It was a tough choice – to go on a walk or to take myself off to a café – and although I do like walking (it’s one of about three vaguely active things that I actually enjoy), I really love sitting in cafés and writing. For an hour or so, I can be Carrie in Sex and the City. So, on this chilly winter’s morning, I am sitting in a quiet café adorned with Moroccan cushions next to a slightly overwarm radiator with a little gentle jazz playing in the background. It is a simple, doable, inexpensive pleasure, and just enough to make me feel like I’ve had some time to myself and to indulge my passion. And, Yes, it Does involve a croissant with Real Butter. (In fact, I might just order another. Look at me – rebelling against the January diet propaganda! … although admittedly there are a few more dried apricots in the house than usual…).
I’ve noticed that a common refrain in the first unfriendly dark months of the year is ‘I just need to get this week/month/half term out of the way!’. Jaded by the New Year New You! and Just Change One Thing! and Cool Curly Kale and Kiwi Cold Cure! puffery, we are now back to eating enormous jacket potatoes with extra cheese in front of Silent Witness. OK, maybe not everyone, just people like me whose willpower isn’t very, well, powerful. (Sorry to digress but, serious question – why do we need a juicer for fruit and veg when we can just, um, eat them?)
But as we emerge out of hibernation and say hi to the snowdrops, I think there’s nothing wrong with a gently does it approach. Brilliant health professor Dr Mike Evans, who conveys important health messages via short, snappy and superb cartoons (check out www.evanshealthlab.com), advises the same. In one cartoon, he tells us, in his lazy American drawl, that ‘sometimes people just want the get through the day or week advice, and here’s what I say: just gear down and stick to the basics’. These are: sleep ‘turn off the TV and go to bed’; activity (‘go for a walk outside or whatever is your thing’; get perspective (‘write a letter or a journal’); eat (‘make a great meal’); socialise (‘social connection is so therapeutic and isolation is so insidious’); clean up your space a bit. It’s not brain surgery, but it’s something we all need reminding of. He goes on to advise that if you really have to do a task that’s a bit on the challenging side, try ‘temptation bundling – do the tough thing then bundle it with something that gives you simple pleasure’ – like go to a coffee shop, read a book, see a movie, watch some sport.
We are all busy – often too busy, and often worrying about and doing stuff for other people or for the greater good. But, as Dr Evans says, ‘sometimes we need to give ourselves a break, pause, and take a breath’.
* I know! It’s crass and unoriginal of me to choose a Bowie quote, but I just couldn’t help myself …
Jennifer Miles Davis is a writer and freelance copy-editor for organisations such as Cambridge University Press. For enquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.