If I were to honestly sum up the last few weeks in one word, I’d probably say ‘rubbish’! Work has been stressful, life (at times) has been stressful and I have had a lot of restless and sleepless nights. Even the qualifications that I travel to college for two nights a week, that are one of the positives in my life, have felt more like a stress than an achievement. I think it would be fair to say that my mood has been pretty up and down, leaving me anxious, snappy and very quick to anger.

The thing is, in amongst all of the stress and stuff of life, good things have been happening too.

Thinking about it, if you could convert good things and bad things into physical weights and stuck them on a scale, the good would easily outweigh the bad.

Earlier this week I was working in small coastal town called Bamburgh in Northumberland. It’s about 30 miles from the border of Scotland.

(If you have never been to Northumberland, you should, it’s beautiful!)

On my way back to the office I took a 10 min break. I pulled over by the side of the road, hopped out of the van and sat on a grass verge looking down onto the beach. It was cold but the sky was bright blue. I could see the Farne Islands in the distance and a mile or two down the coast I could see families walking on the beach, and even though there were cars speeding past on the road behind me, it was peaceful.

But, I’ll come back to the beach later…

Yesterday a friend of mine shared a gallery of images entitled, ’40 Awesome Tips for a Happy Healthy Life’, to my timeline on Facebook. It was basically a collection of images that had short, seemingly harmless, tips to try to help people to have a healthy life.

It said things like;

  • ‘Smile and Laugh More.’
  • ‘Make peace with your past so it won’t spoil your present.’
  • ‘Read more books than you did last month.’
  • ‘Dream more while you are awake.’
  • ‘Don’t waste precious energy on gossip.’

Now, whether I agree with these or not isn’t the point, but let’s take a moment to look at some of the comments I found from the general public at the end of this post:

‘This is so beyond false. It is about YOU, YOU have 100% right to know. Say someone lives with you, you feed them, give them drinks, a place to sleep, and everything else they need. I have no right to know that they think that I’m a piece of sh*t? Yeah no, that sounds beyond stupid’

‘It actually is no more than 2 litres a day, if you do more than that on a continual daily basis you can actually go into internal drowning due to excess water consumption. Look it up! People who drink up to 4ltrs can actually be hospitalised and could potentially die.

Use your common sense.’

‘Dreams alone will never take you anywhere, though for a moment it will take your thoughts away from the unpleasantness of life; but to dream more often it will permanently take you away from reality and will make you live a pretentious life. It would be better to dream with a plan of achieving…’

And Just for fun…

‘I recommend caution here if you’re sleeping dreams regularly consist of fighting dragons, flying, breathing underwater, being invincible and such things… dreaming can be dangerous when brought into a waking state, and if you don’t believe me, ask the giant I tried to slay last week.’

I would like to think that what the author of this particular article had written could be taken at face value. Surely they weren’t out to upset everyone? Would they really want to waste their own time, writing ‘positive quotes’ just to cause internet outrage?  I would imagine not. I can only assume they found these tips helpful and thought that others might do too.

When you take a step back and look at it in that way, it makes the comments look a little silly. Those who commented may have lost perspective whilst reading and, as a result, have managed to turn something that many would have found helpful, into something negative, compelling them to tell others on a public forum that they disagree.

In the noise of modern life, the bad very quickly outweighed the good.

The advice that one person found helpful enough to share with others, fell victim to negative criticism due to a loss of perspective by those who commented.

But of course, everything we read falls subject to our own interpretations and these interpretations are often influenced by our own experiences, beliefs and values.

Within the article, I came across one piece of advice that I believe to be pretty important, especially around the subject of looking after your mental health. The author suggests that in order to maintain a happy and healthy life, we should ‘sit in silence for at least 10 minutes every day’. That’s great advice, but without explanation, appears to be rather vague.

‘Why do I need to do this? Surely if I am alone it’s going to be depressing?’

‘How do I find silence if I have 3 loud kids?’

‘What time of day do I need to be silent? How do I even find the time to be silent?’

‘Can I check my Instagram whilst being silent?’

‘How can I find somewhere that is truly silent?’

Well, here’s how I understand it. The length of time you spend in silence doesn’t really matter, it’s what you do in that time that REALLY matters.

It’s not really about having external silence either – i.e. you don’t need to hide away from any source of sound! It’s more about an internal quiet, a silence within yourself where you put the stresses of the day (or week, or month!) to one side and just concentrate. It’s about how you reconnect with yourself by allowing breathing room for your mind.

Back to the beach.

As I sat on the grass verge I shut my eyes and listened. I listened to the sea rolling up onto the beach and the seagulls yapping overhead, even the wind howling around me seemed strangely comforting.

I took a deep breath in…

…and out…

…in…

…and out…

I listened to my breathing. It was a kind of intense concentration, focussing entirely on my breathing.

Life was still happening around me but in that moment, in my head, I was quiet.

My mind had the space it needed to help me process everything, the good and the bad.

As soon as I started to think about the last few weeks all of a sudden I seemed to have a renewed perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I still haven’t got it all figured out but I could see the scales and see that the good outweighed the bad. It helped me gain perspective when things seemed difficult.

Hundreds of studies have found that taking time out or ‘mindfulness meditation’ has proven to improve focus, to help manage stress, improve relationships, increase creativity and can reduce clinical anxiety by 90%.

So if I were to give you one piece of advice right now, wherever you are and whatever you are dealing with, it would be:

‘Make time to be quiet.’

Believe me, it makes a difference.

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