We live in a world which expects us to be hyper-productive and always on. From the moment we wake up to pings and notifications, to the moment we crash into bed too late and tired. We have jobs to do, wages to earn, mouths to feed, bills and mortgages to pay, shit to buy, holidays to pay for.
This is hurting us as individuals. It is a stressful, exhausting way to live, and chronic stress has a massive impact on our health and mental health. We are in the depths of a global mental health crisis, with a worryingly high prevalence of depression and anxiety. Our physical health is often not much better, and chronic ill health is becoming commonplace.
Modern life is draining the life from us. We are sedentary, and we spend way too much time indoors. Many of us prioritise work above all else, pushing ourselves hard and neglecting to give ourselves downtime. We consume food that, sometimes, isn’t food at all. We used food to numb, as well as to nourish. Or we use social media, or alcohol, or shopping, or big projects, or busyness – all of these things are distractions from the ways in which we may feel unhappy.
We have lost our connection with nature, daily cycles, and seasons. Often, we are lonely. Our connections with loved ones are being eroded by the glowing screens in our pockets and handbags. We consume endless content, noise, news, fake news, opinions, rants – from media companies and advertisers, and from our peers. We are so deeply embedded in this way of life that we rarely question it, or who it serves.
This way of life is hurting us collectively. We can see this in exploitation of cheap labour, modern slavery, racial inequalities, and a whole host of social injustices that are too distressing to write about here. I think prior to 2020, a lot of us couldn’t see the bigger picture, and the ways in which we’re all interconnected. But we share this earth, and what harms some of us disproportionately – actually harms all of us. Problems can’t be shunted over to another part of the globe, and there is no ‘away’.
This way of life is certainly hurting our planet. By now we are all aware of climate change, and the disastrous impact of our way of life on the only planet we can call home. We need to learn to live very differently, and break our addiction to consumerism. This requires changes that are bigger than any of us, yet these changes are created by all of us collectively.
It took a personal crisis in 2016 for me to realise the extent of the harm we are doing to ourselves, individually. In 2019, I saw and understood climate change and the destruction of our natural environment. In 2020, my eyes were truly opened to social injustice and the deeply unfair way wealth and exploitation (two sides of the same coin) are distributed. It’s all the same issue played out at different scales. Because of the way we all experienced the same events of 2020 I think a lot of people are standing right here with me, looking in disbelief at everything we’ve shied away from before.
All of this weighs heavily on me, and I want to make a difference.
As I see it, there are two ways to enact change and they both matter hugely. On the macro scale is activism: Protests, petitions, voting, lobbying, pushing for structural change. On the micro scale is how we live the minutiae of our lives: How we take care of ourselves, each other, and our own little patches of land. Treading lightly on the earth, trying to leave things better than we found them.
I believe in both, but when I engage too much at the macro scale, it pulls me down. I feel helpless to make changes that are far bigger than one person, and yet I feel guilty for not trying harder. I joined the 2019 climate strikes, I’ve signed and shared petitions, I’ve engaged with anti-racism work, I’ve donated what I could to important causes. None of this felt anywhere near enough.
There are some incredible activists in the world, From Greta Thunberg to Glennon Doyle to the intersectional environmentalists Leah Thomas and Ayana Johnson (black women who piece together these interconnected issues in an illuminating way). I support them wholeheartedly, and I will continue to follow where they lead.
But where I personally want to lead is with the micro. Looking at the problem is heartbreaking, but the answer is not to look away, distract ourselves or bury our heads in the sand. It is to focus on the actions and solutions that are within our control. And it starts right here: In our homes, in our kitchens and gardens, in our families, before rippling out into our social networks and workplaces. Collectively, it adds up.
Coming full circle to where I started, we need to live our lives differently. We need to reconnect with ourselves, our families, our food, and the natural world. We need to know these things intimately, and give them the love they deserve. We need to see just how precious we are – individually, as a collective, and as an ecosystem (think for a moment how long you would live without oxygen, water, food – and then think about whether we are really separate from the planet that sustains us).
The more of us who see this, adjust our priorities and live our lives differently – the more that bigger changes will be possible. What we want, collectively, will be different. What we buy will be different, and market forces will shift. How we engage with the world, and who we vote into power, will change. Finding a bit of peace in ourselves will free up a whole lot of headspace to focus on what’s important.
After the events of 2020, I feel like so many of us are ready to make changes.
This blog will focus on easy, doable ways to make health changes and it will be organised into 5 pillars.
Why the five pillars? Because it’s easy to go all in the things you enjoy, but then undermine your health in other areas. I’ve done it so, so many times!
You can spend so many hours cooking and exercising that you end up going to bed late and you’re short on sleep.
Or you can go deep into self-care and self-development, reading all the blogs, attending the webinars, doing the challenges… and neglect the person sitting right next to you, who loves you and is a bedrock in your life.
I’m not the first person to talk about health pillars. You’ll see it everywhere because the concept is sound, it makes intuitive sense. The pillars I have chosen are the ones that make sense to me.
- Calm your nervous system. Meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and crucially, sleep. This is about regulating our nervous systems, activating the Vagus nerve and getting out of fight or flight mode (which is only ever meant to be a temporary response to external stressors)
- Move your body. Our bodies are built to move, and being sedentary is incredibly detrimental to our health. This is about exercise for health and mental health, with no particular focus on weight loss
- Nourish your body. Eating whole food, cooking from scratch, baking your own bread or sourdough (whatever is doable for you). This is about giving our bodies the nutrients they need, and also taking care of the gut microbiome (the community of beneficial microorganisms in the gut)
- Reconnect with people. This is not something I would have always thought about as a big component of health, but in fact it’s huge – and loneliness is a killer. Family, community, social support and a sense of being part of something bigger are vital to us as humans
- Reconnect with nature. Experiencing the natural world has a profound effect on us. It can help ground us, flooding our senses with cues from the outside world and tapping into the now, rather than the future in your head (which is a major component of anxiety). Spending time in nature and tuning into the seasons, growing your own vegetables, gardening