Feeling knackered? Aren’t we all. We’re rubbish at resting and recuperating, which is why Stylist roped in the big guns to teach us how to relax once and for all.
We are tired. After the past couple of years, we’re mentally knackered, physically fatigued and emotionally drained. And that’s partly because most of us are totally rubbish at relaxing. You probably know that you need a rest day or an afternoon away from your email but when was the last time you turned off your phone, put your feet up and reached for your gua sha tool?
Earlier this year, searches for “why am I always tired” increased by 500%. Now we’re moving into spring, it’s time to get ourselves together and actually find the answers and tools for injecting more life into our daily regimens. So, Stylist’s Restival – in partnership with Microsoft and hosted at the Mondrian Shoreditch – was perfectly timed this year to fall on the day the clocks went forward, giving everyone that extra golden hour of energising sun.
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Bringing together some of the UK’s leading experts from across the mindfulness, tech, beauty and interior worlds, we dug deep into why so many of us are struggling to feel energised right now – and crucially, what we can do about it. Here’s what we learnt about rest and relaxation in 2022.
We’re stuck in a ‘productivity trap’ – but tech can help
You may think that technology is the reason you can’t switch off but that’s not really true. According to a recent Microsoft survey, 61% of us have felt more under pressure and anxious since Covid restrictions started easing and 40% feel guilty about not achieving something we said we’d do. That’s not our laptop’s fault. Women in particular have a perfectionism problem; the same study found that 72% of us try to be perfect compared to just 33% of men.
Gillian Binks from Microsoft suggests using tools like Focus Assist and scheduling meetings on Teams to last 25 or 50 minutes, rather than 30 or 60 minutes. Those extra five or 10 minutes allow you to recollect and do nothing. “Use boiling the kettle between meetings to stand and be still and just think for a minute rather than using it as an opportunity to put the wash on,” she says.
You know you’re in that productivity trap, psychotherapist Joshua Fletcher flags, when your day is characterised by ‘I should’ and you feel guilty. “The irony of not putting yourself first is that you become more sluggish and less efficient.”
He suggests practicing mindful detachment – noticing when you’re ruminating. We release cortisol when we think through worst case scenarios, so noticing when you’re doing that can stop the stress reaction. He advised setting boundaries by separating ‘wants’ from ‘needs’ on your daily to do list. You need to pay your tax, you want to learn a new language. “Prioritise your needs for that day and then look at your wants and set them in your free time. Create ‘me’ days in your schedule.”
Tech can help if, as Binks stresses, “you’re sensible with it”. She calls it having good ‘digital nutrition’. No one would let their kids be in their devices all day but there’s nothing wrong with them using them for a couple of hours of fun or education.
How we use and integrate tech into our every day lives is important. If we’re on our screens at work, we can set boundaries at home like leaving them in the kitchen overnight, and using the Windows 11 Night light setting to remind us that it’s time to wind down.
White isn’t the calming interior colour we think it is
If your bedroom is bright white… along with the rest of your flat, it’s time to get out the paint bucket. Farrow and Ball’s Joa Studholme believes that colour is more likely to make a home feel calmer. “Our home should protect us from the constant visual assault of the outside world,” she explains. White isn’t always white; Studholme has created 32 different hues of white and she warns that blue-based white is the harshest.
Her top tip for making your living space a hundred times more relaxing? Use colour.
- Paint your ceiling the same colour as the walls to create a kind of enveloping calmness
- Use darker colours on woodwork rather than lighter (white window frames cut small spaces into even smaller sections)
- Choose the odd thing to paint a bold colour – like a door
- Make the ordinary things extraordinary (if you’ve got built-in shelves or a cupboard, why not paint the interior a bright colour so it really stands out, without being too aggressive?)
- Draw attention to the middle of the room by having darker walls and brighter furniture/table dressings
Bright, glowing skin is an inside job
Hands up if you’ve got puffy eyes or dark bags… even after eight hours’ sleep. Oh, so that would be all of us then. Joanna Ellner may be Stylist’s former beauty director, but she doesn’t believe that the answer to glowing, energised skin comes in a bottle or serum; it’s “an inside job”. As an acupuncturist, Ellner works with Chinese medicine to help women recalibrate their mind, body and skin and she explained that, as we all know, “the enemy of rest is stress”.
And lots of us are bloody stressed. In fact, a 2021 Statista report found that a third of women now believe that stress and anxiety has caused them to age the most since turning 30. “The way our skin behaves isn’t distinct to the way our mind behaves,” she explains. “They’re more connected than ever before.”
Found your skin’s become more oily since the start of the pandemic? That’ll be your body overproducing sebum as a cortisol reaction. Super dry skin could be further down the ‘skin stress cascade effect’ scale, with reduced collagen and elastin resulting from chronic inflammation.
So, what can we do about all of this? Working within the teachings of Chinese medicine, Ellner recommends eating more protein for those of us with puffy eyes, more green leafy veg for dark circles and using a gua sha tool for everyone who wants to inject their skin with a little more lift. Starting from the chin, brush up to the ears or draw across from the nose to the hairline. Finding the acupressure points on the face (think mid-jaw, under your cheekbone and temples) can also help to release tension.
Kindness is stopping us from achieving emotional rest
If you’re a self-confessed empath or highly sensitive person, then you might want to have a word with Tamu Thomas. The well-being coach drags nearly every woman in the room when she explains that kind, generous, productive women often manipulate people into thinking that we’re indispensable. “Nothing fills our cup because the cup is barren,” she says.
You try yoga, you’re still tired; you try meeting friends for dinner – you’re exhausted. And that’s because unless you start actively engaging in emotional rest, you’re never going to have the reserves to recover.
That toxic trap starts in childhood for many women, Thomas says, when we’re expected to share our toys in order to be seen as ‘kind’. As we grow older, that becomes the go-to person for friends to share their issues, or the person at work who never says ‘no’. After years of being told that to avoid being selfish, we’ve got to be self-less, that resentment can be overwhelming.
Thomas recommended four ways of working towards emotional rest. First, we need to recognise that emotion should be in motion; anger, joy, hope, sadness – they’re supposed to come and go without us holding onto them. Then, we should all be more comfortable with being needy, as “that invites people to meet us where we’re at now”.
Ask people to have joyful conversations with you, rather than allowing them to only share their problems. Instead of offering unsolicited advice, ask people what it is they want from you so you don’t feel like you’ve got to carry someone else’s load.
When it comes to fussy, difficult friends, we need to free ourselves from the deposit mentality that says if we martyr our needs for theirs, we’ll get something back in the future. Your mate will never ask where you want to go for lunch if you always let them set the agenda. As Thomas puts it: “Freeing ourselves from that means that we become human beings, rather than human doings.”
Images: Bronac McNeill
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.