Back to Blog

Slow the Pace to Minimise Anxiety

Feb 01, 2024

I’m a great fan of detective fiction, especially from classic writers like P D James. So, as a treat, Mr P bought me a DVD box set of the Inspector Dalgleish mysteries, dramatized by ITV in the 1980s.

We sat down to start watching the first episode and the first shock was the format – a square image, rather than postcard-shaped. And then it was the pace of the action. Mr P commented, ‘We’re going to have to get used to things happening much more slowly…’

It didn’t take long for us to acclimatise and we’re thoroughly enjoying immersing ourselves in the twists and turns of the plot, picking up nuances that would be lost in a more modern fast-paced production. And we’ve noticed how great the acting is. Because scenes take longer, it means the actors have to sustain whatever emotion or reaction they need to portray. It’s so satisfying to watch something that’s almost as detailed as reading the book.

And it got me thinking. How much more enjoyable and fulfilling life is, when we take the time to savour the moment.

Managing our time in such a way that we have some mental space around events and experiences is key to getting the most out of life. It’s not always easy to do, of course. I see many clients who have multiple demands on their time, like a full-time job, caring for children and/or elderly parents and running the home. They squeeze so much into their lives, there’s little opportunity for downtime, and they’re constantly firefighting.

Usually, though, they have some degree of choice or control over their time. Perhaps they overcommit in order to please others. Perhaps they have a work ethic (as I used to) that if they’re not ground down by the end of the day, they’re not working hard enough. Perhaps they’ve simply forgotten that they have the option of saying ‘no’. The job here is to help them to recognise the level of choice that they do have, and if they want a different outcome, to help them make different choices around how they spend their time.

If you’re guilty of packing too much activity into too little time, you’re going to be constantly stressed. You’ll be pumping stress chemicals, like adrenaline and cortisol. The chances are you’ll either find it difficult to get to sleep because you’re so wired at the end of the day, or you’ll conk out as soon as your head hits the pillow but wake up tired and groggy the next morning. This is not sustainable in the long-term.

So, the first step has to be actively making choices so you create some free time.

The next step is to use that time fruitfully. And that doesn’t mean scrolling on social media or checking emails. There have been studies to show that time seems to pass more quickly, and you’ll feel less refreshed, if you spend your break scrolling on your phone, than if you simply sit and rest.

The final step is to be mindful of your thoughts. As a species we have an inbuilt ‘negativity bias’. And that’s because our cave-dwelling ancestors couldn’t afford to be overly optimistic. They would need to be cautious, rather than risk-takers. So, most of us have to work a bit harder to develop a more positive mindset to counteract that natural disposition.

So, when you’re simply sitting and resting, remember to focus on something positive. If you’re outdoors or near a window, notice how many different shades of green there are in nature, or watch a bird gathering material for their nest, or listen to the sounds of nature. Slowing down and being ‘in the moment’ like this, reduces stress and is much more restorative than playing with your phone.

Once you’ve mastered that, it’s time to think about the bigger things in life. If you want to really enjoy that coffee with your friend on Saturday, how much better would it be to arrive in a relaxed and receptive mindset, than frazzled and hassled because you did three chores before you left home and set out at the very last minute? You wouldn’t turn up for a work meeting without preparing for it. Apply that same discipline to your social get-togethers, and prepare by getting yourself in a good headspace before you set off. Building contingency time around socialising means you can really ‘be there’ for your friends. You’ll be less stressed and will enjoy their company so much more.

So, it’s time to start practising slowing down. And the easiest way to start is with routine tasks at home, like making a cup of tea, emptying the dishwasher, checking your online banking or folding the washing. Next time you do any of these, slow down and really focus on what you’re doing. Give the task your full attention and finish each action before thinking about the next. The difference to your stress levels will be noticeable.

Overcommitment is a major source of anxiety. It leads us to do things at breakneck speed so we can pack more activities in. It causes us to flit from one activity to the next without time for rest or reflection.  

Make the decision now to make different choices, so you can slow your life down. Give yourself time to smell the roses, or savour your cup of tea, or fully immerse yourself in your favourite TV programme. And notice how much more satisfying even routine activities can be.

Stay motivated for positive change!

Upbeat, solution focused news from the world of neuroscience, brain-based therapies and uplifting good news stories, delivered straight to your inbox. 

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.