Life is like a silent disco… | A Writer's Life on

The world is a very loud place indeed.

My mind is even louder..

Two weeks ago I treated myself to spa day. Deep down in the basement of a hotel, freed from my 4G signal,  with relaxation forced upon me, I had time to really pay attention to my body and mind.

It took me exactly one hour and twenty minutes to relax.

This doesn't sound too bad, until I realise that, if it takes me that long to relax, in my day to day life I'm not really spending any time relaxing at all! I'm not even finding the time I need to begin to relax.

My mind is usually working over time from the second I wake up in the morning, consumed with thoughts of what I didn't do yesterday and how I can get it done today. I have an hour for breakfast and dog-walking, before I need to start getting ready.  That's not enough time.

Once at work I get a thirty minute lunch break – so no downtime there.

In the evenings, by the time I've done my evening chores and cooked dinner it's usually about 8pm. If I don't do anything else between then and when I go to bed at 10.30pm, that means I'll be ready to relax at 9.20pm. Which means I actually have just one hour and ten minutes of real relaxation time per day.

And that's assuming that nothing interrupts that time to trigger my brain back into overdrive.

And that's on a good day.

And I'm willing to bet that a lot of you don't even get that!

No wonder so many of us are distracted, tired, and stressed out.

So for the last few weeks I've been trying to find ways to make it better. Realistically I can't find any extra time (unless I go to bed later) so I need to try and reduce that 1 hour 20, so I spend less time trying to relax, and more time actually relaxing.

I need to turn the volume down, and find a bit of inner peace.

Finding silence is easy (well it is now that everyone's set all their fireworks off!). Right now my TV and radio are off, the only sounds I can hear are wind and birds outside. It's lovely and quiet.

But there's a difference between quiet and peaceful. I often feel as though my life is one long silent disco – my surroundings are noiseless, but my mind is at a rave – and a massive riot is just waiting to kick off.

All I'd have to do is open another tab on my chrome, and that's it, bottles are flying and the police are pulling up outside, armed with truncheons and ready to fight back against the fake news, information overload, and un-asked-for opinions.

Like airport arrivals, or a beach in Goa, there's the onslaught of heckling taxi drivers and bartering sales people, adverts (specifically targeted at me through some complex algorithm) selling me things, trying to improve my life – judging me and telling me to judge myself. Have you noticed how so much is sold to us like that these days – not by telling us how something will enhance our lives, but by telling us how shit we are without it? These marketing people are clever people – they know a lot of us are struggling, so they try to make us feel even worse, so they can sell us something when we are at our most vulnerable.

Even sitting here on my sofa, in my living room, which I have meticulously designed to be my haven, I can see 13 different logos right now – on my laptop itself, my toolbar, my notebook, my pen. They don't bother me, I barely notice them, I had to look for them, but make no mistake they are there, infiltrating my home, and become familiar, trusted names to me.

I admit I engage fully in this cycle. I have a twitter feed, three facebook pages (a personal one, a work one, a writer one – all with a corresponding email account), instagram, and of course this blog.

Now don't get me wrong, each of these things has a purpose, and I enjoy and appreciate each one in it's own way. Until I try to separate from them. And I can't. And I find myself lying awake at night, thinking about my job, Spain, what colour I should paint my living room, why Sophie won bake off, how good I'd be on Strictly, why are so many people homesless and are they all ok outside in the cold, and WHY DIDNT ROSE LET JACK ON THE DOOR???

All of these things and more keep my mind buzzing. To switch off, I actually have to switch off.

And that's what these last two weeks have all been about. Trying to find the noises that are polluting my head, and telling them to do one.

Here's what I've done so far:

  1. Had a twitter clear-out. My twitter feed was becoming way too angry and political, so I've unfollowed a lot of political commentators and replaced them with comedians. When I want politics, I'll look for it, but I don't want it fed to me all day every day. Now, when I log on to twitter, it makes me smile.
  2. Music. I've downloaded a lot of new music (though ironically, that new music is mostly old!). Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Paco de Lucia – music which literally takes me away, and helps me slow down.
  3. Reading. I read a lot – newspapers, magazines, online blogs – but again, there's so much anger out there. And so there should be, we are living in a pivotal moment in time. But do we really need reminding of that 24/7? Right now I want stories of human kindness, love, adventure – I want escapism! The dark dystopian novels will have to stay on the shelves until our actual dystopia sorts itself out.
  4. The TV. I usually have the TV on, whether I'm watching it or not. Sometimes I have three screens on the go – large TV in the distance, laptop on my knee, phone in front of my face. No more. From now on, if I'm watching the TV, the laptop goes away. If I'm writing, the TV goes off. If I'm listening to music, it's on the radio or the speaker, not on freeview. And the TV in my bedroom has been sent to the spare room.
  5. My phone. This is the big one.

I have a love/hate relationship with my phone, and I'm well aware of how unhealthy this is. My phone is my alarm clock.. My watch. My newspaper. My GPS. My camera. My connection to my family and friends. Also my work colleagues. It's my debit card. My lottery ticket. My notebook. My cookbook. My exercise. My meditation.

My phone is my ears – all my music is played through my phone.

My phone is my eyes – I walk around looking for things to take photos of on my phone.

My phone is my best friend – I very rarely actually speak to my friends anymore. I very rarely see them. They are just there, in my phone, to send messages to. Sometimes this is great – though my best friend lives 800 miles away, we can chat about crap all day long. But I have other close friends who literally live a few doors away – I don't knock on their doors anymore, I just send them a message.

My phone is my mind – I'm consuming so many opinions through my phone I sometimes find it hard to know what I think anymore.

My phone is my brain – I google things I already know – things I've taught! – just to be 100% certain that I'm right. Yesterday I used the calculator to work out £3.95 x 3. I mean seriously, I can do that in my head in less time that it takes me to put in my passcode, open the calculator and type out the sum.

The access to so much information and knowledge is not making me smarter. It's making me lazy, stupid, and less confident. It has to stop.

So I've started wearing a watch again – I'll look at that instead of my phone. I've stopped tracking my steps – I really don't need my phone to tell me if I've had an active or a lazy day. I've reinstalled my TOMTOM in my car – my entire online profile doesn't need to include details of where I travel to and when. And I've bought an alarm clock – £7 in Sainsbury's (the cheapest one I could find) and the best investment I've made all year.

My phone is no longer allowed in my bedroom. It stays on the landing outside my door. If there's an emergency and someone calls me in the night I'll hear it, but if I wake in the night, I won't reach for it. I won't spend thirty minutes looking at it when I'm supposed to be going to sleep, and I won't start my day by consuming other people's opinions and experiences. They can wait til I've had my coffee.

For the last four nights I've gone to bed without my phone. I've read my book.. I've fallen asleep quickly, and I've been woken by the radio instead of a loud obnoxious beeping right next to my ear. I have hit snooze, but I've got up more quickly instead of lying in bed and checking all my social media platforms. I have woken once or twice in the night, but I've been able to see the time on the red digital clock, and I've gone straight back to sleep.

Last night I took it back into my room. This morning I woke up at 6am – I could have slept more, but I couldn't resist that little sneak peek…

In less than a minute I'd seen an angry message from a friend (which both annoyed and worried me), another friend trying to sell me something, an advert for a supermarket promoting Christmas food, a petition to sack Boris Johnson and free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and about ten different opinions on Donald Trump's latest tweet to the head of a nuclear country.

All of this, in my bed, at 6am on a Sunday morning. I would never in a million years want Boris Johnson, or Donald Trump in my bed (*gags at the very thought of it*), and yet there they are, alongside my angry friends, high street retailers, and my own memories  -some good, some bad, some utterly cringeworthy.

within a minute of waking I was mentally arguing with a friend, wondering what to have for dessert on Christmas day, and worrying about nuclear war. Safe to say I never went back to sleep.

That phone is never coming in my room again!!

These are just the very first steps to quietening my mind, but I can already see the big impact these small changes are having.  And it is really quite astonishing how different I feel now to how I felt six weeks ago, even though I haven't really made any huge changes to my life. It just goes to show that a little bit of self-awareness and some small adjustments really can go a long way!

There's no science behind any of these #Strongtober posts, I'm not qualified to offer advice, and I'm certainly not about to try and sell you something! I'm just someone who's not been feeling as physically and mentally able as I used to, and so I've taken a step back to try and figure out a) why, and b) what choices I can make to improve things. I've found it really interesting, and I hope you have too.

Though if I can recommend just one thing, it would be this: buy an alarm clock!! If you follow the link below to my website, you can buy a special #Strongtober alarm clock with an exclusive 10% discount when you use the code STRONGER2 at the checkout.

Just kidding. I promised I wasn't trying to sell anything and I'm not! Have a great day everyone!

Isla xxx

*If you're thinking of doing your own #Strongtober month, I've written a brief guide / overview of mine here – feel free to use, change it to suit yourself, and share it around with anyone who might find it useful. Just remember if you need something more serious than a kick up the arse, please get some advice from someone who is qualified and actually knows what they're talking about – a dietician, a personal trainer, a mental health professional or even a doctor. Real help is out there if you need it.


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