How to Slow Down Your Life and Fix Your Mental Health
We often think we need to add more and more to our lives to get better, stronger, more productive, more something. In many, many, cases, we simply need a lot less fill-in-the-blank and a lot more space. The reason? A lack of space is the number one cause of imbalance that leads to stress, tension, overwhelm, and dis-ease in life.
Here’s why. According to the traditional medicine of India, Ayurveda, everything is composed of the basic building blocks of the five elements; earth, water, fire, wind, and space. Space is the original element out of which all others emerge. It’s the container that holds the other elements, like outer space holds all the planets, stars, and galaxies within it.
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When space element is rectified, says Ayurveda, all the other elements come into balance too. In Western terms, space is the via negativa that gives birth to the via positiva by way of the via creativa. In other words, it’s the existential void that becomes the cosmic womb, giving birth to life itself.
OK, so that’s a little esoteric. Let’s bring it down to earth.
Get to Know Your Relationship With Space
What would it be like if you had more space in your life?
What would you do with it?
What would you fill it with?
What would emerge from it?
What would you express with it?
These are questions I regularly ask my clients as a health and wellness coach. I want them to imagine what it would feel like to have little pockets of space throughout their day to enjoy and savor life just a little bit more. Creating space is necessary for relaxation. It doesn’t involve hurrying, rushing, racing the clock, or cramming one more thing into your agenda. It also doesn’t involve forcing or competing.
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Creating space is the means by which you eliminate all of the above. When there is space, there’s no need to rush, cram, or compete. There’s simply enough to go around. Now, doesn’t that feel good?
When you create space in your life, you have the time to allow your nervous system to calibrate to going slow. In other words, you have time to relax.
How to Create Space in Your Life
So what’s the trick to creating space in your life? I imagine space as drawing margins on everything you do in life. Those margins mark the territory where space, and by association, relaxation, spontaneity, and creativity live. They’re like an altar where you create the conditions through your intention for space to arise. Of course, any artist will tell you that a completely blank canvas can be intimidating.
Instead, start with baby steps. Try the tips below:
Take yourself on dates.
Start a mindfulness practice.
Pad your calendar.
Be intentional about your to-dos.
Create a routine.
Recover from ‘yes-itis.’
Create a relaxation corner.
Make room for food.
Take yourself on dates
If you’ve ever read “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, you’ll be familiar with artist dates.
Artist dates are personal outings with you and your inner child. They can help you cultivate the awe and magic that comes with space.
Whether a walk to look at the changing fall leaves, a foray through an antique shop to find hidden treasures, or a peaceful communion with a gently rippling lake, taking the time to be with yourself is invaluable.
Especially when there’s very little agenda, this time can allow the subconscious self that so often gets ignored or repressed to bubble to the surface.
Start a mindfulness practice
Going on “dates” with yourself is really the first step in cultivating mindfulness. In a sense, you could define mindfulness as showing up and paying attention to what arises out of space.
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Once you get in the habit of simply being with yourself through dates, adding in more mindfulness activities can continue to enhance the quality and quantity of space in your life.
Some ideas include:
Pad your calendar
Things can get busy. As such, I’m a huge advocate of scheduling nothing into your calendar.
You read that right: nothing. Put it right into your calendar. It’s just as important as the playdate, the dinner date, the work meeting, the bar date with your pals, and the parent-teacher conference.
In addition, I recommend padding your other meetings with extra time to digest, as in avoid scheduling back-to-back meetings if you can.
Be intentional about your to-dos
In addition to scheduling your down time like it’s just as important as other commitments in your life, you can decide what’s an appropriate amount of productivity and when enough is enough.
I like a trick I learned from Tony Robbins years ago:
Write down your three most important tasks for the day on a sticky note.
Complete only those three tasks.
If you complete them all, then and only then, go ahead and grab another task.
If you stick to this regimen, not only will you become much more efficient. You’ll also realize that doing three big things in one day just might be plenty. Rather than constantly striving to fill your day with more big red DONE check marks, this practice can give you the reflection needed to recognize when those three tasks, whatever they may be, were just a little taster to get you started on your day, or whether they were the beginning, middle, and end of a satisfying workday. Many times, three major tasks completed is a day well spent.
Create a routine
Space is big and open and full of possibilities. When you couple it with structure, you’re on fire.
Without a little bit of order and intention, space can become nebulous, amorphous, directionless, and even overwhelming.
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Sticking to a general routine for eating, sleeping, meditating, working, and socializing can eliminate unnecessary deliberation and decision fatigue. It reduces the mental load so you can fully give yourself to each moment without anticipating the next.
It’s OK to say no. It may not be easy to always abide by this rule, but it’s necessary for maintaining your space. Here’s the kicker when it comes to space. Just like healthy boundaries, once you create it, you’ll have to maintain it.
Everything in your life is going to try to eat your space. Space is a hot commodity. It’s prime real estate. Whether it’s your significant other, your manager, your workload, or your Netflix queue, everything in your life wants a piece of that space.
Life is going to happen, and space is going to disappear in the blink of an eye. Your job? Protect that space like it’s your child. Get Mama Bear about your space. When you start to see your space as equivalent to your mental health, you’re getting it. That’s why saying no is so powerful.
Create a relaxation corner
This one is a little bit meta, but your space needs a space. When you create a physical space for something in your life, whether it’s an exercise room, a meditation corner, or a den for all your art projects, you are sending a big, physical message to yourself and to life that it matters.
Otherwise, you’re sneaking it in through the backdoor. I highly recommend people make a space for quiet, reflection, doodling, humming, or whatever it is you like to do with your space. It doesn’t have to be a formal meditation space if you’re not into that.
Make room for food
Food gives you life. It gives you energy, vitality, creativity, and sustenance. When you make space for food, you’re making space for all of these other things too.
That’s why it’s so important to take space out of whatever else you’re doing to be with your food. In the modern world, we may find ourselves eating in the car or at the desk or on the train, and it’s OK if that happens once in awhile. However, the more we can sit with intention to be with our meal, the more we can imbibe of its life-giving qualities. It also gives us the chance to feel our intuition about hunger.
And when we give our tummies enough space to digest all that food by not filling them to absolute capacity, we are creating space for improved assimilation and elimination (read: easy, healthy poops).
Don’t hold on (to stuff)
Just like creating space can prevent you from holding onto your poo, it can help you let go of unnecessary stuff too.
Stuff is just the physical manifestation of a lack of space in the mind. A cluttered mind often leads to a cluttered space.
When you let go of the physical stuff holding you back, you’re letting go of a lot of psycho-emotional stuff too. That’s why it can be so hard to clean out your closet that’s packed full of sentimental items and memories.
Still, this purging can help you let go of the past and become more present.
Your Space is Your Life
The bottom line is your space is your life. Without space, you’re simply running on the hamster wheel of doing.
If you take the time to carve out space and treat it like the sacred element it is, you’re making room for life to give birth to something incredible.
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