The beginning of a new year is a wonderful time to work towards new skills. My experience of working with clients has shown that often at the beginning of the year, people are kinder to themselves and, as a result, also more optimistic and hopeful about committing to new behaviors that make an impact in the long run.
The first skill that I feel has most impact on our overall well-being is strengthening our ability to listen to our own body. While this sounds simple, the reality is that most people really struggle with it. Over the last few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of people, who have reached out for therapy. They tell me that they were feeling exhausted, knew that they were not doing well, and yet it took them about six months to a year before they reached out for help.
Paying attention to your energy levels, how exhausted versus enthusiastic you feel, and then observing if you are struggling with physical ill health—increased headaches, gut issues, back ache, or bouts of cold/cough—is a good point. Our physical and emotional well-being is deeply interconnected, and if we become for mindful, we may be able to able to manage our health better in a holistic way. The trick is to become mindful and not get hyper-vigilant or obsessive about every symptom. Instead, look for patterns and pay attention to the intensity and frequency of what we are feeling.
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The other skill is choosing to work on social fitness. Social fitness isn’t about networking, it’s about building a community, having friends, family, and neighbours that you can share good times with and depend on. The combination of hybrid working and then our dependence on technology is impacting how lonely we feel. We need to prioritise social fitness and make a mindful choice to look away from the phone screens. This can be followed by taking efforts to meet people, and working towards sustaining friendships and other nurturing relationships. Very often I hear clients tell me that work is so exhausting that it leaves them no energy for social fitness. Figuring how to find time, energy and even motivation to cultivate supporting relationships is where the process begins.
Learning how and when to pause is a skill we have forgotten. People nowadays use their free time to upskill themselves, binge-watch shows and finish chores. Our constant need to optimise the time available comes in the way of rest. Doing all these chores leaves us wired, tired and still thinking about task lists that need to be completed. The idea of rest and pause needs to be re-imagined. It’s your time to engage in hobbies, activities that soothe and nourish you.
So, whether it’s going for a walk, spending time in nature, reading or listening to music—the purpose of a pause is to feel rested, re-energised and enjoy time with loved ones. Very often I hear clients tell me that they pause when they begin to feel exhausted and jaded. The idea is to build pause in your schedule so that you don’t have to wait until you experience burnout and anxiety. Make space for pause on a regular basis and choose to not fill it with educational podcasts and life admin tasks.
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Learning how to make space for fun and awe is a skill that we all need. Our emotional well-being is a function of how actively we engage with activities, daily chores with a bit of playfulness and enthusiasm. If we were to observe closely, there are many opportunities on a daily basis for us to feel a sense of awe in our day-to-day life. We need to look around, pause to savour those moments, and be mindful of how our body feels in those moments.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.