The Spell of Time Thieves ……. things we can do to reclaim our time and stress less

Picture by Luci Downes

Recently, I’ve been thinking more about time and the pressure we are under to fit everything in, particularly now the “business as usual” incantation seems to be bewitching us and the strain starts to take its toll again.

I’ve been having conversations with people, some of whom have slipped back all too easily into all the commitments which were stressing them out or making them ill prior to the pandemic. Others have made radical changes to their lives, changing jobs or working fewer hours.

We can’t get time back, but we can counter that which steals our time and energy.

  1. Reduce consumption

Up until the end of the 3rd lockdown, many people kept their costs down as they realise that consumption was really a short-lived antidote to feeling overworked or stressed. Often, we justify shopping with reasons such as “I’m going shopping to cheer myself up”, “because I deserve it”, “it was in the sale”, or “it fits so well” so we buy it because it looks great even though we don’t need more than the 20 jackets crammed into our wardrobe. The glamour never lasts.

Personally, I’ve been re-evaluating what I spend “life tokens” (a me-ism for money) on. I have reduced my freelance work hours and do more of the things which nurture me, like reading, gardening and spending time in nature. I find I don’t need to buy that coffee and cake so much if I am contentedly taking a walk or pottering up our land with a cup of meadowcine watching nature sneak back in. Which leads me onto the next point …..

  1. Cast out TV & hug a tree

I am guilty of watching TV as much as the next person. It’s so easy to flump down on the sofa and be entranced by a film or performance. However, sometimes I opt for something different where the magic is more tangible.

To break the spell simply stop, then breathe. Now do this outside. Go to the park, the woods, the forest. Spending time in the company of trees which release phytoncides is even better for us. Phytoncides are chemicals which are found in the essential oils within trees and improve our wellbeing. Essential oils are the parts of a plant which help retain its health, fighting disease and parasites. As the volatile phytoncides are released into the air we inhale them, boost our immunity, reduce stress, lower blood pressure and our pulse rate. A growing body of research (1) (2) is showing that tree huggers were right all along.

  1. Accept you can’t do it all & negotiate!

Some of my NHS colleagues are really feeling the pressure of time at the moment as we struggle to get round to seeing patients and reduce waiting lists. I noticed that some of my team who were making positive changes to enhance wellbeing, like taking breaks and leaving on time, have started slipping back towards old culturally toxic habits. Hell, hands up, so have I!

As the waiting lists never disappear (and let’s face we’d be out of a job if they did), this approach is unsustainable. It also disguises the fact that many departments are understaffed. By working extra hours for free, true staffing needs are unable to be measured, nothing changes and the pressure remains. I have started saying “no”. I accept that waiting lists are in the main, indicative of staff shortages and not my personal burden to carry.

If someone asks something of you and it is adding to an already hefty workload, explain you would love to help, but something has to give. Show them your options and agree what needs your focus and what needs to give. This is a great skill to use in your personal life too.

  1. Invest time in yourself

I recently recalled a social movement that was promoted 2 or 3 years ago within our local NHS trust called “15 seconds, 30 minutes”. Its aim was to “encourage staff to identify small tasks they can do now, which will save someone else 30 minutes to reduce frustration and increase joy in work”. Well, at least reduce the curses anyway.

It made me think how we could apply this to our health; invest a little time now on ourselves to save time in the longer run. If we break from our work, our stressors, our screens for just a few minutes it can save us getting stressed, then ill & therefore taking more time off sick in the longer term. Economically it saves money too. A healthy workforce is happier more efficient workforce that is less likely to burn out. It is a great way to model healthy boundaries to colleagues and our children – after all we really don’t want to raise a generation of blighted by the scourge of “burn-out”.

  1. Limit Social Media – the biggest time thief of them all!

I have been thinking about coming off Facebook for years. I reinforced the enchantment by saying I needed it for work. However, I took time to look beyond the mirror, on whether I needed social media to sustain my work. At present, I am as busy as I want to be and felt that Facebook was a sinkhole for my energy, time, health and me-ness.

I felt connections were only comment deep. My identity is not a fixed avatar. I am so much more than my posts. Alice would understand.

Breaking away from the looking glass that is my screen was hard at first. I had to adjust to not thinking in terms of “what to post on facebook” next, and weaning myself off the dopamine charm of validation. It only took a few days though.

Free of the sorcery of Facebook (which is only there to harvest your info, make you feel inferior, and so sell you more crap you don’t need. – see Point 1.), my mornings, are more relaxed and I am less distracted by all the “stuff”, adverts and information that social media bombards us with constantly. Billy Bragg’s recent song, “Ten Mysterious Photos that can’t be Explained” wisely cites, “you know that you can overdose on information.” It’s true. My mind feels less cluttered, I have more space to think and am enjoying reading books more.

I still Twit & Instagram a bit, taking regular breaks from all tech, but feel that I may well come off those too in future as I indulge more time with myself, family, newts, lizards, finches and the wonder of watching nature and biodiversity sneak back into our field. By the way, I found out that the collective noun for finches is a “charm” of finches. I’ve been watching them weave around the trees we have been planting over the past four-and-a-half years and it’s better than anything I may have missed on social media or the tellybox.

So let’s do it! Let’s break the spells of the time thieves and spend our time and energy wanting less and appreciating more of the vital magic in our lives.

  • Li Q, Kobayashi M, Wakayama Y, Inagaki H, Katsumata M, Hirata Y, Hirata K, Shimizu T, Kawada T, Park BJ, Ohira T, Kagawa T, Miyazaki Y. Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2009 Oct-Dec;22(4):951-9. doi: 10.1177/039463200902200410. PMID: 20074458.
  • Chae Y, Lee S, Jo Y, Kang S, Park S, Kang H. The Effects of Forest Therapy on Immune Function. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Aug 10;18(16):8440. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18168440. PMID: 34444188; PMCID: PMC8394293.