You can’t freeze-frame life. It’s not a photo that stays still. It changes all the time, sometimes slowly, sometimes with chaotic speed. What you can do, however, is to choose your attitude to it on a daily basis and adopt strategies to help you cope with the roller coaster, especially when it’s going down. And how does that fit in with anti-ageing? Quite simply, a calm mind and taking joy in life make you look beautiful and live well. As the French proverb says, ‘there is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience’.
Here are some of our favourite strategies, many of which are now used in healthcare.
Be loving to yourself. Sometimes loving and valuing yourself is very hard. That’s when we’re likely to cause ourselves grief, rely on others for our self-esteem, and make decisions – big and small – based on other people rather than what we really want for ourselves. You could start by just saying to yourself that you are a good person, not perfect – no one is (and please do give yourself permission to get things wrong, make a muddle, be imperfect in everything), but you try your best. If you believe in spirituality, try thinking of yourself as ‘a spark of the divine’. And above all, when you’re faced with a decision, ask yourself what you really want to do. (And, of course, extend this way of thinking to everyone else too.)
The day starts better after a good night’s sleep. We find we sleep soundly when we’re glad and grateful. So when you go to bed, write down – or just list in your mind– at least three nice things that have happened. They can be as simple as hearing the birds sing, seeing the sun, or a phone call from a friend. Or praise at work. Or a great cup of coffee. A funny TV show… Then send blessings to the people you love. And the world in general.
Don’t make decisions in the middle of the night. Around 4 a.m. (when women tend to wake if there’s something on your mind) is the dark hour of the soul, according to psychiatrist Dr David Servan-Schreiber, author of Healing Without Freud or Prozac. ‘There’s a fragile moment at the end of the first long period of deep sleep (about four hours into the sleep cycle) when we cross over into the lighter REM sleep [dreaming time]. Underlying anxiety – especially separation anxiety where we feel a threat to important relationships or a lack of fulfilling ones – manifests then.’ Your brain can’t process things then, he says, so please don’t try: do the beathing exercise below, and if you don’t fall asleep read a novel, do the ironing, listen to the radio or even watch a dotty DVD on your laptop.
When you wake up, decide that just for today your intention is that you will be as happy as you can be. Whatever happens. This doesn’t mean you wont notice difficulties – of course you will. It does mean you will try to live in the solution, not the problem.
Breathe. Inhale for a count of four, hold for seven, then exhale very slowly to a count of eight. Repeat four to six times, feeling your breath go in and out of your body. If you like – imagine your breath is like a wave coming up a beach, hovering at the top, then ebbing slowly out to sea. Do this whenever you can during the day, but morning and bedtime at least.
Think of someone you love and stretch out your arms to them – literally. (If they’re there to hug in person, so much the better.) You will find you’re smiling and your heart is warm. Carry that feeling through the day.
Stretch some more. Do some Yoga poses if you know them, or just stretch your arms and legs out, shake your feet and hands – feel the fizz of energy.
Make yourself look as gorgeous as you can. Especially if it’s a grey day – weather or moodwise. Wear colours, put on make-up, brush your hair.
If you have a wobbly moment of any kind, do the breathing exercise again. Bring your attention to the centre of your chest and widen it – don’t cave in. Feel your shoulder blades sinking back, down and together. Then try saying ‘yesss!’, even ‘thank you’, and looking forward and up to a hill, a spire, the sky. (Contrast that with looking down and saying ‘no’, to understand why we sugggest this.)
Never lose hope. If it seems to be slipping away, phone a friend but choose one who will support and encourage you – avoid the Eeyores.
Smile. Research has shown it sends feel-good hormones called endorphins rushing through your mind and body. You feel better. So does everyone else. Smiles make friends.
Examine the wobblines. If you’ve done something wrong, put it right. Most likely you haven’t and it’s an old tape replaying in your head and body. Have a few drops of Dr. Bach’s Rescue Remedy and count up the good healthy positive things in any situation. If the wobbliness persists, repeat again. If it is really troubling you, consider talking therapy of some kind and/or homeopathy.
Reach out to other people. Be nice – it’s so much easier. Pay compliments. Listen, really listen.
Notice good things. Even tiny ones: store them up to remember at night and when things are difficult.
Never give up on passion. (Novelist Edna O’Brien said that, in her late 70s.) Yes, we mean the physical sort of passion! And being passionately interested in people and things of all sorts. Be passionately creative, to: paint, sing, play an instrument, garden, take photos – whatever you enjoy, do it!
Cultivate peace. We can’t really tell you how – try seeing what makes you feel peaceful and doing more of it. Or it may be a case of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’…