

Nourishing activities

I used to want to do all these activities I thought I didn’t have time for. In my ideal life, I saw myself taking long walks in the countryside, pottering around the house and creating wholesome meals. Of course, I don’t need to explain that I did have time for them if I had only prioritised them sooner. Creating empty space away from technology opens up the possibility to fill our time with activities that soothe our soul. Walking, for example, naturally slows down our thoughts. The pace of our walks syncs up with the pace of our thought, which helps us sort through mental clutter and arrive at sparks of insight. Researchers call this the deliberation-without-attention effect. These slow and gentle activities allow our mind to spread out and spill over a little. When our mind is constantly occupied with the latest notification on our phone, we lose this ability to make the mind wander.  

Deal with sh*t

A digital sabbath can be uncomfortable at first. One of the reasons we reach for our phones so often is to distract ourselves from uncomfortable feelings. The feeling might as simple as boredom or something deeper and more uncomfortable. For me (and for many others) my phone was my main source of distraction. So when I started introducing the digital sabbath, I got uncomfortable quite quickly. The beauty of negative emotions is that when we stop suppressing them, they actually go away completely. If you are struggling to just sit with your emotions, a nice way to navigate through them is by journaling your thoughts. And you will see that dealing with your sh*t becomes easier over time. I have found that the longer I have been doing these digital detoxes, the more emotionally resilient I have become.

Since that weekend in November, I now have a digital sabbath each week. Whenever I can, I try to make a whole weekend out of it. But many weeks, I need a day at the weekend to take care of some digital errands. Whether you can commit to a whole weekend, or perhaps even just one afternoon a week, I can wholeheartedly recommend introducing the digital sabbath to your week.

Have you ever tried a digital sabbath?