Think of a stressful event and chances are moving house, divorce or death spring to mind.
Yet according to TV psychologist Honey Langcaster-James, constant small stressors that build up every day can have a big effect on our emotional and mental health if left unchecked.
“Individually, each of these little niggles may not seem like much,” she says. “But our busy lives mean we are now bombarded with a huge number of them every day which can overwhelm our system.”
According to recent research from Compeed, Britons spend 36 minutes – up to two years of their lives – letting things get on their nerves.
Of 1,001 people quizzed by the blister brand, 84% admitted that something little riles them at some point each day, while 81% spend up to two hours every day letting minor things bother them.
Bad manners topped the list of Britain’s biggest bugbears, followed by anti-social behaviour on public transport, litter louts, and glory grabbers – people who steal promotion-winning ideas in the office.
Technology – especially phone snubbing, also known as ‘phubbing’, irritated 78% of respondents.
“People can end up suffering from what I call the ‘Buckeroo’ effect where they gradually get overwhelmed by lots of little stressors so that eventually it only takes one small thing to set them off,” adds Honey.
Below the social and behavioural psychologist shares 7 tips for calmer living.
7 ways to stop making life so stressful
BEING A PERFECTIONIST
It’s natural for us to want to do our best but sometimes this leads to perfectionist tendencies, where only a perfect outcome is judged to be good enough. There’s a well-known saying ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of good’ and it’s so true. TIP: Sometimes it’s helpful to aim for ‘good enough’ because, in most situations, it generally is.
DROWNING IN OPINION
We live in a very noisy and sometimes overstimulating world. Everyone has opinions, and we’re constantly bombarded with advice on social media, or from well-meaning friends. The problem is that we can forget to just check in with ourselves and trust our own instincts. We get de-sensitised to the signals from our own minds and bodies.
TIP: Try and listen to what your body and mind are telling you first and foremost.
OVERTHINKING THE LITTLE THINGS
When people bump into us in life, either literally or figuratively, we tend to assume they’ve done it in order to deliberately annoy us, or because they’ve been rude or malicious in some way. The truth is, most of the time people are just too busy thinking about their own problems and lives. TIP: We accidentally get in each others’ way sometimes, so try not to assume the worst in others.
Because everyone feels under such time pressure, there can be a tendency to want to multi-task, but then we end up spinning way too many plates and don’t actually cope with any one thing very effectively. TIP: It’s best to deal with one thing at a time, give it your full attention, and tick it off before then moving on.
BEING TOO BUSY
Life is so busy now and on a daily basis, we’re confronted with many little irritations. Lots of little things pile up on top of one another until eventually, we just kick off in response to the slightest thing. Sometimes we become aware of little health-related niggles or stresses and strains but ignore them because we’re too busy. A blister, for example, is very painful and can stop you in your tracks but if you pop a plaster on it you stop it developing into a much bigger issue. TIP: We need to remember to deal with things as we go along and not let them build up to unbearable levels.
WASTING ENERGY ON THE WRONG PEOPLE
With so many people in our lives to deal with and competing demands upon us, we can end up channelling our effort and energy into the wrong places and sometimes on the wrong people. Trying to please a toxic boss, for example, can make you ill, wasting your time on friends who don’t really have your back can leave you drained while some people are ‘energy vampires’ who just leave you feeling depleted. TIP: Don’t be afraid to occasionally ‘say no’. Invest your time and energy into relationships that are profitable for you, too.
BEING HARD ON OURSELVES
From a young age, we’re taught to be the best we can be and achieve more and more, but this can lead us to drive ourselves too hard. What we forget is that it is just as important to learn to forgive ourselves and that we all find things tough going sometimes. None of us needs an inner critic, general society will point out our flaws more than readily enough for anyone. TIP: Learn the art of being compassionate towards yourself, and be your own best friend. Take care of yourself learn to let everything else go because most likely, the rest doesn’t matter anyway.
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Living on a canal boat is not everyone’s cup of tea but for artist Julie Weir, 46, and her husband Mark, 48, the move has proved liberating.
The couple, who have two twenty-something grown-up children, were working stressful jobs when they made the decision to quit their careers and trade in their four-bedroom house in Hampshire for life on the water.
“We were sitting in front of a roaring February fire, in 2017, when a programme came on, called My Floating Home,” Julie tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “It showed a couple having a canal barge built, and it looked amazing. The level of luxury, quality and finish on this boat was second to none, so Mark turned to me and said ‘we could live on one of those.’ The best bit was that we could be mortgage free and not give up on our luxuries.”
So the pair bought a wide beamed canal boat on the Avon Canal. This enabled Mark to relinquish 70 hour-plus weeks working as a senior partner at a chain of estate agents and pursue his dream of becoming a writer.
Julie, a former family support worker and 2013 BBC Wildlife Artist of the year finalist, was also able to focus on her painting. The duo has just celebrated their first anniversary of moving onto the boat.
So, is life on the river really as idyllic as it sounds? Julie shares her story below.
How stressful was your lifestyle before you decided to live on a canal boat?
I worked with hard to reach families in early intervention, as well as families on the child protection register. It was challenging and incredibly stressful and upsetting at times. Because of the nature of his targets and results-driven job, Mark worked most weekends, and during the week would leave at 7 am and return well after 7 pm, which meant that family time was almost non-existent. Time pressures and the in-depth nature of both our careers meant that relaxation time, meal-times, and time to unwind and switch off from the day were irregular at best. It becomes impossible to leave the stresses of your job at the door, especially if you care about how well you perform your job, so often things would spill over into home life, making relaxation time even more scarce, and this creates even more pressures on your mental health and self-esteem.
You were then offered redundancy. What happened?
I jumped at the chance. It meant that I would have six months income behind me to see if I could make a go of it as a full-time artist. So, I decided to try it for five months and if it didn’t work, give myself the sixth month to look for a job. The rest is history. At the same time, Mark saw the dramatic change in me and my happiness. Gone was the creeping Sunday night depression followed by the dark clouds of Monday morning. Making the change had rejuvenated me, and Mark saw this and I think this inspired him to consider an alternative career as he was spending what little spare time he had writing novels. However, with a mortgage and bills to pay, things weren’t quite that simple. It was too much of a risk for us to both give up our careers, so something had to go. It was either the mortgage or the dreams. That meant selling up the house and moving.
How did you feel about making the leap to canal boat living?
Elated, scared, nervous, foolish, brave, but the one thing we never lacked was the conviction that we were going to do this. This was our chance to take something back. We were getting our freedom and quality time. In general, people around us were fairly supportive, if a little surprised. There were some dissenting voices, but in the main, it was positive. I suppose, what we were doing was radical, and there’s always an element of doubt when someone tries something new. Some of our friends even said they admired us and that they didn’t dare to do it, even though they would love to.
Had it always been your dream to live on a canal boat?
We hadn’t ever considered living on a canal boat before, not until we saw that programme. We did a lot of research, going to boat shows, and watching canal boat YouTube channels. (Who knew they were a thing?) It also inspired us to start documenting our journey with our own YouTube channel Weir on the Move. Our main concern, with regards to living in a four-bedroom house, was the act of downsizing. We had accumulated lots of material things over the years, and it surprised us how much. So thanks to car-boot sales and family and friends benefiting, we gradually shed our stuff. Mark dubbed it ‘material colonic irrigation’.
What’s the canal boat accommodation like?
The boat has two king-size bedrooms, a shower room with granite work surfaces, as well as an open-plan kitchen/diner/lounge, and the stern deck doubles as my studio space, giving me 360-degree views. There is also a bow deck which is great in the warmer months for sitting and watching the world go by with a gin and tonic. We have central heating, a multi-fuel burner, a fully fitted kitchen with integrated appliances, as well as the best 4G internet we’ve ever had.
What are the worst things about living on a canal boat?
Living on a boat will never be as easy as living on dry land. There are many things that you have to consider: Where does the drinking water come from? Buying gas bottles for the cooker, and making sure we have enough diesel in the tank. Living on a boat means you have to be prepared and always plan. It makes you think about everything, from water usage to power usage, things that don’t enter your head in a house. We always have to plan carefully, especially in the winter. Once you get your head around this, it’s all easy and straightforward. We have to move every two weeks in accordance with the Canal and River Trusts guidelines on Continuous Cruising.
What are the best things about living on a canal boat?
The ever-changing views. We’ve found that we’re more in touch with nature and the changing seasons than we were in our shut-up, busy lives in a house. And of course, if you don’t like where you are, you can move the boat. We like summer evenings sipping a drink, on the front of the boat, as well winter evenings in front of the fire. All of this is possible thanks to the low-cost, low-impact lifestyle we’ve chosen. There is a fantastic community here on the canals. We have neighbours, and sometimes we don’t. If you think about the Kennet and Avon canal, it’s mostly a long channel stretching over 40 miles, with Bristol in the West, and Reading at the other end. You play leapfrog with boats that you know, so inevitably you are going to develop friendships along the way. I can say, that in one year of being on the canal, we’ve made more friends than in the last ten years living in a house.
How has living on a canal boat helped your mental attitude?
It’s an outdoor existence most of the time, and we’ve found that we are much more sociable, and approachable people than we thought. This has had a significant impact on our positive mental attitude and wellbeing. This may sound controversial, but many land-based communities can learn a lot from boating communities.
How did you turn your hobbies into full-time jobs?
I started running art classes in Chichester, West Sussex, and in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, teaching art on a twice-monthly basis to people of all abilities. I have found the art scene in Wiltshire, and the West Country, to be vibrant, which has helped me gain a strong following for my work. Mark has managed to make the transition to becoming a freelance writer and has just released his third novel, Annie of the Point, a historical romance set in Old Portsmouth in 1805. Being able to fulfil our ambitions has given us confidence, and a sense of achievement which has led to an uplift in our quality of life. All of this couldn’t have been possible without ridding ourselves of the mortgage. That doesn’t mean we don’t work as hard as before. We work harder than we’ve ever done, our time is ours, and we do all this for less financial reward, but there are other ways you can describe yourself as being rich.
What advice would you give to anyone who’s inspired to live on a canal boat?
If anyone feels they’re stuck in a rut, living to work rather than working to live, it could be time to take stock. We know too many people that say ‘What if’ or ‘If only.’ But it’s worth remembering that you can only regret the things you haven’t done. I suppose the positive message here is, go for it!
How did you get into art?
I worked closely with both parents and their children who had difficulties with their mental health, and I found that by using art, I was able to help them talk about their feelings in a way that merely asking questions would have failed. I encouraged them to speak about their feelings when they were well and when they were not, and through art, the complicated questions were easier to answer. This method enabled them to avoid giving eye contact, and through magazine images, or comic books, they expressed their true feelings.
I had never painted before 2011, and after our beloved dog died, Mark encouraged me to paint his portrait, especially given how expensive they were to buy. So I had a go, and it turned out quite well. Who would have thought that two years later, in 2013, I would be a finalist in the BBC Wildlife Artist of the Year competition, and in 2018 I’d become a Professional Associate Member of the SAA, a 43,000 plus online community for professional and amateur painters.
How does living on the canal inspire you?
Imagine looking out the window and seeing Kingfishers, otters, hares, owls, and bats. Imagine swans tapping on your window for food. These are the things I see every day. It has changed me completely, and the way I paint. The canal inspires my art. I paint more British wildlife than I ever did, especially kingfishers, herons, goldfinches, and long-tailed tits. My new range focuses on birds, painted on a gold leaf background, and they have proved to be very popular indeed. My boat studio is a lot smaller compared to my old studio at the house, but now I can boast about having the best views.
What life lessons have you learned from making the move?
Material goods are generally immaterial. Shed what you don’t need, and it’ll be like shedding an old skin, and very cathartic. We have learnt that we only buy what we need, and not what we would like, so the things we choose have to be exactly right. Also, we would recommend taking a few risks to get what you want out of life. But only take them if you’re that way inclined. Some people are happy with their lot, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But remember; you only get one life, so go for it!
There’s nothing quite like realising you’ve left your phone at home on a Monday morning to induce a state of panic, especially when you’re working for a new client in London and you’re relying on Google Maps to get you from A to B.
But this is exactly what happened to yours truly last week. I thought I’d be super organised and charge up said phone in the bedroom – far better to start the day with 100% battery in the tank and all that.
Only in between wolfing down the porridge and prioritising my to-do list, I completely forgot to retrieve the device from upstairs. On entering the railway station I realised my mistake. No amount of searching – I frantically triple-checked every inch of my handbag – would bring it back. My stomach began somersaulting for England.
How the heck would I survive without it?
The day before – in a bid to be Miss Efficient – I’d set an out of office (I receive on average between 400 and 500 emails per day) advising people that I’d be media training and only checking my account intermittently. Those with urgent work-related queries could text or call me. Except now they couldn’t. I could feel my stress levels rising.
Then another realisation struck – I wouldn’t be able to check my email account because I’d be signing in on a brand new computer that would only accept my log in details via a two-step authentication code which, you’ve guessed it, would be sent to my phone! Oh, joy of joy.
There was nothing for it, I’d have to reluctantly suck up this unexpected digital detox.
This is what I discovered…
Five things I learned by accidentally leaving my phone at home
A sense of freedom
At first, I felt lost without my phone and quite anxious. Questions rattled around my head. How am I going to contact my boss? How will people contact me? What happens if the train is late? What happens if I get lost? What sort of impression is this going to make? But then I just accepted the situation for what it was and let it go. With peace came clarity. I’d been catastrophising massively – something I did when my health first went haywire – and I found myself worrying about future situations that might not happen. I told myself there was nothing I could do and instead focussed on the present moment. Yes, I couldn’t check the news sites or email and felt quite disconnected but there was no compulsion to endlessly scroll and it felt enormously freeing.
How to create more time
This sounds like a flippin’ obvious one but, quite frankly, I was staggered by how much time I recouped. Train journeys are usually spent catching up with Whatsapp group messages, Instagram, blog admin and general work emails. Before I jumped on board I had a quick chat with the jolly man in the coffee kiosk and on the ride into London another young commuter jokingly told me how he couldn’t face the day ahead as his flatmate had a party that had kept him up until 5am. Would I have had these conversations if I’d been glued to my phone? Probably not. Did they make me smile? Yes. It made me wonder what else I’d been missing out on.
How to be mindful in everyday life
I’ve written about mindfulness before – from hypnotherapy mind massages to group meditation sessions – but leaving my phone at home was a true lesson in everyday mindful living. I usually listen to music or the radio during the walk to and from the station. Instead, my soundtrack was the crunch of the golden autumn leaves underfoot, and the birds chirping in the trees. As cliché as it sounds, I felt very much at one with nature. Just being aware, truly present and grateful for being alive was a very uplifting way to start the day.
How to increase productivity in personal and business life
Sitting on the train, after the tired twenty-something had departed, I pulled out my notepad and began goal setting. I scribbled down feature ideas for the day job, blog post musings, and made a list of what I needed to organise at home. I was in full flow and my brain was positively singing and dancing. By the time I arrived at work I was excited at the prospect of nailing my meetings and coaching without having to worry about any other pressure or obstacles that might have been thrown in my path via emails or the phone.
It can wait. Honestly.
Most self-employed people – I’ve been a freelance journalist for almost 20 years – worry about missing out on work and I was, in fact, expecting a call from a chap from another agency on the same day. Initially I panicked as we’d suggested provisionally meeting up after I’d finished my consultancy gig. As it turned out my contact’s meeting had been postponed and it would take him another week to call me, by which time I’d been reunited with the phone! These things always seem to have a way of working themselves out.
How to relax
Yes, I’d worked a long day in London and while the commute was always going to be far more tiring than in the days prior to my Mast Cell Activation Syndrome diagnosis, I felt energised and rejuvenated on the train journey home. My ‘butterfly’ brain had seemingly settled thanks to fewer distractions. I was very, very content and, dare I say it, relaxed!
How to manage my time effectively
Interestingly, a sense of dread, not excitement, filled my stomach when I opened my front door. On picking up my phone I found the expected 500 emails (80 per cent were press releases) and social media notifications. There’d been three missed calls (from my dad). Oh, and I had the best part of ten WhatsApp messages, five of which requested rather time-intensive favours.
Now, I always help people out but the stark reality is that between the day job and running this blog I get very little downtime with barely a day off. On opening the messages I instantly felt overwhelmed. As the knot in my stomach tightened, a realisation struck… I must start setting boundaries and managing my own time better for the sake of my own health, otherwise I really will be of no use to anyone.
Leaving my phone at home proved to be a blessing in disguise and taught me many a lesson.
In fact, I found the whole experience so liberating I could be tempted to do it again!
Have you ever unintentionally left your phone at home? How did you find it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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