Humanity’s relationship with ‘leisure’ and ‘free-time’ is complicated. In the early stages of the digital age, when exciting new technological advances were being developed, experts predicted that in the future we’d only be working a couple of days a week, because computers and phones would enable us to complete our tasks so efficiently.
However, fast forward a few decades, and people are generally working more, not less. But why, when technology means we can get things done so much faster?
Personally, I love the buzz that comes with being productive and working towards a project. It makes me feel like I’m maximising - true to my name - my time, and I’m doing everything in my power to make the project as good as it possibly can be.
And I don’t think there’s an issue with this, because working hard to achieve your goals is great, and leads to a rewarding sense of satisfaction and pride when you reach your creative destination.
But once I accomplish the particular task I’ve been working towards, what happens then? Well, I move swiftly onto the next one - once again chasing that hit of productivity that my brain craves. If I take a break that lasts too long - i.e. more than a day - I sense a nagging feeling of guilt creeping up on me, inwardly reprimanding me for being lazy and unproductive.
I think a lot of people share this in-built productivity compass, especially in a world where there are millions of different things vying for our attention at any one time. You can’t even read an article online without being bombarded by pop-up ads and subscription offers and other ‘articles you might like’. When that feels too chaotic and stressful, we then turn to our phones for some idle scrolling, where, once again, there are hundreds of images and videos desperately trying to win over the brain’s attention.
My point is, even when we think we’re taking a break, it often doesn’t feel restful. I love checking what my favourite artists are up to on Instagram. But does half an hour of scrolling really make me feel recharged? I can’t say it does.
The other problem is, when we take a break, it’s usually still with productivity in mind. When I’m tired from too much essay-writing or research and feel my brain slowing down, I take a TV or music break. All well and good, right? But the only reason I’m taking a break at all is for the purpose of getting myself back to a state where I can work effectively again.
I think in many ways we’ve forgotten how to just do nothing. Try it now - stop reading this article, set a timer for five minutes, and just sit there doing nothing but staring out of the window.
It’s hard, right? After barely a minute, I have the urge to check my phone - just in case - and sitting with my thoughts just turns into a mental checklist of all the things I need to get done. After a few more minutes, my fingers are itching to click the ‘Gmail’ tab on my laptop, even though I already checked it ten minutes ago. We’ve trained our brains to feed off the feeling of being productive, and this often prevents us from being able to properly and truly relax without feeling guilty.
I’ve just finished my Masters degree, and everyone told me that’s a worthy cause for a short break from work - and I took their advice and took a little time off from the non-University projects I have on the go. But even on the days where I would just hang out with friends or watch TV, I still couldn’t shake that constant feeling that there was something productive I should’ve been doing instead.
Okay, so we’ve established there’s a productivity problem. But is this too deeply entrenched in the modern mentality, or is it something we can unlearn?
As I said, productivity is of course beneficial in healthy doses, so we shouldn’t completely ditch it and start sitting on the couch doing nothing every day. It’s more a case of knowing when to stop, so that you can allow yourself guilt-free leisure time.
To an extent, I think the hardest part is acknowledging when it’s become a problem, and when it’s encroaching onto aspects of your life that shouldn’t be associated with the need to be productive. For example, I’d argue that being with loved ones is the most emotionallyproductive and rewarding ways we could possibly use our time - so if even these moments are being tainted by worrying about emails and to-do lists, then this definitely isn’t healthy.
The other thing that helped me personally is - unsurprisingly - music. As you might have guessed from the title of this magazine, we’re also big fans of mindfulness. I found that a form of ‘mindful listening’ highlighted how the constant yearning for productivity was slowly and surely burning me out.
What I mean by ‘mindful listening’ is taking a step back and looking at your current listening habits. This might not work for everyone, but I found that the songs and albums I was listening to on rotation were, amidst others, the likes of 'Sunshine State of Mind' by Brian Kelley; ‘Beer in Mexico’ by Kenny Chesney; ‘More Time Fishin’’ by Thomas Rhett; ‘Tequila On A Boat’ by Dustin Lynch and Chris Lane; and so on.
Okay, so I’m listening to summery music in the summer. Big whoop, right?
But the overriding themes behind all these songs are wasting time, doing nothing and just chilling without a care in the world. That told me that deep down, even if it was being drowned out by my productivity-guilt, I was drawn to the idea of just letting go for a little while and not being so uptight about work.
It’s a simple enough conclusion to reach, but seeing my suspicions confirmed in my listening history gave me the nudge I needed to just take it easy sometimes, and not be so obsessed with being productive.
The best part is, for any other productivity junkies out there, switching off won’t be as much of a culture shock as you might think. That feeling of guilt when you’re taking time off appears because you’re conscientious about getting all your tasks done, and you’re disciplined and methodical about this. So - why not use this same mentality for leisure time? Start by scheduling in breaks and periods of rest - in theory, because you already have a conscientious mindset, it’ll be easier to stick to this schedule.
Turn your craving for productivity into a craving for relaxation.
Of course, it’s never quite as easy as it looks on paper. I’m only just starting down this road, so I’m still more often than not opting for work over relaxation, even when there are no urgent deadlines I’m trying to meet. But I’m getting a little better at it, and with practice, I’ll be able to strike a better balance. On the flip side, we shouldn’t start feeling guilty for being productive, because like I said, it’s a largely positivity attitude to have in life. It’s more about being kind and compassionate to yourself, and listening to your mind and body when they’re telling you to take a breather.
In my previous ‘Music, Mental Health and Me’ article on gratitude, I mentioned how, at the end of each day, I take a few minutes to list things that I’m feeling thankful for. Nearly always, the moments I feel the most gratitude for are times when I haven’t been productive - for example, spending time with family and friends, seeing a beautiful sunset, hearing an awesome new song, and so on.
The time we spend working is stressful enough as it is, so we definitely don’t need any added anxiety about notworking during our free-time. The likelihood is, if you’re worrying about not working enough even while you’re taking a break, you’re probably the kind of person that’s definitelyworking hard enough.
Check out my Unproductivity Playlistbelow for the perfect soundtrack to kicking back, taking a well-earned, guilt-free rest, and having another metaphorical ‘Beer in Mexico’ (even if, in reality, it’s a ‘Beer in My Back Garden’. Hmm, somehow that’s just not as catchy…).
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Well the fact that you’re at the start of an article would suggest that the answer is neither a simple yes or no. My theory back in February was that 2020 had set the bar at its absolute lowest; that the year had been so completely dreadful that even if 2021 wasn’t a whole lot better it would still feel like a big step. I do think 2021 has lived up to that promise at least – it hasn’t exactly been a fairytale year but I’d still not go as far as comparing it to the deep dark depths of 2020.
One of my main points of hope for 2021 was that COVID would become somewhat less of a burden on our lives and give us some more of that freedom that we all crave. Even this in itself is not a cut and dry answer. Whilst we were all promised the ‘freedom’ date of June 21st, then eventually July 19th, my expectations that life would suddenly return to normal were far from realistic. With cases rising and concern brewing, it hardly feels like freedom, and I wouldn’t be confident betting against another lockdown by the end of the year. Even with the supposed dropping of restrictions we are each week met with a series of new ‘must haves’ and 'must dos’ moving forward that really makes me feel that this isn’t progress but merely a repackaging of the hammer blows we have been dealt in the past. Of course if we can stay in some sort of state of relative freedom then I’ll trade abiding by a few little extra rules, but this is hardly a guarantee considering those of us who have spent two years abiding by the rules already have only been met with more lockdowns and restrictions throughout. I must admit that whilst I am trying to focus on enjoying the somewhat free will of today, my mind can’t help but wander to a future that looks bleak. The way that things are being announced it seems to me that never again will we get back to normality, but instead will spend the rest of our lives categorised over injections and forced by politicians to bend over backwards in exchange for a small shred of life as it used to be.
Despite my gloomy writing though, I must admit that this year could have easily been a lot worse. England put in an admiral campaign at the Euro’s (despite my consistent lack of trust in Southgate) and temporarily united a nation threatened with division. And even though in my classic pessimism I packaged it as insignificant – the fact that as I write this I am able to work from the office, mix with people and go out and socialise feels pretty special. As I said in my last article, if 2020 was good for anything it was making us appreciate the small things and it has done so and more. 2021 has not been the bumper year we were all hoping for, but thanks to its abysmal predecessor I’d say that most of us feel pretty good about where we are at right now.
In my ‘Am I Right to be Optimistic about 2021?’ article, one of the things I mentioned was the insane pressure we put on a new year as being some sort of fresh start or clean slate when in reality it is just another day. Once again in 2021 I do find myself willing for 2022 to approach. It seems sad that I am wishing my time away like this, but like most people I feel a desperation to get this infamous period put behind us and to move forward. I fully believe that COVID will still be the earworm of 2022 and possibly for years to come, but I’m hanging on to that separation that a new year brings. Being able to put 2020 and 2021 in a box together and bid thanks but no thanks will be a refreshing moment for all of us, even if in reality 2022 will be no more removed from 2021 than any day is from one to the next.
So – was I right to be optimistic about 2021? It’s really hard to tell. When I focus on COVID and the current, previous and potential future situations I can’t help but feel pessimistic about what this year has offered. Like myself, many people hung their hopes on 2021 being a fresh start away from COVID, and at this current time it feels like we are years away from that. Putting COVID to the back of our minds however there is something in the air in 2021. People seem to be generally happier and, although incremental, freedom is slowly making its way back to us. We’ve all put 2020 in our rear-view mirrors and are focusing with bright eyes at the future with a greater appreciation of the small things we have now. In the sense that you have to hit rock bottom to appreciate just above rock bottom, yes, 2021 has been pretty good; but in the wider scheme of things the jury is still very much out.
From the moment the first shops were closed, the first concerts were postponed, and the first social restrictions were imposed, we’ve been eagerly counting down the days until they’d all open up again. Then a roadmap of dates was dangled tauntingly in front of our Zoom-weary eyes, which only heightened the sense of anticipation.
And who can blame us for looking forward to this? COVID restrictions have been a major cause of stress and anxiety, so it’s only natural that we can’t wait until they’re condemned to the past.
On the other hand, this fast-forward mentality has made it much harder to stay present. It’s been difficult not to wish away the days as the roadmap deadlines draw closer and closer, as we universally tried to press the ‘skip’ button on 2020.
Long before COVID, we were already living in a world that was encouraging us to spent the majority of our time thinking about the future. Every stage of life - school, University, job, promotion, etc. - is portrayed as another rung on the ladder as we gradually progress towards…well…if we’re being honest, no-one really knows what it is we’re even trying to reach.
I’ve always been quite a cautious person, which means if given the choice between something that will benefit me right now, and something that will help me in the future, I will nearly always choose the latter. We’re praised if we anticipate and plan ahead, and of course, thinking about your future-self undoubtedly helps us in the long run.
However, it’s of course equally as important to slow down and appreciate each day for what it is. Not everything needs to be a stepping-stone, and the pandemic has helped me realise this.
Which brings me to the main topic of this article - gratitude. I’d read about Buddhist monks practicing daily gratitude meditations, and there are various references to the value of giving thanks in their texts. But what really sparked my interest in this was the fact that over the course of the pandemic, there seemed to be an increasing number of Country artists releasing singles, EPs and albums that centred around one key theme. Frustration at not being able to tour? Cabin fever from being stuck at home all day? Anxiety about the future?
Nope - the recurring theme was gratitude. Each week, new Country songs emerged about feeling grateful for getting to be with family and loved ones, and having the time to pick up old hobbies that touring and recording schedules usually wouldn’t have allowed for.
It was just interesting to me that in this time when everything seemed to be going wrong, the mentality wasn’t one of anger or resentment. It was one of acceptance, and actively seeking the silver linings and blessings in disguise.
I thought, if all these artists can find peace and contentment through a deep sense of gratitude during a pandemic, of all times, then surely it must be a pretty effective way to deal with anxiety and fear.
This is something I’ve really honed in on over the past year, and I have to say, it’s been a huge, huge help to me in dealing with general stresses and worries.
Firstly, gratitude feels really good. The feeling of gratitude releases dopamine, the ‘reward chemical’, and life coach Jay Shetty has called the feeling of gratitude ‘the world’s most powerful drug’. Although this is perhaps a little extreme, you do notice that as you start feeling gratitude for one thing, more and more things start seeming worthy of gratitude. You might start with the usual suspects, like ‘good health’ or ‘loved ones’, and then realise that you can make a point of being thankful for smaller things too, like ‘the comfort of this Kanye hoodie’ and ‘the awesome new song that Kenny Chesney just released’. Okay, I know what you’re thinking - these are also very broad things that everyone is obviously thankful for…
Nothing is off limits, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem. For example, on his Instagram page Big Sean hosted a self-help discussion with his mother, Myra Anderson, and they talked about the importance of gratitude. Myra spoke about how she felt immense gratitude for her spit.
I had the same reaction that I imagine you just had - spit? I mean, sure, it’s useful, I guess. But is it really something that truly warrants a great sense of appreciation? Myra’s reasoning was that a friend had gotten throat cancer, and she was having to painstakingly drink through a straw every 30 minutes, in order to replace the saliva that wasn’t being produced as a result of her treatment.
Which brings me back to COVID. Of course, it’s been an awful situation, and it can be difficult to find gratitude when millions of people are suffering. On top of that, there can be a sense of guilt associated with focussing on things that are good in our lives, when so many people have had such traumatic experiences during the pandemic.
I’m not by any means saying that we should just ignore all the pain and suffering that’s out there, or that we should gloss over the troubles that we’re dealing with ourselves. There will undoubtedly be times where we can’t, and perhaps even shouldn’t, feel gratitude for unfortunate things that happen to us.
All I’m saying is, we live in a world that is moving faster and faster. So much so that we seem to spend more time worrying about what might or might not happen in the future, that we forget to stop and appreciate what’s happening right now. I’ll be honest, I’ve found this a difficult perspective to adjust to, and I still often catch my mind racing off into the distance.
But starting and ending each day on a note of gratitude has really helped me to slow my mind down, and to feel a genuine sense of thankfulness for the simpler, smaller gifts that I don’t have to wait to receive, because they’re already right here in the present.
And when I do get frustrated or anxious about the future, I find that Country music is brilliant for giving me those little reminders about what really matters. So many of my favourite Country songs are about how - despite the pressures we all feel - life isn’t necessarily all about chasing after things. Sure, your career is important, and all those plans you have for the future will stand you in good stead when the time comes. Just don’t miss out on your present by dreaming about a future time and place - because let’s face it, nobody knows exactly what the future holds, regardless of how watertight your plans might feel.
So here’s a selection of some songs that help keep me grounded in the moment, and that remind me to appreciate the little things in life, rather than getting hung up on hypotheticals. Gratitude is powerful, and I can genuinely say it’s surprising just how significant an impact it has on the outlook and mentality that you bring to your daily life.
Whether you want to start noting down three things you’re grateful for each night before you sleep, or whether you just want to start your day with a song or two that puts you into an appreciative mindset - there’s no right or wrong way to practice gratitude, it’s whatever suits you best.
By the same token, we’ll all naturally feel thankful for very different things. For example - I might feel a huge sense of gratitude for the fact that you’ve made it this far in my article, while you might feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the fact that it’s nearly over…!
Either way, if you’re looking for a little inspiration on how to start actively practicing gratitude, check out my ‘Gratitude Tunes’ playlist below - and feel free to make your own, and share it with us on social media!
This interview originally appeared in Mindful Melody Issue 6 - you can read it online for free or buy print editions here!
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I’m a stress head, it’s no secret. I’m indecisive, a perfectionist, anxious, lacking in self confidence and put a ton of pressure on myself. I’m sure that sounds relatable to a few people and in the past it’s really been a burden on my mental health. Since studying Philosophy and Ethics at school meditation has always been something that I’ve found curious but never thought to try. I used to categorise it as some spiritual act in which people feel that they are connecting to something that, in my classic pessimism, I thought they could never connect with. To be honest, I thought the whole thing was a bit of a farce and was only utilised by strictly religious or spiritual people. My mind changed when Maxim sent me some meditation music and whilst listening I felt instantly more relaxed. It was hard to describe but it felt like I was suddenly aware of every function in my body; hearing every breath and feeling every heartbeat. So, with a co-founder and best friend who practises meditation, and with the artists I have interviewed holding in such high regard the benefits that meditation has on their mental health, I decided it’s high time I give it a go. After all, if it really is as good as people say it is, then it should do wonders for me, right? Well, written below (in a more readable format) are the brief notes I took after each meditation session over a month. I will then give my view at the end as to whether it really helped me and whether you should give it a go yourself.
o I got some advice from Maxim to focus on my breathing, and I’m using the meditation playlist he made me as a background. I have to say, sitting down and not thinking about anything sounds really easy, but it definitely isn’t. I found it really difficult to turn my mind off and was constantly distracted. I eventually managed to gain some peace by focusing my eyes whilst they were closed, and staring into the darkness of the insides of my eyelids. It sounds strange, and it felt strange, but it was what finally managed to help me clear my mind. The music definitely helped as it blocked out surrounding sounds and was so peaceful in my ears that it helped me cool down. I tried to focus on my breathing as Maxim suggested and the music helped this too as I would time it with the music to keep it regulated. After I finished my first session it took me a while to become alert again, sort of like waking up after a long nap. It was as if my mind and body had all slowed and it took time to get them going again. I could definitely see why this may be beneficial as taking time for myself and shutting things out was a refreshing change. I don’t feel like I’m getting the benefits yet though as at this stage it was really quite hard work to stay on track.
It was a lot easier to switch off this time around. I think it helped that I was already somewhat sleepy heading into the session so I found it much easier to sit down and switch off without things buzzing around in my brain. I made the mistake, however, of trying to meditate when I was pressed for time and this didn’t help as I would have to periodically break my focus to check the time. I did, however, eventually set up a meditation song that was exactly the amount of time I had, and after this I was able to relax fully, knowing I just had to listen for the end of the song.
By this point my motivation to find time to meditate was somewhat wavering. At this early stage I still wasn’t seeing much benefit, and although it sounds easy to sit down and relax, it actually takes a lot of concentration. I’ve always been a busybody and I just find it difficult to sit down for too long not doing anything, and even more difficult to schedule in the time to do so. This time I meditated in the morning and it was my first really ‘unsuccessful’ session. I think I’m just too awake in the mornings and I really found it difficult to empty my mind and switch off so soon after waking up in the first place. Despite trying various techniques, I just couldn’t get into the zone and was constantly distracted and fidgety. I think meditating in the mornings has been ruled out from this moment. I did find this session really demoralising as I felt like I’d seen some improvements in the last session and this kind of sent me back to square one.
To be honest, it had been a while since the last session. After my failed attempt I struggled to get motivation to try again and was worried that I’d just keep having failed attempts. I did finally find myself some time and forced myself to get back on the horse – and it went much better. Like in session 2, I was already feeling sleepy and relaxed so that helped me and I found it fairly easy to clear my mind. I did have a few momentary lapses but I managed to keep them as just that. I am finding that it is quite difficult for me to meditate for too long as the sheer concentration I have to put into keeping my mind blank is actually quite tiring, and I can feel when I’m coming to a natural end in a session when I start getting distracted more frequently. I’m hoping I’ll get to a point where it’s fairly easy for me to just slip into that mode of focus and relaxation so that I can enjoy longer sessions, but for now it seems I’ll have to keep persisting to get there.
Like with session 4, I found it relatively easy to switch off. The playlist really helped and the music definitely kept me concentrated and relaxed. I had some slight distractions but stayed on track and didn’t let them break my focus. This was the first time I’d meditated in a week or so as I’d been more busy; and I did feel better for taking some time for myself afterwards.
So that was my month of meditation – did it help?
Well, the first thing you may notice is that in a whole month I only managed five short sessions. When I first meditated I had planned to make it a regular part of my weeks and envisioned that once every two or three days I’d settle down for a session. The reality is that we all have busy lives and as silly as it sounds it isn’t all that easy to schedule in a few minutes of not doing anything. Especially on those days that you have a lot on, I just found that it fell down the pecking order behind other tasks, and when I was busy I could never sit down and relax in that way as I’d just be thinking about all the things I needed to be doing instead. Ironically, it’s this kind of stress that is why I maybe need to meditate but it did make it hard to find the time. The other thing is that it’s actually really quite hard and this makes it even more difficult to schedule, because when I do finally have some free time I don't really feel like it. Before the first time, I thought that it would be pretty easy – I mean, it’s sitting and doing nothing, right? What I quickly learned is that keeping up this concentration and focus and trying to keep your mind away from any distractions requires a lot of energy. I don’t think I had a single session without at least one or two distractions and it even managed to ruin my third attempt completely. It kind of built up this thing in my head where instead of meditation being a helpful tool for relaxation as it should be, I’d kind of end up dreading doing it like it was more of a chore.
So I’m aware that so far I’ve been pretty negative about my whole experience – but I can reassure you that it wasn’t all like that! I actually found after most of my sessions that I did feel better. I’d be calmer and more relaxed and just feel a bit better about myself. I also really enjoyed taking a little bit of time for myself in this way because I don’t do it often enough, as I’m sure is the case with many people. I think for me I just need to stick at it because I could feel progress, and I’m convinced that if I can keep it up, there will come a point where I find it much easier to switch my mind off and have these moments of peace, and that I’d be able to have longer sessions and make it a more regular part of my week. I think the main thing about meditation for me is that it’s personal, it’s about you. For a busybody like me I found sitting and emptying my mind really difficult, but I did feel the benefits, and with some persistence and regularity I’m sure it would become even more beneficial. The stigmas I had over the practice and whether it really had any sort of effect whatsoever have definitely gone, and I can see why people make it such a big part of their lives. I think for me personally I get the same kinds of benefits when I exercise; it gives me time alone to be with myself and gets me away from distractions. I also find it’s much easier to schedule as part of your day, and even when life gets busy, whilst I’m running I can’t be doing anything else and therefore my 'to-do list' isn't eating away at me. When I interviewed Serena Ryder in Issue 3 of Mindful Melody she summed up meditation perfectly for me – “I’ve meditated almost every day for like two years then it started feeling like a job, like work … now a lot of my self care is going for a walk and playing with my dog. I also kind of moved my meditation to dancing; I put on my favourite music and I look like a complete idiot in my house but I just put my headphones on and jump around and move; but that has turned into what I feel I need.” Whilst I do encourage you to try the traditional form of meditation for yourself and see how it benefits you, I think the real takeaway for me is to find your own form of meditation – something that you enjoy that allows you to take some time for yourself in a busy life; whether it’s dancing in the kitchen, exercising or even something creative like writing or painting.
This article was originally featured in Mindful Melody Issue 5, which you can read here.
The 23rd of March marked a year - a whole year - since a less tousled Boris announced that the UK was entering its first lockdown. A year on, the situation certainly feels a lot brighter, with restrictions gradually being lifted.
But even so, we’ve spent a lot of this past year indoors, and we’ve been unable to go to concerts, gigs, or clubs. I’ve never been a big fan of clubbing, but even so, it was still a good outlet to move around and let off steam.
There’s always been something freeing about dancing or grooving or bopping or whatever the latest term for it might be. If you’ve spent the majority of the week sat at a desk, then going out and dancing shifts you into a completely different headspace, where you’re allowed to just let loose and release any tension.
For the past year, we haven’t really been able to do this. Combine this with a natural sprinkling of worry and general anxiety that comes from being in a global pandemic, and it creates the ideal breeding ground for stress and balled-up nervous energy that doesn’t have anywhere to go.
Numerous studies show that dancing has a positive impact on mental health, and this is put down to a variety of reasons. For one, even though it might not be hugely vigorous, dancing is still a form of exercise, which leads to a welcome release of serotonin - the ‘feel-good’ hormone.
Secondly, it’s a way of just expressing how we’re feeling. We know how cathartic listening to music can be, and dancing is believed to have a similar effect.
The explanation I find most interesting, though, is linked to the very reason why we have the capacity to feel anxious in the first place. Anxiety is a fight-or-flight response, because the mind believes it’s in a frightening situation, and tells the body to quicken the heart rate and get some adrenaline pumping, so that we’re ready to either fight the danger, or run away from it as fast as possible.
However, we often have this fight-or-flight response activated in us when the situation isn’t in reality dangerous, but our anxiety builds unstoppably regardless. So think about the kind of message it sends to the mind if we just start dancing and moving around in a silly way.
If a lion is about to eat you or if you’re about to head into a deadly battle, realistically, the last thing you’re going to do is start dancing (I mean, unless it’s a deadly dance battle, of course).
So when your mind’s activated the fight-or-flight response, but you start dancing, this tells your mind that actually, there isn’t any danger. It helps release the tension from the moment, because you’re acting in such a liberatingly silly and childlike way, that it lets the mind know that there couldn’t possibly be any real danger.
Of course, anxiety is a tenacious beast, and I’m not by any means suggesting that dancing is some kind of magic cure-all, or that it will work in all situations.
But personally, just by moving around and knowingly looking foolish, I can’t help but take myself a little less seriously. That in itself goes a long way towards making me see that, whatever it was I was worrying about, perhaps it wasn’t necessarily as serious or as big a deal as I thought it was.
You don’t have to be a ‘good’ dancer to try this out. My dancing usually consists of sporadic and unexplainable hand movements; a light, half-hearted bouncing on the spot, as if I’m trying to jump, but keep deciding against it at the last minute; and a gentle sway. But not a ‘cool-guy-at-the-back-of-the-disco’ kind of sway, more of a ‘drunk-person-outside-a-pub- trying-to-stay-upright’ kind of sway. Yeah, you know the one.
Also, I’m not suggesting that the next time you feel nervous about a work presentation, you start pirouetting and leaping across the boardroom like you’re in The Office meets Swan Lake.
It’s less about the quality of dancing, or even what you do when you dance, and more about the fact that you’re moving freely and carelessly.
If you’re reading this and you’re in your house, as an experiment, put your favourite tunes on, get up, and do the silliest, jokiest dance move you can think of. A personal favourite is anything from Drake’s hilarious 'Hotline Bling’ video. Don’t worry about looking silly, because part of the fun is how ridiculous it feels dancing on your own in your room.
And notice how afterwards, the moment just feels a little less serious, and a little more relaxed. At the very least, you’re doing your friends a favour by getting in some much-needed practice ahead of your first post-lockdown club night…!
So the next time you’re holding onto nervous energy, take a leaf out of Taylor’s book and ‘shake it off’ by adding some rhythm to those lockdown blues.
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Recently I’ve really been divided about my views on social media. Sure, I, like many others, have accounts on a few different platforms and scroll through them routinely whenever I find a little bit of an empty space in my day. More recently I’ve co-founded an online magazine wherein most of our following and publishing is done through social media. I also love nothing more than seeing my favourite musicians on Instagram and getting a sneak peak of what they get up to in the studio, their writing process or sometimes even just their day to day. You could go on for days with positive stories about social media; reconnected loved ones, forgotten friendships rekindled and the wave of support often shown to positive causes. So with all this in mind why do I still have issues with it?
The first is one that is openly talked about; and rightly so. Whilst social media may seem like a great window into other people’s lives it is ultimately a small window in which we only see what others want us to see. We all do it; I’m not going to post a selfie of myself on holiday if I feel I look particularly fat, or my skin looks bad and so on. The picture you will probably end up seeing is handpicked; the lighting may have an effect of polishing the turd of my appearance; the background may suggest a more flamboyant and amazing experience than what was probably had. It’s natural; we all want to show our good sides to the world. This isn’t a new thing either. Think about when you see or hear from an old friend and give them the bullet points of your last few years; it’s most likely that the whistle stop tour only really stops in the nice parts of town. The thing with social media is that this has become amplified to us all. We log into our Instagrams and see people looking better than we do, people doing better than we are and people who on the face of things appear to have a life void of flaws. As we all know from our own lives the reality is very different but for someone who may already be having doubts about their looks, their career or their lifestyle a constant bombardment on social media of other people’s façade of perfection only drives us down. This is something I’ve experienced recently first hand; having graduated from university and being in my early twenties I feel a real pressure that my life by now should be heading towards something and this always gets worse when I head over to my socials. I am there met with an array of posts and pictures of people younger than me achieving their life goals or embarking on an adventure they’ve always dreamed of and of course it piles on this sense of inadequacy in my own life. The reality is of course the only real gauge of success in life is how we feel in ourselves and not a bar set by others; but ultimately when greeted with this information on a constant it is hard not to bring that bar that has been set into your own life and ultimately compare yourself to it.
My other issue is opinions. I’ve always been a fence sitter and my only political stance is that I don’t have a political stance. Whilst there are opinions or schools of thought that I tend to disagree with I also respect that the people who choose that way probably have their reasons, as I have my reasons for my own opinions. Social media has seemed to bring an end to this type of thinking though. I remember back when I was younger (typing this phrase made me feel old) and my parents taught me that asking people who they voted for is rude. It seems logical really, no one’s opinions are really more valid than anyone else’s and everyone is entitled to have one, so why start trying to dissect other people’s? The reality now is very different. I remember during the last election in the UK I actually removed Facebook from my phone for a while after becoming fed up of political posts. The reason I log into my socials is usually to relax and kill time but instead I would be met with turmoil; people engaging in arguments and accusations ultimately over opinions; the thing we all have. The reality is without social media if a political election was approaching I would seek the opinions of those I trust or care about; my family and maybe some close friends. We would discuss our viewpoints and why we take those; a political debate may ensue but ultimately, I would recognise their opinions and their reasons as I’d expect the same in return. The issue today is that going onto social media during politically pressing times is just an absolute minefield. People engage in arguments with people who they have never met; people accuse people of being certain things because of something they have said with no real knowledge of the context or reasons. I still to this day remove people from my social media network as soon as I see a post of this nature as it really isn’t what I’m there for. The truth is, and with respect, if I don’t ask your opinions it's probably because I don’t need them. I of course acknowledge whatever it is you believe and your reasons for doing so, but by forcing political stand points down people’s throats and suggesting that people who don’t agree are ‘uneducated’ and so on, you are not extending that same respect to others. What is even more frustrating about this recently is that social media platforms have too began picking sides and now instead of the once free ‘social’ media platform it was it seems to have become a bit of a machine of propaganda; only showing us what it wants whilst banishing everything else or marking them with fact checker labels which do no more than to state that whatever it is doesn’t quite agree with the opinion of whoever it was that checked it.
So what is my solution?
Social media has become a huge part of our modern society and as I stated before it does have many benefits. I think what we should do is firstly approach social media with the rose coloured spectacles firmly removed; we need to accept that not everything we see is exactly as it seems and that as with our own accounts people only display what they want to display. I think the opinions argument is a tough one – my problem is not with people having opinions or occasionally sharing them but instead when people start to get pushy, nasty or aggressive. Opinions are in their very definition someone’s own beliefs and because we all have different upbringings, experiences and personalities there are bound to be differences. People are all entitled to have an opinion and no one’s is more valid than anyone else’s; therefore, there is really no grounds whatsoever in which anything more than a polite debate should occur. We need to return to a time where we don’t all always feel the need to share our opinions all the time; if you ask I’ll tell you but I’m not sure we need to publish it to that person we met on that school trip that one time six years ago, right? Ultimately if everyone wasn’t so quick to argue about their opinions the whole platform would become a much friendlier place and this pattern of strangers bickering over something that affects each of them in entirely different ways would be removed. In terms of the recent social media bans on political figures; a lot of the people who were removed had opinions that I don’t agree with; but does that mean they need to be banned? I don’t live in a world where I want anyone who has any views that oppose mine to be censored because ultimately isn’t a good democracy based on debate, contrast and balance? In order to make social media the positive place it really has the power to be I really think we need to be more honest and accepting with ourselves and others; and we also need to learn to respect what others have to say without feeling the need to judge everyone else for their beliefs; at least not without fully understanding and empathising with their reasons.
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