How to Overcome your After-the-Holidays Blues?

How to Overcome your After-the-Holidays Blues?

Nearly everyone I know is back from their holiday now. There’s a big sign up in our street warning drivers that schools are open again and children will be crossing the road. Autumn is already nibbling around the edges, with a definite chill in the air. It’s certainly getting dark earlier.

It seems only a few weeks ago that people were talking about where they were going on holiday, or where they had just come back from. Now today, our local supermarket has started selling Speculaas, a cookie traditionally eaten on St. Nicholas’s Dayon 5 December. The summer holidays are definitely over.

Personally, I love autumn but many people I know are suffering from post-holiday blues. They feel back in the normal round and the next holiday feels too far away.

What makes the holidays special?

1. We try new things

Don’t you love the feeling of exploration and adventure during the holidays?

My brother-in-law was recently photographed entering a 5,500-year-old long barrow in the Cotswoldson a weekend away. Not everyone’s cup of tea but he is a history enthusiast and sites like this are his passion. My partner and I were recently in Drenthe,a northern province in Holland where there are ancient Hunebedden sites.No-one is sure what these sites were used for but they could have been used for burials. We were enchanted by the ancient majesty of these places and spent ages looking at as many different sites as we could.

Different food, new customs, trying out summer sports are all wonderfully freeing and engaging. Trying new things opens up new possibilities and helps us to break out of our shell.

2. A holiday can mean time with friends and family

Unless you’ve chosen to go on a solo holiday, time away usually means that we have a chance to interact with friends, partners, family members with more freedom. So much of our everyday life we are juggling too many things– family, work, leisure. It can be hard to feel any of it is proper quality time.

The holidays are times when you can play, chat and catch up with your family without always looking at the clock. Many of us have fond childhood memories of getting to hang out more with our parents because we were all on holiday together.

3. There is freedom from routine

On our holidays we suddenly find ourselves transported away from our usual routine. We can get up when we want, go to bed when we want – the day is ours’ to spend as we wish. The stress of keeping up and managing it all can start to fade away.

There is a wonderful feeling of freedom in this. We can be spontaneous because there is no schedule to keep to. If we are having an important conversation or reading a great book, we can just stay with it. Everything feels possible.

4. It’s possible to relax on your holidays

Freedom like this helps us to finally unwind. It seems that for most people we need at least 8 daysbefore we can feel that we have actually arrived on holiday. We’re stressed from work and the rush to get things ready for our holiday. There’s the journey to recover from. We need to get used to our new surroundings and find our way around.

Once this has all settled, we can truly begin to let ourselves relax.

5. The space during the holidays feels endless

Then there is really a sense of space opening up. Space for ourselves, space to rest, space to play. This is the real reason why holidays are so important. We need this connection to a different part of ourselves, with different possibilities.

So, how do we overcome our after-the-holidays blues?

The main there here is to look at what our holiday is telling us about the rest of our life. Many of us are experiencing so much stress that we don’t know how life can be without it. Too much of the time we are so caught up in everyday life that we don’t take proper care of ourselves. Let’s look again and what really makes a holiday special.

Ask yourself these questions—then try out the suggestions:

When did you last try something new?

New experiences help to inspire us and keep us fresh. They expose us to new ideas and give us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves. If you have not tried anything new for more than a month maybe this is something for you to look at. It can be small – trying a new café or restaurant, changing your hair style, wearing that scarf your sister-in-law bought you and you’ve never worn. 

It helps us not to feel that we are caught in a repeating loop that just goes from day to day.

Do you prioritise spending time with friends and family?

During a nine year study, researchers found that people who lack social ties were about three times more likely to die during those nine years than those who have strong relationships with their friends and family.Research also indicates that even people with unhealthy lifestyles that are able to maintain strong relationships are more likely to live longer than those without social connections. Spending time with your family and friends can help lead you to a longer life.

Yet somehow, we too often push our time with friends and family to the bottom of our to do list. There is always this idea that we’ll get to it later, or when things are less busy. Before we know where we are 6 months have gone by and we have not had an evening with our best friend.

Take a look at your agenda and make a date with a friend or family member right away.

Are you trapped in your routine?

Perhaps you never really saw yourself as a person who would set up and follow strict routines? For many of us, part of growing up is finding the capacity to organise our time in the most creative way. The trouble is we are juggling so many different parts of ourselves – worker, parent, friend, lover, … and yes, yourself! It’s easy to become stressed and let our routine begin to squeeze us, instead of being something useful.

Something that I find helpful is at least once a week change something in your routine. Again, it does not need to be a big thing. You can do something in a different order. Try cycling instead of taking a bus. Drink tea instead of coffee. Decide to have lunch out in a café. See if you can do without some of your normal activities – are they necessary, or just a habit.

You can also use routines like getting dressed or making breakfast as opportunities to reflect on how connected we are to everyone else on the planet.Just think of all the people involved in getting your muesli to your table!

Changing your routine helps you to feel in control, and less like a victim of your daily round. It’s refreshing!

What is your average stress level?

If it takes us up to eight days to unwind on your holidays what is that telling us about our stress level day to day? When was the last time you took a long hard look at how much stress you are dealing with?

In my experience, meditation is the best way I know of to work with stress and to understand something about how my mind works. Have you ever given it a try?

How much space do you have?

A helpful trick is to learn how to find and use small moments of space that open up even in the busiest days. Bringing ourselves into the present moment and dropping whatever is on our mind just for a while can have a powerful effect in opening up space. It cuts through worry and busyness and allows a moment to refresh. So, don’t cover up the small free moments in your day but enjoy them to the full.

Holidays are very special time with lots of opportunities to enhance our wellbeing. We can also use them as a mirror to check out and see how we handle the ordinary day-to-day events of our lives. If we take seriously what we discover then we can bring a holiday spirit into every day.

How to Find Ease with Stressful Work Situations

How to Find Ease with Stressful Work Situations

Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

We hear a lot about increasing levels of stress in the workplace. It seems that now almost 20% of workers in Europe say they experience stress in their job. I recently witnessed an incident with a flight attendant and a difficult passenger. It struck me how keeping your cool can come at a high price. Looking for ways to ease a stressful situation could work well with less cost.

The incident that caused stress

It was on a return flight to Amsterdam from the UK that I overheard a fellow-passenger giving a flight attendant a really bad time. It was hard to catch the full story from where I was sitting but it involved the passenger asking for hot water in a plastic, see-through cup. Apparently cups of this sort are not safe to hold hot water and the only alternative was the purchase—for three euros—of a polystyrene cup. Not surprisingly the passenger found this rather excessive. What was more surprising was his response—he proceeded to cross-examine the flight attendant in increasingly aggressive tones, applying the kind of ruthless logic that would not have been out of place in a courtroom. 

The reaction to the stress

The flight attendant did his utmost best. He remained polite, consistent and managed not to react to the escalating tone of complaint and anger that he was subjected to. He had a kind of party line that he could fall back on, ‘Sorry sir, this is company policy, I am not allowed to give you this cup…’ and so on. After some time, he managed to get away and push his trolley on to the next customer. As he came past me our eyes met and I murmured, ‘breathe’.He looked at my rather desperately but did not respond.

The passenger’s final attempt to get his own way was daring—he simply marched up to the refreshment trolley and started all over again. He returned to his seat carrying a bottle of cold water.

The cost of that reaction

I happened to be one of the last off the ‘plane and exchanged a few words with the male flight attendant. Remembering my attitude of sympathy—but not my advice to focus on his breath—he asked me what I thought of the sort of thing they had to put up with. During our short conversation my earlier hunch was confirmed—when dealing with a stressful situation he relied on his determination to stay professional, rather than adopting any strategy tomanage his stress. Instead of looking for ways to ease the stressful situation, he gritted his teeth in the face of trouble. He took up the burden as a way of demonstrating to himself how efficient he was at enduring one of the downsides of his job. It would probably have been how he was trained. 

3 ways to ease a stressful situation

Here are a few things that the flight attendant could have tried:

1. Humour helps to bring ease to the stressful situation

When he saw that the passenger was not impressed by the company policy, the flight attendant could have used humour. There is something farcical about two grown men arguing about a cup of hot water. With a bit of skill, he could have tried to get the passenger to see things from his point of view and to laugh with him.

2. Putting himself in the passenger’s shoes would have brought ease to the stressful situation

I found myself having some sympathy with the passenger, although I did not care for his aggression. It is galling to be told that a seemingly simple request cannot be granted. No-one likes to be managed and the passenger could probably feel that that was what was happening to him.

Because the flight attendant was focusing on containing the situation, he did not appear to take the time to see it from the passenger’s point of view. Nor did he really take the time to address the needs of the passenger. 

Both men adopted opposing sides of the situation, without trying to find common ground. One of the most direct ways to disarm a situation is to realise that all the participants are just trying to manage their day. They would like their day to go well but could be dealing with all kinds of hassles along the way. We all have this in common.

3. Working with his emotions to bring ease to the stressful situation

The flight attendant had his emotions firmly under control but that was part of the problem. He was obviously challenged by the passenger and yet maintained the same party line throughout. Being able to notice when your emotions are triggered and then working with what you noticeis a more sustainable way of being with emotions. 

When we are in the grip of emotions it can be hard to remember that they will pass, that they are not solid and real. Mindfulnesshelps us to be able to identify an emotion, to acknowledge it and to gently let it go. It helps us to respect it but not to take it too seriously. When we start to identify with the emotion and use it to bolster our position then we are creating a possible trigger for stress.

The kind of stress I witnessed on this occasion was not major, but it was nasty. The man I spoke to looked very tired by the end of the flight and I doubt if it was his last of the day. The tension he was holding looked like it was heading towards a stiff drink and a good moan—not so bad in small doses but not a good long-term strategy for stress-management.

How to Keep a Good Meditation Routine this Holiday

How to Keep a Good Meditation Routine this Holiday

Photo by Vicko Mozara on Unsplash

Many of us in the northern hemisphere are heading off for our summer holidays about now. It’s a time of excitement and anticipation. The rest and relaxation you have been longing for is finally here. It’s been a busy time getting everything in place so you can go away and maybe your meditation routine has slipped a bit in all the rush.

Do you have the idea that while you are on holiday, with all that free time, you can catch up and fit in lots of extra meditation sessions? Sadly, things rarely turn out that way. All the new impressions, the lack of your usual routine and with so many fun things to try out it’s hard to find the time.

However, if you are relaxed about it, it is possible to establish a good meditation routine for your holiday. You just need to be flexible and open to trying some new things.

Take time to just relax and unwind

Here is a shocking statistic I came across recently. Brits take an average of 46 hours and 42 minutes to feel relaxed on holiday, according to a survey of 2,000 people from travel experts Tots to Travel A lot of this must be to do with our ‘always on’ culture. It can be hard to adjust to have lots of free time with no deadlines and demands

So, first of all, give yourself some time to simply unwind, arrive where you are and enjoy the space. Relax.

Don’t set unrealistic goals

It’s very easy to compensate for the lack of a work routine by starting your holiday with a long to-do list for your meditation practice. Maybe you have brought s bunch of books you want to read up on meditation. Or you have decided to do so much meditation every day come what may. With all that free time, it should be easy right?

The trouble is with this kind of goal-setting there is a big chance you will finish up your holiday feeling disappointed that you didn’t accomplish enough. You are really just taking your everyday work attitude to getting things done and applying it to your meditation practice while on holiday. 

Instead, try to set small, attainable goals for your meditation and then keep to them. It will be nourishing and encouraging to build on when you get home.

Use any odd moment for your meditation routine

Because you are on holiday and everything is fresh and new, don’t feel you can only meditate sitting on your cushion.Whenever you have a couple of quiet moments, do a short session of meditation.  Perhaps you are on the beach looking at the ocean—take a moment to sit. Pause before taking your first sip of your drink, or bite of your ice-cream. If you have the intention it is possible to meditate anytime, anywhere.

Just sit upright, connect with your breathing and then maintain awareness of your breath for a few moments. If you do that several times in a day, you are collecting quite a lot of meditation time. You are also building a new habit which will enable you to be more flexible with your meditation routine when you return home.

Be present for new things

Anyone who practices meditation knows that being present and mindful of where you are and what you are doing is of fundamental importance. Generally being on holiday means experiencing lots of new things. Notice all these new things. Try to be mindful of what is happening in your day. As you see something for the first time, take a moment to really experience it. Don’t just hurry on to the next thing but let yourself be present with it.

Maybe you visit a museum, an historic building, or a local market. Let yourself be there, without thinking about what comes next, or what you might do this evening. Notice the sky above your head, and the people around you. You can use all of your senses to be mindful—so notice the smells, the different languages being spoken and the touch of the ground beneath your feet.

Connect with the people around you

If you are trying to use more of your daily life for your meditation practice, you might like to try connecting with the people around you. This is one of my favourite meditations. 

Bring to mind how all the person that you meet during the day want to be happy and to live good lives. They may have different lifestyles to you, but you have this fundamental point in common. Even though we all want happiness, we know that life can be very tricky and challenging things can happen. It’s inevitable that some of the people you meet will be dealing with these challenges right now. Thinking like this can touch our hearts and allow us to empathize with them. Notice how you are drawn to some people but pull away from others. Then remember that we are all in the same boat in terms of dealing with the challenges of life.

Practice gratitude as part of your meditation routine

With all the fun, opportunities and experiences of being on holiday there is plenty of reason to be grateful for being there. Research is showing that actively practicing gratitudehas all kinds of benefits for the person doing it! Generally, people who take time to reflect on what they are grateful for are happier, feel more alive, sleep better and experience more positive emotions.

So, as you go through your day take time to pause and look at what is happening for you. Remember that each experience is a unique moment in your life.

Something that I enjoy doing is reviewing with my partner what we have found special during our day. Maybe over dinner, or before going to bed you can make a cozy time to share with your family and friends.

Use nature 

The chances are that you will spend long stretches of your vacation in nature. That gives you plenty of opportunity for short meditation sessions. 

We already mentioned watching the ocean. Considering how the waves rise and fall across the surface of the ocean is a good reminder of how thoughts and emotions rise in our minds. 

Looking into the sky helps to bring to mind the unlimited scope and potential of our natural mind. Noticing how the clouds come and go across the sky is just how our thoughts move across our mind if we don’t grasp hold of them.

When you are in place of natural beauty, let the awe and grandeur of what you are seeing bring space into your mind.

Bringing your meditation routine together on holiday

If you can keep your meditation practice at the centre of your attention you can still manage to keep up a strong routine on holiday. By being flexible and allowing yourself to do some different kinds of meditation you will find that there is plenty of time available. Having this kind of ease and flexibility is also a good investment for your meditation routine when you get home.  It will help to build the confidence in your practice that will make it reliable.

busy life

How to Make Time for Meditation in a Busy Life

If you are interested in developing your meditation practice to really be integrated into your everyday life you might like to try this online course. You can read about it here

Things To Keep In Mind Before You Quit Your Job

Things To Keep In Mind Before You Quit Your Job

I am delighted to welcome back Bhavna Vaish with another guest blog. When people get into meditation, and a different way of approaching life, they often want to quit their job and work for themselves. Hey—it’s what I did! Bhavna runs through some important practical advice about how to make this transition in the best possible way. If you missed her previous post, then check it out, How to Fund an Alternative Lifestyle.

A few years ago I quit working a full-time day job

The reasons are many. But to be completely honest about it – that day had been a long time coming.

Heck, I was ready to stop working even at the age of 25. I wanted to do ‘my own thing’.  I dreamed of the freedom it afforded, of being accountable to myself. But it took me a whole bunch of years before I could actually quit. 

Today my blog is my work and my job. Though it doesn’t quite yet, I am hoping that one day it will graduate from being my passion project to also being my main source of income. 

Do you want to quit your job?

Are you getting ready to quit your workplace and start your own enterprise? If you are looking to replace a salary with income from your own venture then welcome to the tribe of people who have chosen to lead a life outside the cube. 

Also, you need to read this. 

Think you have saved enough to stop working. Think again. 

Did you know that as your own boss you are likely to be paying more bills than when you were employed

In other words, YOU need to plan for higher monthly expenses and hence more income to cover these expenses.

As your own boss, you are responsible for certain costs that earlier your company would incur. There was stuff that your company would provide for when you worked as an employee. In addition, workers like you also get plenty of non-monetary perks and benefits that help you to achieve the lifestyle you have today. 

Just make sure you are cognisant of these and have built them in your calculations before you take that key next step – to quit your job. Budget for these expenses if you want to become a successful solopreneur, a blogger or a freelancer.

(p.s. Here are some financial habits of a successful woman.)

Medical and Health Insurance

Many companies provide health and medical insurance for their employees. Not just that, they also incentivise their employees to conduct medical check-ups especially if they are above a certain age. As your own boss, your insurance costs are going to come out of your paycheque. 

Health and medical insurance can cost a bomb. But being without them is not an option, really. So unless you live in a country where the government sponsors or subsidises your healthcare costs, you need to budget in this cost.

P.S. – My company also provided life insurance coverage for all its employees. If yours did it too then another cost that you will need to bear on your own account.

Funding Your Future

One way to plan for your retirement is through employer-sponsored savings plans such as the 401(k) or the Roth 401(k). The advantages of such plans are that they provide an automatic way of saving for retirement, there are tax benefits associated with these investments, but most importantly employers offer matching contributions which essentially means free money for employees.

If you are self-employed, not only would you have to actively plan and save for your future you also miss out on the employer’s contribution which can be a lot of money that you have to work for yourself.

Continued Education, Training, and Conferences

All companies have a budget for the skill enhancement of their employees. But guess what, once you are on your own, you will need to pay for that training you want to go for. 

As a solopreneur, you will need to know about the different aspects of running a business – marketing, accounting, taxes, the technological aspects about which you probably know little to nothing about. 

Add in the networking conferences that you want to attend – all costs that you did not have to pay for as an employee.

Holidays and Time Off

Leave policies vary across companies but there is one thing common – employees are allowed paid leave each year. Not so when you are a freelancer or a solopreneur.

While you will have lots more flexibility in deciding your work hours and choosing your days-off, chances are that you will also feel compelled to not take any time off, at least initially. Yes, you could write a book, run ads on your blog and have a course set-up. But setting up passive income streams take time. 

And if you are a freelancer, then you earn when you work. 

Workplace at Home?

One of the many perks of being a blogger or a freelancer is getting to work from your own home. You can be with your children, oversee your home while you earn your living. 

This does not come for free. You have to buy your own equipment – laptops, printers, cameras, pay for their running costs. Utility bills will inch up. 

Other Perks

Does your job provide you with accommodation or a car? Does it reimburse your phone bills? How about your family – what are the benefits they enjoy as a result of your employment? 

You need to think of how you will replace these in order to maintain your lifestyle and the cost of replacing them.

Non-Financial Benefits

Working in an office environment along with other colleagues has its own charm. The social aspect is important for mental health. You learn from your colleagues and bosses which you will miss out on when you work as a freelancer or a solopreneur.

The Bottom Line

Nearly all young and middle-aged workers ask themselves if they are ready to quit their day job in order to do something on their own. It is an exciting prospect. 

However, there are additional costs you have to incur when you work for your own self. The best way to ensure that life does not have any surprises hidden is to be prepared. Know the costs and advantages of what you are planning so you can make an informed decision. 
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Bhavna Vaish is a blogger who loves the world of finance. She writes about being wise with your money so you can live a life you love on a budget you can afford.  Her blog Pennies For Cents has more useful articles for you. She has been a banker and a finance professional for many years before choosing early retirement.

How To Take Part in a Mindful Meeting

How To Take Part in a Mindful Meeting

Meetings can be dynamic, creative events where plans get moved on and decisions made. They can also be boring, tedious and sometimes feel like a big waste of time. Whatever the case, many of us spend quite a lot of our time in one sort of meeting or another. That gives us plenty of opportunity to ensure that any meeting we are part of is a mindful meeting.

Preparing yourself for a mindful meeting

My sister is in the kind of job where she can have back-to-back meetings all day. Sometimes her boss schedules an extra meeting at the same time as one she already having! It’s all she can do to make sure she has all the documents and information she needs for each meeting, never mind having the luxury of doing a sitting session before one begins. 

One thing you can do though is to use the set-up time of the meeting to come back to yourself. There are always a few moments of chatting and settling before a meeting gets going. You can quietly focus on your breath as you sit down and sort through your papers.

Remember your goals

I have been in too many meetings where people just talked for the sake of it, without any real purpose. It helps to be clear for yourself about what you are hoping that the meeting will achieve. Having this in mind will help you to contribute to the meeting in a way that will help it move along in a creative way.

What are your personal goals for the meeting? There are the kinds of meetings where you might have a private goal of not wanting to lose patience, or not wanting to feel put down by another member of the group. No-one else needs to know about these goals. They are for your own growth and development. Gently keep them in mind, not to beat yourself up, but to help you manage the situation as you want to.

Stay present

It’s very easy to get distracted in a meeting. Maybe you get bored and your mind wanders. Or perhaps you are caught in intense discussion that takes all of your attention. It helps to have something to remind you to be present. I like to take notes by hand in a meeting, so I use my pen as a reminder to be present. Each time I pick it up to write, I remember I am trying to contribute to a mindful meeting.

You could also use each time you take a drink or when a different person speaks. A friend of mine carries a special stone in her pocket to remind her to come back.

See who is in the room

As the meeting gets started take some time to look around and notice who is there and how they are. Remember, that just like you, each person in the room has worries both inside and outside of work—bring to mind any specific problems that you are aware people might be facing. Allow yourself to feel a sense of common humanity with what they are going through—it will really help if things get intense and difficult to remember how much in common, we all share. 

Keeping focused

As you work through the agenda notice when your attention wanders and you stop being fully present to what is going on. You can use your breath as an anchor of it helps. Simply notice where you can feel your breath entering and leaving your body and rest your attention there for a moment, or two until you feel you are ‘back’. This will help to maintain a mindful meeting.

Keep a look out for when you feel irritation, or frustration rising and recall your scan of the room at the beginning and try to see everyone as simply doing their best. Again, you can use your breath to help you settle.

Be mindful of how much you are speaking and the tone of voice you use. Are you making it easy for people to listen to you and to hear your point, or are you pushing them away with an impatient tone, or hurried explanation?

Listen carefully

Listening can be a good mindfulness practice. Rest your attention on what is being said at any given moment. Try to keep your attention there and not let it stray off into thoughts and rumination. By bringing your full attention to what is being said you will find that you get less tired, will stay in closer touch with the progress of the meeting and can contribute more. 

Notice when opinions and judgements come into how you are listening. Try to drop them and keep your attention open and receptive. Pay particular attention to how you listen to people in the meeting you do not agree with. It is so easy to mentally dismiss what you think they are going to say before they have even started to speak.

Try to stay aware of your facial expression as you listen. I know my concentrated face can look pretty grim—I don’t mean to, but my expression gets kind of stuck and I need to consciously relax and assume a more neutral, pleasant expression.

What about if things get difficult?

If you feel that the meeting is getting bogged down, you may find it possible to introduce some skilful humour to allow people to relax for a moment and let off steam.

If this feels too risky, doing things like bringing along fruit, or cake can help people relax and be normal together while they enjoy the treat. 

Suggesting people simply sit in silence for a moment or two to get things back in perspective can be beneficial also.

I have a story from a workshop I gave years ago that always stays with me.  A CEO of a non-profit shared how on one occasion she found herself in a meeting that was becoming acrimonious. She was not a main player at the table and did not see how she could skilfully intervene to turn things around. So, she simply stayed quiet and looked around the room wishing everyone present happiness and well-being. She said that normally she would have left a meeting like that exhausted and unhappy but after this one she felt invigorated. 

A few days later she met up with another participant from the same meeting who asked her what she had been doing and commented, ‘I felt the meeting was deteriorating so badly and then I looked over at you and you looked so calm and focused it helped me settle and feel better.’ Just as anger and irritation can pollute the atmosphere of a meeting, self-awareness and kindness are also contagious but in a healthy way.

How to finish a mindful meeting well

As the meeting closes check with yourself to make sure you are not leaving any unfinished business in the room that will sour your working relationship with another participantnext time you meet up. Take time to say goodbye to people in a friendly way.

Allow yourself a moment to acknowledge all the effort that you and everyone in the room has made to have a useful meeting and wish for its successful outcome.

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