Put yourself at the top of your to-do list

Events of the past two years have led to many of us making changes in the way we live. Our homes are now a place for work, school and relaxation, and the lines between them have become blurred.

More people are working a greater number of hours and, with no office-time boundaries, this can result in an ‘always on' culture, leading to increased work and family conflicts. You lose much-needed leisure time, socialise less and have reduced meaningful human contact, which is a big risk for mental health issues.

Certainly, from my experience with clients at my Godstone wellness centre, or via my online coaching sessions, I have seen a deterioration in people’s base level of happiness (or Hedonic set point, as it’s also known).

As the experience of the pandemic fades and we are required to go back to pre-Covid ways, the extent of this happiness gap between pre- and post-covid will become clearer. There has been a lot of support offered financially to struggling businesses but there doesn’t seem to be so much relating to mental health issues.

Investing in happiness

Investing in people’s happiness would be an ambitious plan for any government. This would mean encouraging healthy eating and exercise (a survey by Public Health England found that more than 40% of adults in England gained weight during the pandemic), as well as psychological support, which would be a positive step towards improving mental health for many.

If they truly want people to return to ‘normal’ life this must be a fundamental priority, however, until that time, the responsibility lies solely with ourselves. Some may argue this is the situation at all times and there certainly is a case for this.

Components of life

I regularly ask my clients whether they are looking after their own components of life. By that, I don't mean food and water – they are components of existence, along with shelter and warmth – I mean components of life: family, friends, health, career, financial security, social, psychological and spiritual wellbeing, and living in the now. If we're not regularly tapping into these areas then we won't be complete. We don't need to have every single one but, if we only have one aspect – say, work – we forego too much in other areas and the result will be a unbalanced life and unhappiness.                   

It starts with ourselves

If we don’t have our own components of life in order, then it’s extremely hard to help others, whether that's professionally or personally. I mean, when was the last time you put yourself on your to-do list? This sounds like a strange thing to do, but often our to-do lists are full of urgent tasks that are not actually important and don't contain anything that will help us physically, mentally or emotionally.

Hit the pause button

Finding time to simply be in the present with yourself can be the beginning of a self-care to-do list. Try savouring the smell and taste of your morning coffee or tea, instead of gulping it down and moving onto the next important task.

Switch your phone off over the weekend for a couple of hours and spend time with family and friends. Get extra rest by going to bed an hour earlier. Experiment with meditation and box breathing, exercise regularly (especially outdoors) and learn to say no to people at times when you feel you’re juggling too much.

I advise clients to try out different methods: using them as micro-experiments until they find something that works for them. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter which one you do: what matters is you do it . . . . for you.

Nicky Forster had a professional football career spanning over 20 years, playing a total of 721 professional games and scoring 221 goals for eight teams. He represented England at U21 level, playing alongside David Beckham and Phil Neville, and also managed Brentford FC. He now spends his time as a keynote/motivational speaker, and at The Spot Wellness Centre in Godstone.

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