A few months ago, I read a book called The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. The book details Gretchen's personal mission to find more happiness by changing something in her life each month for an entire year, for example, being true to herself, cleaning her house of clutter, being mindful of her spending habits and picking up healthy habits - all in the pursuit of a happier life. (It's definitely worth a read to inspire you if you're hit by the January blues!) I've long believed that physical health and emotional health are closely linked. I believe that they affect each other and therefore the key to improving our physical health is to work on our emotional health and vice versa. So instead of making a new years resolution this year, I've been inspired by Gretchen and her book to have my very own happiness project, or 'Project Smile 2014' as I've referred to it as on here. Our healthy habits tend to slip whenever we're stressed, anxious or feeling low. Often people speak of comfort eating or of not being 'in the mood' to workout (though ironically, working out has been clinically proven to improve mood).
We could of course, listen to the diet books that tell us to simply chuck out the comfort food and not buy it in the first place.This way, we can't come back from a crap day at work and stick our face in a tin of roses, horse's nose-bag style. But that wouldn't fix the underlying issue, would it? Instead, we're still feeling crap and on top of that, we've took away a source of comfort (all be it, not a very healthy one!). Instead, we need to find other ways of dealing with the emotions that lead us to comfort eat or skip a workout. We need alternative sources of happiness to a glass of wine and a bar of dairy milk.
So, back to by very own Project Smile. As regular readers may have picked up from my previous post about maintaining health during a crisis situation , I had a pretty terrible end to 2013 that left me feeling shell shocked, exhausted and emotionally drained. For a few months it felt like I was merely surviving the days rather than really living them or feeling anything. Fortunately, I managed (somehow) to successfully complete the first work placement of my MA Social Work course and I'm currently on a break until the start of the second placement in late Feb, giving me a few weeks to pick up the pieces and focus on my self and home life before I live and breath social work 24/7 once again (it's an intensive course for an equally intensive profession!).
During the first part of my break, I've already set about my Project Smile. Like Gretchen, I felt the need to begin the year by clearing clutter from the house. There's something about having too much stuff around that clogs my mind and hinders my creative processes. Not only that, but in our house, an entire room was being wasted by junk that wasn't being used by anyone. This frustrated me, as I was constantly complaining of my lack of study/work space (I made do with a small desk in our bedroom which was piled up with books, folders and fitness products I was testing at the time). So, the day of New Years Eve was spent clearing said room of junk and multiple trips to charity shops and the local tip. New Years day was then spent in B&Q looking for blue paint to redecorate the room with. This room was no longer going to be a wasted space dedicated to junk, but a useful clutter free living space - complete with a corner for my files and text books and completely clear desk.
I even had a lock put on the door so that I could literally lock myself away from the world to focus on my work for a few hours at a time without any distractions (and keep my case notes secure when working from home). Clearing and decorating the room, along with building all the flat-packed furniture was a strange mix of being emotionally therapeutic and physically exhausting. It felt good at the time to be doing something proactive for my own needs but I was really glad when it was all finished. Now I have a perfect home office space to lock myself away and concentrate on my work and my writing, which makes me feel happier. Not only that, but it means the bedroom is cleared of work-related clutter and now resembles a proper bedroom rather than some sort of student-dorm. The old tatty desk has been replaced by a dressing table which makes getting ready at 6 am in the morning feel a little nicer. It's also far easier to relax and sleep in the bedroom without the constant reminders of the work I need to be doing sitting right in front of me.
I'd say January's clutter-clearing mission has been a success and has certainly helped with the academic/career side of my life. I still find myself feeling anxious at times though, usually when I let my mind wonder off into the future and worry about things like looking for qualified social worker roles after qualifying and saving up for a mortgage and wedding. For this reason, February's goals will centre on learning the art of mindfulness and meditation to help me focus on what's actually happening right now. I'll let you know how I get on!