Mental health

Dr Mark Winwood, Clinical Lead for Mental Health Services at AXA Health

Self-care: an indulgence, or a modern-life necessity?

The importance of slowing down and switching off

21 December 2020

Mark Winwood

Written by Dr. Mark Winwood

Dr Mark Winwood is a leading figure in the mental health field and AXA Health’s Consultant Psychologist.

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Do you wear ‘busy’ like a badge of honour?

... Feel guilty for taking the time to switch off and do something just for you – worrying it might be seen as self-indulgent, or lazy even?

If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. But why do some of us feel like this? Why is busy so often used as a marker for success or self-worth? And why do we find it so difficult to shift down a gear and look after number 1?

“Being busy can be a positive”, explains Dr Mark Winwood, Clinical Lead for Mental Health Services at AXA Health. “It allows us to get things done, to maintain our momentum and stay motivated. The old saying ‘if you want something doing, ask a busy person’ rings very true. Often, the less we do, the less we want to do, so really we just need to find the right balance for ourselves.

“Problems can arise, however, when we’re not given, or don’t give ourselves the opportunity to be less busy and have some down time in our lives. The distracting beeps on our smartphones, endless to-do lists, caring for dependents – these things can eventually take their toll on our mental and physical wellbeing if we don’t allow ourselves to hit the reset button now and again.

“That’s not to say being busy is a bad thing, but it depends what we’re busy with and why. Some of us fear boredom and like to be occupied – and that’s fine! Sometimes we like to take our mind off something that’s worrying us.  That's fine, too, as long as we’re not using our busyness as a tactic to avoid something in our life we would benefit from facing up to instead.”

Taking a step back to look at why we’re busy, what we could do less of, accept help with, or simply omit from our lives is an important step in self-care – the very definition of which will be as individual as we are. Whatever you choose to do to help you take time for yourself, it's your choice to make.

“While some pressure can be good, it’s less so if you’ve no time or thinking space to develop, be creative or just feel like you’re on top of things. It’s one thing to be firing on all cylinders but quite another to be constantly firefighting – ask yourself which camp you fall into.”

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Self-care tips

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try Dr Winwood’s tips for allowing yourself a bit of down time, without giving yourself a hard time:

  1. Accept that it’s okay to change pace, for the sake of your own wellbeing, but also for others who might rely on you.
  2. Carve out some time in your day that’s just for you. It might mean getting up a little earlier, but whatever you do, make sure it’s something that will benefit your wellbeing. When the demands of the day take over, you will at least have done something good for yourself first.
  3. Prioritise sleep. We’ve heard this many times before, but I can’t stress it enough! You’ll feel calmer and more focussed on your tasks if you’ve had quality sleep. If a lie-in isn’t an option – try having a ‘reverse lie in’ – in other words, go to bed early! Your wind-down routine could include having a bath, listening to some music or reading a book before lights out. 
  4. Know that it’s okay to spend time ‘being’ instead of ‘doing’. Sometime you just need to  honour your body and mind by resting up – your central nervous system (the ‘hard-wiring’ in your body, responsible for how you respond to stress) will thank you for it.
  5. Make time to socialise. Keeping in contact with friends and family that make you feel positive and supported will help bring a bit of relief and a realisation that you’re not alone in your feelings. 
  6. Organise yourself by keeping a bullet journal – it’ll help you prioritise your list of ‘to dos’, while learning to accept what can probably go on the backburner. 
  7. Keep a worry diary. Worrying isn’t a productive way to spend your time and before you know it you’ll have busied yourself with irrational thoughts about events that aren’t likely to happen. Read How to challenge worrying thoughts.

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