5 ways to listen to yourself this winter

Despite all the frenzy of Christmas, winter is the season of stillness. Nothing in nature is productive 24/7: we all need moments of rest and pause. And winter is nature’s way of telling us to go slow. However, 21st century lifestyles don’t always make it easy! It’s not always possible to take a stretch of time off, or opt out of the daily grind. But there are opportunities to take micro-pauses, and give yourself moments of quiet, even amidst the hurly burly of everyday life.

Here are 5 ways to listen to yourself this winter.

1. Listen to your body

We get so used to carrying stresses and strains in our body we can forget they’re there. What if you didn’t have to put up with the twinge in your shoulder, or the ache in your back?

Our bodies carry all sorts of burdens for us (emotional as well as physical), and this is a whole blog topic in itself! For now, try pausing for a moment and noticing where your body is speaking up. Are there tensions you’re carrying that you’ve got so used to you’ve forgotten they’re there?

And if you’d like to gift your body some rest and ease: book a massage!

2. Pay attention to your breath

Sometimes our heads are too noisy for us to hear what they’re saying. Our minds are full of shopping lists, school pick ups, family birthdays, work deadlines… one way of calming the chatter is to pause for a few moments and simply pay attention to your breath.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on meditation, but I do practice it. Focussing on your breath doesn’t magically make all the noise in your head disappear, but with practice it can help you let it carry on in the background while you have some moments of quiet. And often, those moments of quiet can lead to new perspectives. At the very least, they help you feel calmer. Insight Timer provides free guided meditations to try.

3. Go outside

When the weather is bleak it’s tempting to stay in and get cosy on the sofa. But sometimes getting outside is exactly what you need to do to listen to yourself, even if you don’t feel like it! It’s especially beneficial to head for green spaces: spending time in nature is associated with alleviating stress.

Going for a walk or a run on your own can help you switch off, which is a way to access your inner quiet voice. It gets you away from the situation you’re in and literally takes you to a new place, which can help give your brain some distance from all the distractions of home and work. So, even if it’s raining, even if it’s freezing, wrap up and strike out. Notice how you feel when you come back. Make a note of any thoughts that come up, either on your phone or in a journal.

4. Do some journalling

Talking of journals, a notebook is a great place to listen to yourself because it doesn’t talk back! And it doesn’t need to take much time. Set a timer for five minutes and write at the top of your page, ‘what do I need right now?’, then just write.

Don’t worry about whether what you write makes sense, or whether it’s angry or unreasonable. No-one else will read it. Often, when we give ourselves permission to let go, and write how we really feel without social pressure to be ‘nice’, our true feelings and needs show themselves.

5. Join a circle

I’ve recently started running midlife circles: a place for women to come together. What’s the difference between a circle and a good chat with like minded people? The important difference is that a circle is all about listening. You have space to show up as you are, without fear of judgement. No-one will offer you advice or chime in with their opinion on your business. You can simply let go and know you will be witnessed, validated and heard.

Often, people surprise themselves with what comes out during circle time. They uncover feelings, wishes and resentments that had been deeply buried. And this is all because they’re in a listening space. You can read more about circles here.

I have found that creating space to listen is vital to me understanding my needs. If I don’t take time out, I can run myself into the ground. And, as I said in this blog https://www.debbiethurlow.com/feel-stressed-this-christmas-time-do-this-one-thing/ on handling stress, no-one will make this space for me – I have to be proactive in doing it for myself.

But being proactive doesn’t mean going it alone. I can support you to listen to yourself when you come for a treatment, or if you participate in a circle. Getting the booking in your diary is the biggest leap: I can help with the rest!

I have a brand new service coming up in early 2023 which is all about making space to listen to yourself on a regular basis. This will be for small numbers only. If you want to be first to hear about it, just send me a message and I’ll add you to the waiting list.

Let 2023 be the year you properly make time to listen to yourself. And I’d love to help you! Just get in touch for bookings, gift vouchers or to be added to my waiting list.

Beyond the Bubble Bath

A few weeks ago I had a really tough week, my childminder was on holiday, my husband was working away and I was feeing ill. I knew I would benefit from some help but I found it almost impossible to ask for it. Fortunately for me a friend took the initiative and asked if I wanted her to bring my eldest child home from school. I hesitated but answered yes and immediately felt a huge sense of relief.

This got me thinking about why I had had to wait for an offer of help instead of just reaching out and asking for help myself. During a chat with my friend the next day I said “Why do we find it so hard to ask for help?” She replied “Because it makes us look vulnerable”. And she is right. Needing and asking for help can make us feel like we’re not coping, it can open us up to being judged and no one likes feeling like that.

Showing vulnerability is something that many of us try to avoid, asking for help can seem like weakness, especially when it feels there is so much pressure to cope, to get on with things and just manage ourselves. In her book Daring Greatly How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, Brene Brown states that “Going it alone is a value we hold in high esteem in our culture.”

However, showing vulnerability by asking for help, ultimately leads to greater connection with each other. Yes it means we have to admit we can’t do everything but that is not a bad a thing. It’s ok not to cope sometimes and it’s ok to ask for help.

Imagine how liberating it would feel if we could shrug off the worry about how people might see us and just reach out for that human connection that comes from asking for help. Being honest about how things really are is also a lot heathier on both a physical and emotional level. Pretending that everything is ok can be hard work and can sometimes lead to added stress within our bodies.

To me self-care means taking care of ourselves and it can take many forms, whether going for a massage, doing yoga, singing, meeting a friend, going for a walk or just taking 5 minutes to step outside and look at the sky. It is doing something that makes us feel better. And yes, having a relaxing bath can feel great but sometimes we need more than a bubble bath! Asking for help can certainly be classed as an act of self-care as far as I’m concerned.

When I accepted that kind offer of help it created some space for me, it allowed me extra time to rest and meant I could manage the rest of the day a lot better than I would have done otherwise. It also made me feel relief, joy and gratitude. All things I would expect the above list of usual self-care tools to provide.

The connection aspect of asking for help should not be underestimated. People are always happy to help if they can, I know I am and this can lead to a deeper relationship. I love how Brene Brown writes about connection. She defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

To me being seen, heard and valued are vital for us as human beings. If asking for help can lead to us feeling seen, heard and valued as well as getting the help we need with a particular issue then it’s a win-win situation.

If you take the plunge and ask for help, the chances are there will be people willing to say yes and it will have a positive impact on both yourself and the person you ask. When I accepted help I felt so much better. And it spurred me on to actually ask for help the next time I needed something. And guess what? I found someone only too happy to help out.

I still don’t find it easy to ask for help but I am getting better at it. How good are you at asking for help? Has there been a time when you asked for help and it really worked out well? Or has there been a time when you didn’t ask for help even though you needed it? What stopped you from asking? I’d love to hear your experiences.