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Take a deep breath and relax

Do you feel as if life is whizzing past without a moment to catch your breath? Do you feel like you battle to keep up with the demands of work and home? You are not alone. A fast-paced lifestyle has become a deeply entrenched habit in our society, says Cape Town psychologist Clementine Mudie.

 

Unfortunately, the constant pressure to get things done and achieve as quickly as possible can have serious health implications - such as heart disease and increased emotional anxiety and depression. 'In this goal-orientated environment, self-worth is often based on achievements instead of who you are. So slowing down requires a radical change of mindset,' she says. 'You have to learn to find fulfillment living in the moment rather than through the success of your career, your children or the size of your home.

It's about cultivating an appreciation of the world around you...watching the sunset, listening to others or doing something just for the fun of it.'

Only a generation ago, before computers and smartphones helped us fill our lives with high-speed, wall-to-wall activity, there was more time to connect – with ourselves and with others. Yet, in our frenetic lives, some of these interactions are endangered. Because of the benefits they bring, they’re worth rescuing from extinction.

THE ENDANGERED LIST

1. Conversation
Slowing down enough to have a meaningful conversation can lead to more fulfilling, intimate relationships because you make the time to listen, to get to know someone and to connect with them, says Mudie. So instead of having only functional communication - geared exclusively at communicating information - you can enjoy a leisurely chat, which may be rambling and unpredictable because there’s no particular agenda.

With Skype, Facebook, Twitter, chat rooms, instant messaging and a host of other real-time communication tools, more people are chatting to others more than ever. But the nature of the communication is fast and fragmented – you choose when you want to start and end the virtual conversations.

As a result, even in the communication age, many people are lonely. One of the things most people yearn for is to feel heard and experience an interaction with someone that is deeply connecting, in which we explore what we have in common, individual interests, as well as memories and shared experiences; an interaction that may lead us through a range of emotions, laughter and even moments of comfortable silence. Mudie says, ‘Having a meaningful conversation implies being attentive to your own feelings and responses, such as joy or anger, which requires self-awareness. It means listening to the other person, as well as to yourself.’ Face-to-face conversation is ultimately necessary for creating wisdom and awareness about the self and others.

2. Letter writing

Can you remember when last you wrote a letter by hand on beautiful writing paper, addressed an envelope, put a stamp on it and posted it off to someone far away? Or, more exciting, when you received a thick, handwritten letter stuffed into your postbox? The anticipation of opening that letter while curled up on the couch with a cup of tea is almost as pleasurable as actually reading it.

Of course there's lots to be said for the instant back-and-forth of email, but there’s also something enticing about the delayed gratification of 'snail mail.'

Apart from that, letter writing requires you to slow down enough to quieten your mind so that you’re focused and engaged in your present activity, says Mudie. And that alone has incredible value. Deliberate letter writing is also a way to process your own experiences.

Studies show that people who write about their traumas, for instance, report better mood and health.

Writing a letter, not just a dashedoff note or email message, can also be a way of building intimacy with someone, or a means of strengthening a relationship through sharing deep, personal thoughts, hopes and dreams that emerge only when you slow down enough to give them time to surface.

3. Do it yourself
Despite, or perhaps because of, the pressure to perform at break-neck speed, there’s a growing emphasis on mindfulness, which has been shown to reduce stress and enhance psychological wellbeing. It is the underlying principle of Eckhart Tolle’s best-seller The Power of Now as well as Slow Down to the Speed of Life.

In the book, authors Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey say, ‘We have all experienced living in the moment many times - during a crisis, being struck by the beauty of a sunset or some other natural phenomenon, falling in love, listening to music, hearing an inspiring speaker.

During these moments, time seems to stand still and the buzz of our personal thinking briefly subsides. We see life first hand, for we have slowed down to the speed of life. These rare moments have the ability to reduce our stress, give us hope, and fill us with joy and inspiration.'

A DIY activity, such as restoring furniture, can have a similar effect. It puts you 'in the zone' where time is meaningless and the entire focus of your being is on your present activity.

Without the pressure of time-driven goals and others’ expectations, you become completely absorbed. So whether you're restoring furniture, making your own clothes or varnishing your wooden fence, slowing down and being totally present in those moments of doing can be just as refreshing as a much needed holiday