31 Days: Stop! or HALT Have a day off and smile!

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

I’d planned today to write about negative thoughts including some of the ways that are recommended (and that I’ve found helpful) to talk yourself out of those energy sapping and undermining thoughts. But the negative thinking post is long and I’m tired today so I’m going to take some of my own advice and kick back a little. I’ll cover negative thoughts early next week.

I recently discovered the books of Richard Wiseman. In his latest book Rip it Up, which I haven’t read thus far, he apparently is taking a new approach to self-help, rather than thought stopping or talking yourself out of bad feelings he suggests (I’m getting this from the blurb and reviews) that we should simply do. Rather than analyse, do the things that will make us feel better. The approach is based on psychologist William James’ ideas on the relationship between behaviour and emotion. The James-Lange (Carl Lange also contributed) theory of emotion suggests that events and behaviours provide a stimulus which the mind subsequently interprets. We are not afraid automatically of a bear but if a bear runs after us we feel something and later interpret it as fear. Our mind’s perception of our rapid heart rate etc is the emotion.

Perhaps our primordial instincts and early experiences begin to condition us to react in particular ways and then it becomes difficult to see whether behaviour or emotion comes first. We might get out of bed ‘on the wrong side’. We feel groggy and angry with no obvious cause – we could attribute it to a number of factors.

Very often we might have trouble interpreting signals and there are huge variations between people on how well they can recognise the signs of their own, stress, tiredness, sleep etc. People with children will know how they often fail to see that they are in need of rest. ‘I’m not tired!’ is a very common refrain from a child who is tearful, unco-ordinated, pale and yawning.

When we are feeling stressed or upset our in the case of artists and writers, feeling blocked or unable to create, the HALT acronym is a useful one to check through to see what might be the cause.

H: Are we hungry? Have we forgotten to eat? Perhaps we need a light snack to tied us over to the next meal.

A: Angry. Are we cross or annoyed about something going on in the background of our lives, small or crucial? We might not realise it but

L: Lonely: Do we need a good banter with someone, have we reduce our social lives too much in the cause of our family and creative lives? Are we feeling back about ‘wasting’ our time on social media or going out. But we need to connect.

T: Tired: I must say, coming out of years of tiny babies and toddlers I find it very hard to determine how tired I am. Parents are used to solidering on, those who work full time and then come home to kids or further work just don’t get a chance to stop. The merge of home, social and work life through technology too makes it hard to know when to just rest and take a complete break. I don’t really know the answer to the last one. I’d love to be someone who can intuitively take breaks or relax but I seem to have to organise myself into taking a break. There’s a lot to be said for taking a day of the week and setting it aside for complete relaxation, mini spa day, walking, music, film whatever. But who does? Do you?

Smile or whatever

This morning I had a challenging morning with the children. I felt tired and disappointed over some holiday plans that seem to be falling apart (so long since we’ve been away.) I was cross! I walked to school with the kids with a face like thunder, feeling upset and angry. Two days ago I greeted everyone with a chat and a happy new year, today I avoided eye contact. Then I saw someone I know very well, looked up and gave her a friendly smile and hello. I immediately felt better. We chatted for a moment and then I met further people who I now greeted with smiles rather than silence. Suddenly an epiphany, life was okay! I know it’s not always as straightforward and if you suffer from a serious mental illness it won’t just go away but if it’s the everyday blues then how you act really can change how you feel. William James was right!

There are days when we feel like doing nothing. If you are tired and what you are doing doesn’t have to be done, just stop! If you must soldier on, look out for the first opportunity to give yourself a decent break and put relaxation and happiness at the front of the queue, before ironing, tax returns (or maybe not) and anything else. Of course sometimes if we take the pressure of ourselves we immediately feel energised. Which is why I’ve written a long post when I felt ‘too tired’ to do it. Both rest and action gives energy so see what’s the right one for you today.

Tomorrow: a little writing exercise for those who fancy finding new ways to get your mind whirring.

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6 comments

  1. Spot on post — I’ve bagged 2 days this week to do nothing (and will blog about same in due course) because I realised I didn’t have a day off in 2012 — not one. Of course a lot of parents don’t get days off, but I spent every day both parenting and doing something else — work, building, writing, etc. In times of combined parenting and global recession, this I think is common.
    I agree it’s hard to even know if you’re tired when you have young kids. My litmus test is to wait until Baby is about to sleep, then press my face up against his — he loves it, but also if I’m exhausted, I find it really hard to pull back up & start work. Consistent tiredness is only one side of it though — there’s also the best of both worlds. Magic, just exhausting. I wouldn’t have it any other way, though.

    1. (Oh, OK, check that, I would like to keep the childcare and writing — but I wouldn’t mind a cleaner, gardener, window cleaner, dog walker and car valet. You know… for free. I would be OK with that.)

  2. I hear you! Just recently I have been able to take some rest time (or as much as possible with a toddler in tow), simply because I was exhausted. My body physically couldn’t take it, and told me enough was enough. Fortunately I have seen people experience melt downs and stress during recent years, and so I knew the signs well enough that I stopped fretting about work and ignored the minor household niggles. Now I am beginning to obsess about going on a solo writing holiday in a romantic remote location. Not sure how I can do that with the aforementioned toddler, a husband who works all the hours he can, and not forgetting the dog and turtles…

    1. But wouldn’t it be lovely if you could find a nice weekend retreat at least and sort it with your husband who’ll probably feel great for giving you your space. I went on a writing retreat for ten days in the summer. I roped in my husband and various other relatives to take the kids (I split them 2 in one place, 2 in another). It was awkward to arrange (and the littlest got chicken pox while staying with my parents) but well worth it, even just for the relaxation and rest factor which is important but it was so beneficial.

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