Make time to make time for yourself

Spending short amounts of time outdoors over a lunch or afternoon tea break can provide downtime...
Spending short amounts of time outdoors over a lunch or afternoon tea break can provide downtime for our minds. A nap can help too. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
New Zealand is pretty much one of the best countries to be living in right now, so why are people feeling strung out and exhausted?, Jan Aitken asks.

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken
I thought 2021 was going to be an improvement on 2020. After all, 2020 turned out to be a bit of a doozy with a global pandemic to contend with. New Zealand is pretty much one of the best countries to be living in right now and life is more "normal" for us than most other countries.

So why am I feeling so strung out and exhausted and we’ve only just hit May? It’s brought me up short and encouraged me to engage in some fairly deep reflection as I begin to review every corner of my life. I have noticed that I’m not the only person to be feeling this way. It seems to be a common thread among the people I work with, both colleagues and clients.

Although last year was, hopefully, one of a kind, the lockdown gave many of us a legitimate reason to slow down, to disengage from the pace of life on some level. After all, unless we worked in a critical industry we didn’t have anywhere to be!

The lockdown created "space" for many of us, we had an extended period of downtime. I don’t want to have to do another lockdown, but it has got me wondering how we can create that sense of space on a day-to-day basis.

Research continually highlights the importance of downtime, physically, mentally and emotionally. We know that our physical and mental resources are depleted throughout the day. As a result, rest and downtime can help to replenish those reserves.

Downtime during our day provides our minds with the rest and space to better process information, improve memory function, increase attention span, integrate learning, spark creativity and make better decisions.

Yet, despite the research, the world continues to increase in speed. With advances in portable technology, access to social media, a 24-hour news cycle and advertisers relentlessly pursuing our attention, information enters our senses at an alarming rate. All that information creates distraction and draws on our energy reserves. Distractions won’t remove themselves and information will not slow itself down.

We need to become aware of what is happening and take some control, to intentionally and mindfully slow down, to rediscover downtime, and create extra space. To do that, we must recognise that the way many of us live is detrimental to our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Taking regular holidays every year should be a priority, but downtime can also be discovered on a daily basis. Much of the research confirms the importance of creating space each day, even a 10-15 minute window to rest our minds and bodies results in personal and productivity advantages.

This is a big topic, so I’ll start with three simple hacks to help create space for the next couple of weeks and then next time we’ll dive a little deeper into ways to help us create the restful space many of us crave.


According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (USA), for every 10 minutes people fool around online, they spend 2.9 minutes less on all other types of leisure, 2.7-3.7 fewer minutes working and 1.2 fewer minutes on personal care, including sleep. Multiply that by the 100 minutes the average person spends on the internet a day. Cutting down or turning off mindless internet could well be a keystone strategy in creating significant extra space.


Embrace the value of the outdoors. Spending short amounts of time outdoors over a lunch or afternoon tea break can provide downtime for our minds. The fresh air affects our senses in important ways. The change in environment provides greater opportunity for our minds to shift away from work-mode for a few short minutes. Listen to a meditation, your fav music or just soak up the sights and sounds around you. Build outdoor time into your evenings and weekends, even in winter!


According to some studies, our minds may be hardwired to shift between sleep and wake more than once a day. Even dating back thousands of years we find evidence of society embracing an afternoon nap - 15 minutes can be enormously restorative.

This won’t be possible in many jobs but consider it on your days off. I love having a "horizontal life pause".

Take a look at how the pace of life is affecting you, is it time to make some changes?

Try to integrate one or two of the hacks into your daily routine over the next couple of weeks and start to think about what else you could do to find some glorious space.

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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