Looking after yourself

Seven simple pleasures to make time for in your diary

For busy dad Darryl Croft, two minutes of quiet feels like a luxury. Sound familiar? Try these super-simple mood-boosters.

Work. Family stuff. Jobs around the house. Between two under-fives and a never-quite-finished home renovation project, the concept of ‘me time’ has gone out the window. And with costs mounting, belts tightening and luxuries on lockdown, when a window does arise, there are decisions to be made. Do I splurge on a dinner out, or have a quiet one and finally re-carpet the spare room?

As it does for many people at the moment, the low-cost option usually wins. But only because I’ve learned how to find fun in the simplest of life’s pleasures.

Even when budgets are tight, there are loads of simple things all of us can do to instantly boost our mood. Here are seven to start with.

Read a newspaper

No, not a news website, not an app – a good old-fashioned newspaper. I used to get almost all my news digitally. Until, that is, I realised that a newspaper can’t choose to distract me from my leisurely browse through the headlines to let me know that another bill is due, or remind me that it’s my mother-in-law’s birthday tomorrow.

I’ve found that switching my phone to silent and soaking up some analogue news allows me to focus my attention and more effectively catch up with what’s going on in the world.

Be the first one awake

I know, this may sound like the opposite of self-care, but hear me out. Setting an alarm so that I’m awake before the rest of the household – at least 30 minutes, maybe an hour – means I get a head start on any small jobs left over from the day before and feel more organised by the time the family make their way downstairs.

And if nobody’s stirring after everything’s done? You’ve never heard a man make a cup of tea more quietly.

Take pride in chores

For me, weekends used to be afternoons in the pub and settling in on the sofa for the footie. Now it’s all swimming lessons and DIY. And while I’ve accepted the kids are going to take a while to nail front crawl, I’ve learned a simple trick that takes the sting out of the latter: do it properly.

Got some shelves to put up? I set aside a couple of hours for YouTube tutorials, a couple more to get the right tools and a couple more to tackle the job with care and precision. By the time the job’s done, I’ve learnt a new skill and ticked something off my never-ending list – that’s two big mental-health wins.

Make a slideshow

As a change from the usual post-dinner movie, I’ve got into the habit of dipping into my camera roll to create themed photo albums, which I can then beam onto the living room TV and flick through with the family. My phone even has a neat feature that lets me search for keywords (weddings, for example), making pulling together these trips down memory lane a doddle.

Taking time to appreciate past experiences is a great thing to do as a family, and it helps us build resilience when we’re going through difficult times.

Hit the supermarket off-peak

Thanks to a flexible working schedule, I’ve discovered that the best time to do grocery shopping is mid-morning on a weekday. With fewer shoppers to contend with, I can take my time, grab ingredients that actually go together and hunt out the best offers – as opposed to getting flustered and walking out with a multipack of crisps and a strange-shaped vegetable I don’t even know the name of, let alone how to cook. The result? A less stressed-out dad, a happier family and tastier dinners.

Smile at the neighbours

Ever since lockdown, I’ve learned to treat the people living around me as an extended support network. Café and pub visits may not be as frequent as they used to be for my family, but by getting on chatting terms with people around me, the offer of a hot drink and a change of scenery is never far away. Best of all, you’d be surprised how much a ten-minute chat can lift your spirits when you’re feeling a bit down. The steady supply of biscuits helps too, of course.

Pick up an old hobby

Back in the pre-kids days, I used to have an amazing backhand. And though it may now only be so-so, I still occasionally find pleasure in dusting off my tennis shoes and heading to the local community courts for an hour or so of the only sport I’ve ever been any good at. Got a hobby that you’ve not picked up in years? Next time you’ve got a free hour in your calendar, roll back the years and give it a go. It’s a great way to rediscover your sense of self, and you’ll be amazed how rewarding it can be.

Ali Gray

Ali is a content director and creative consultant who specialises in lifestyle.

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