Feeling stressed? Just look up.

Most people’s lives are busy. In my case, lately, incredibly busy. I’m working full time, commuting to London every day, learning a completely new career and getting to know a whole new group of people. It’s lovely and exciting, but it is very hard work and my brain is bursting at the end of each work day. After which I usually rush home to look after my children, and attempt to look after my house and myself.

At the end of the second week of my new routine, I sat on the train and just cried all the way home. I tried to make it look like runny allergy eyes, but they were real tears. I wasn’t crying from sadness – not exactly. Part of it was just the realisation of what a huge change I’ve made in my life. Part of it was missing the support I had from my colleagues at my old job – relationships that took years to build – and the fear that I might not be able to build strong relationships with the new people. And the rest was just pure exhaustion.

However, two things happened that put things into perspective and made me feel better.

That evening, as I walked home from the train station, I took my headphones out and looked up at the sky. It was cold and crisp and the stars were out. I could see Orion with his belt. (Also, the dangling bit of stars hanging off his belt … have you noticed that? My husband likes to giggle about it when he’s had a few drinks. I informed him it was Orion’s sword but that didn’t stop him giggling).

Anyway, maybe it sounds a bit stupid, but looking up and noticing the everyday beauty of the night sky made my stress and fear melt away, for a little while at least. So often we trudge along with our eyes on our feet, headphones in, mind racing ever forward to the next task, the next problem, the next tripwire to avoid. When we look up, we’re reminded how small we are. How small all of it is. I stopped looking back at my day or worrying about the change I’d made and just enjoyed the quiet stillness of the evening.

I know, I know. So far, so cheesy cliche. Gazing at the stars. What a load of rubbish.

But since that happened, I’ve been thinking about how “looking up” can lead us in unexpected ways to just the things we need and have been looking for, consciously or no.

The next example happened early the following week, when I decided to kill some time in the library at my new workplace. I wasn’t looking for a book – I already had one with me. But I didn’t rush doggedly towards a chair to sit and bury my head in my book. I lingered, I looked around. My eyes fell on a book called The Mind Gym: Relationships. It wasn’t the sort of book I was expecting to find in a subject specialist work library.

The book is basically all about how to build successful relationships with people and get them to like you. This is a thing that makes me sweat bullets. I might be able to look and act normal(ish) while I’m talking to people, but afterwards I’m always worrying that I said something wrong. I beat myself up for being a socially awkward weirdo that everyone merely tolerates rather than actually likes.

The first chapter of the book, called “Right mind” asserts that the way you think about yourself and others, from the outset, can determine the way your relationships will go. It calls this “I’m ok, you’re ok”. You should think of yourself as “ok”. You are normal, you are likeable, you are a good person. You should also assume that the other person is all those things, and has no wish to dislike you or judge you. Whether or not that’s true is anyone’s guess. But if you take a positive attitude to yourself and the other person, you are setting yourself up for success.

There are lots of other chapters about various aspects of relationships, but at the heart of most of it is the belief that you have to power to decide how you look at things. Choose the happy. Tell yourself you’re ok and don’t beat yourself up. Listen to what others are actually saying rather than worrying about what you just said or what you will say.

This third very tricky week at my new job, I’ve been repeating “I’m ok, you’re ok” in my head whenever I was nervous about speaking with someone, and it’s stopped my emotions from running away with me. I’ve focused on listening instead of being insecure, and it’s helped me so much.

So next time you feel as though you’re so busy you don’t know which way is up, or you have too many stresses and worries to cope, or that nobody likes you and you can’t do anything right … look up. Look up and be open to the unexpected wisdom to be found in everyday moments and everyday things. And remember that, really, you’re ok.

Mission Mindfulness

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