Since 2009, every first week in March there's been a movement gathering speed; the Global Day of Unplugging.
Paula Gardner on 'Finding My Routine'
Paula Gardner is a therapist, business psychologist, and founder of Scarlet Thinking
Paula Gardner, founder of Scarlet Thinking, opens up on her experience with mental health struggles and the routines used to strike balance in her life.
I have been knocked sideways by grief more times than I care to remember, the most recent being when my father died at the beginning of the first lockdown. Incidentally, my de facto response is to use work to keep me distracted, but I’ve learnt that eventually even that stops working. What works well for me is to create day-to-day habits that support me in both the good times and the bad.
I'm usually up by eight, and working by ten. I like a bit of a slow start to my day. I feed the cats, and then head to the living room to just sit quietly with a mug of earl grey tea. I make sure there’s time for some journaling, exercise, and planning of my day. If possible, I also like to do a bit of reading or listening to music too.
I recently moved to Folkestone, and just being able to take walks along the coastline has been hugely beneficial. Even on a wet and windy day they are invigorating. During lockdown in London, I only had access to a school playing field for exercise, and I remember walking round and round that field as though I was a prisoner!
I also try and take at least an hour out a week, just sitting in a coffee shop with a notepad. I'll use that time to journal and check in with myself. Am I doing too much? Am I doing what I want? Who would I like to spend time with right now? Am I getting enough exercise and doing enough fun things? Often, if I'm not careful, they can turn into to-do list sessions, so I have to force myself to pull back and be more reflective. This weekly check-in really helps me consider if what I am spending my time on is serving me well.
I did start sea swimming too, which has been amazing, but the sewage issues with the local water companies have put a bit of a damper on that. It’s something I want to get back into.
Spending time with friends is a must. I have a lot of friends still in London, and if I’m not going up that month, I keep in touch via WhatsApp voice messages which makes me feel like they are talking to me. If I do travel to London, I use the train. This means that I can settle down with a good book, or Audible book on my headphones, and relax.
I’ve started to make friends here too. I’ve joined art classes and dance classes which have been fun and good for me too. It’s easy to get lazy about social stuff, so I really have to stay on top of this.
I love books and spend a lot of time reading. I usually have a few on the go, and really enjoy finding bargains in second-hand book shops. I also have a number of books I read regularly, often classics, and picking them up is like visiting an old friend.
Interestingly, I always think reading is a good barometer of focus and mental health. If any of my clients mention that they’ve stopped reading I certainly will investigate why.
I use an old-fashioned Filofax so I can see, visually, what my week looks like. This stops me from packing too much in – one of my foibles. Too much writing on the pages and I know I shouldn't be taking on any more.
I’ve found that too much sugar is not good for me, in any way, and I am constantly keeping control of this, which can be tiring. I’ve also recently learned a lot more about the gut-brain axis so taking care to eat prebiotics and take probiotics. It’s been a month so far but already starting to feel more energetic.
Getting back on track
It has taken time to work out what works for me, perhaps even years in some cases. Like most people, I have weeks where I fit all these in, effortlessly, and then busy weeks when something knocks me sideways and I veer off course. One really useful thing I learned in my counselling training was that changing habits takes time. There may well be steps back as well as forwards, but once you commit it takes less time to get back on track and into the habits and routines you know are good for you. This knowledge has not only been useful for me, but I’ve shared it with my therapy clients, who find that it helps them too.
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