When I was a child, there were no computers, no mobile phones, no Internet, no CDs, no DVDs. There was less choice in everything – from food to fashion to music to jobs. Now we live in a world that is getting ever more complex and complicated. Progress is a double-edged sword and while it has given us so much, it has taken away a great deal too – generally in terms of our peace of mind.
We are doing more and doing it faster all the time – and the toll on our health and wellbeing can be huge. It’s estimated that up to 90 percent of all GP visits are the results of the effects of stress. And much of that stress comes from the increasing complexity of our lives. Our minds don’t like anything that is seen as incomplete, unfinished, so if we’re juggling too many balls, our brain consistently thinks about each and every one of them. The complexity of our lives becomes draining.
Simplicity is the solution to complexity and, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, it might be time to look at simplifying your life. In my book, The Overload Solution (Piatkus) I run through a whole plan that will help you simplify your life and get back some balance. Here are the basics:
Ask yourself: How have I overloaded my life with people, activities and things?
Do you really need so much? The more you possess, the more upkeep it needs. Get rid of stuff you don’t use. Be brutal. Are you hoarding equipment for sports and hobbies you never use? Do you belong to clubs and organisations and groups that you don’t really enjoy? Do you see people whose company you don’t enjoy? Look at how you spend your week and see what you could lose without missing it, making more time for the things you really love.
Delegate, share or shed?
In the past we would have had support systems – a close-knit family and community. Now we’re often alone, juggling furiously. Let’s look at practical ways to simplify.
• Delegate. Few of us have dream teams of PAs, housekeepers, nannies and so on but there are still opportunities for delegation – at work, at home, amongst friends. Are you a perfectionist or a bit of a control freak? Work on letting go a bit. Do you always take on the lion’s share? Time to delegate.
• Share. Many parts of life are open to share options – be it childcare, cleaning, work. Turn tasks like housework into a shared activity: do a top-to-toe clean once a week with the whole family or get a flash mob of friends to clean each other’s places. Make it fun by turning on music and factoring in a picnic lunch or takeaway.
• Shed. This is the tough one. Are there parts of your life that aren’t really necessary or which don’t serve you anymore? What drags you down or takes time you’d rather use in other ways? Time to drop some commitments.
Be low-maintenance and proud!
What’s so great about being ‘high-maintenance’? It’s just another complicating stress factor. Imagine a life without endless blow-drying, straightening or styling. Get an easy, get up and go hairstyle. Make friends with your hair, just the way it is. Ditch fancy nail jobs and keep your nails short, neat and nude. Opt for a work ‘uniform’ to ease the habitual ‘what shall I wear?’ dilemma (save fashion fun for the weekend).
When it comes to skincare, you have to ask: just how many serums, masks and creams do our skin need? If you’re bewildered by BBs, CCs and DDs, take heart. Skincare doesn’t need to be complicated, insists Sarah Stacey, joint editor of The Ultimate Natural Beauty Bible (Kyle Books, www.beautybible.com): ‘The bottom line is cleanse, moisturise and protect,’ she says. She recommends the following:
• Cleanse scrupulously at night. Liz Earle’s Cleanse & Polish (uk.lizearle.com) is a perennial favourite. Or try MV Organic Skincare Gentle Cream Cleanser (www.cultbeauty.co.uk). Remove all traces of make-up with a flannel alternately dipped in hot then cold water. You don’t need to use a cleanser in the morning, but do splash lots with tepid water, before moisturising.
• Moisturise from your bosom to your hairline, sweeping upwards in long strokes. Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Cell Revitalise Night Moisturiser (www.aureliaskincare.com) is Sarah’s go-to cream.
• If your skin is dry, use a serum or facial oil under your night cream: Botanifique Hydra Power Enriching Serum (gb.botanifique.com) is excellent as is OV Naturals Triple Rose Luxury Organic Facial Oil (www.ovnaturals.co.uk)
• Choose a day moisturiser with an SPF. Apicare Manuka Natural Sun Protect SPF15 Face Cream (www.simplymanuka.co.uk) is good. But, if you are sunbathing, you must use a separate product as well as your day cream. Green People Scent Free Sun Lotion SPF25 (www.greenpeople.co.uk) avoids chemical sunscreens.
Food – the simple rules
There is so much conflicting stuff out there, it’s easy to be bamboozled. Nutritionist Sarah Flower (www.sarahflower.co.uk) says stick to a few very simple rules and you can’t go wrong. Here’s her advice:
• Eat real food – just following this simple rule will make a dramatic difference to your health. We are living in a society where you can be obese and malnourished. Sounds crazy but by following a processed diet you will be taking in far too many sugars, salts and, in some cases, bad fats and this diet will be devoid of essential nutrients and fibre. You don’t even have to change what you eat – simply cook from scratch and you will immediately improve your health. Aim for a colourful plate – colour equals more nutrients and antioxidants – feeding your body not just your cravings.
• Eat good fats –We need good fats in diet – nearly every cell in our body depends on this. When you cut down on fats, your body starts to crave them. Food manufacturers have jumped on this ‘low fat’ bandwagon and produce supposedly healthy ‘low fat’ foods. They have to replace the fat with something we find palatable so that inevitably ends up being sugar and a cocktail of processed additives. Good fats are found in oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, butter, natural yoghurt, flax oils, coconut oil.
• Ignore calorie counts – If you eat a natural, balanced diet, with complex carbohydrates, lean protein, oily fish – basically food as nature intended – your body will find its natural weight. Confused about carbohydrates? Follow this simple rule – refined carbohydrates have been messed around with or processed – white flour, white pasta etc. Complex carbohydrates remain in their more natural state – brown rice, brown pasta, wholegrain bread. If you eat complex carbohydrates, the body has to work harder to digest it as it is wrapped in fibre and other nutrients. This helps keep your blood sugar balanced. Adding protein to your carb meal will also slow the digestion down, helping keep you fuller for longer and preventing sugar ‘spikes’ followed by a crash.
• Drink plenty of water – we often confuse thirst pangs for hunger pangs. Drinking water not only helps when you are watching your weight but also helps the body throw off any toxins and function better.
You don’t need marathon sessions, or highly complicated routines. You don’t need expensive equipment or clothing, or fancy gym memberships. You don’t need to track down the latest class or try the latest craze. ‘Just be physically active on a regular basis,’ says Julie Brealy of The Body Retreat (www.thebodyretreat.co.uk). Here’s her advice:
• Tiny moves will help – it’s about moving more and sitting less, walking short trips instead of using the car or bus or train. Get up from your desk and move for five minutes every hour – this will keep your muscles active. Our muscles want us to work them to help our circulatory system – even tiny bits of movement can be beneficial to our health and wellbeing.
• Walk – you don’t need any equipment other than a good pair of trainers. 20 minutes brisk walking a day will do the trick. If you want to up it, increase to two minutes walking and one minute jogging intervals – this will improve your fitness levels and weight loss. You can gradually build on this, until you’re jogging all the time.
• The ten minute workout – Functional movement is about training your muscles to do everyday movements safely and efficiently. All it takes is just five simple exercises: Sit to Stand; Side Lunges; Kneel to Stand; Tricep Dips (use a wall or a low table), Plank. These will improve your strength and muscular fitness and in return help with weight loss, fat burning and cardio fitness. Do each exercise for 30 seconds, one after another and repeat the set four times. Do it four times a week. Simple.
The Overload Solution (Piatkus) gives further ideas on simplifying and de-stressing life.