I have always found it really hard to switch off and totally relax. As a working mum of two small children, running my own business and co-running a family with my husband - it’s non-stop, and I know that’s the same for most of the mums I work with.
And even when I do manage to get a free weekend or a few hours to myself in an evening, I end up volunteering at my daughter’s school or signing up to charity challenge. It’s like my brain has been conditioned to panic at the thought of a day off or a few hours of doing nothing!
Yet as a Personal Trainer, I understand the importance of rest and relaxation to allow the body and mind to recover. It’s important to prevent adrenal fatigue and the other consequences of a high-stress lifestyle.
However, I seem incapable of taking my own advice. This is not a conscious decision; I don’t feel guilty about doing nothing or taking time to myself like others do. It’s not even like I don’t have the time to take a break - I run my own business so technically can take time off whenever I want to within reason.
But somehow I manage to agree to things and fill my diary up to the brim without even realising. I am convinced that subconsciously I deliberately leave myself no free time.
Until recently, I don’t think I could pinpoint a time when I totally switched off and not been either physically or mentally working. Even when I work out (which I would class as ‘me time’ to switch off) I am still planning things in my head for work and for my training.
I end up watching people in the gym, mentally correcting other people’s techniques and thinking what I would do differently. It’s actually not relaxing at all!
This past weekend I climbed Helvellyn with my 3 friends as training for... yes... another charity event! We set off early on Sunday morning (which could have been my day off) and headed to the Lake District so that we could have a practice climb before our sponsored event in September. I’m not an avid climber; in fact I have only climbed once previously when I took part in the National Three Peaks Challenge. Until that point, climbing had never interested me because I had always thought of it as a boring, older person’s hobby that wasn’t very challenging.
Driving home from the Lake District on Sunday, it dawned on me that, although my body had physically challenged and my muscles were working hard during the climb, my mind had completely switched off. I don’t remember what I thought about while I was climbing, but I know it wasn’t work or planning anything other than putting one foot in front of the other and reaching the top.
I remember taking time to enjoy the quiet and the amazing views from the top of the mountain. I remember laughing lots with my friends and motivating each other as we each felt fatigued at different stages of the climb. I remember feeling tired, sweaty and at times like I wanted to head back down. I remember feeling amazed, looking at how high we had climbed from our starting point.
For a few hours, I actually switched off from the world and actually lived in the moment without a care in the world. And it felt really, really good. Sport and fitness have always involved competition for me and by nature I am a very competitive person. However, with climbing, there is no competition and yet the feeling of achievement after reaching the summit is as good as, if not better than winning an event.
I would recommend to all women out there go out and climb a mountain! No matter what our circumstances, whether it be raising a family, a stressful career, completing studies, struggling to find work or whatever the challenges we all face, it will feel incredible.
We all need to find the off switch and I know many women are just like me and don’t know how to do that yet. Climbing doesn’t need to be an expensive hobby - bar the basic safety equipment, you’re good to go without having to spend too much. We are so lucky here in the North West of England as we can reach some amazing mountains within a few hours’ drive in most directions.
So I really urge you to get a group of girlfriends, pack up the car and head off to the mountains for a weekend and just climb! Well, obviously take safety considerations into account - don’t be that girl in the denim shorts and a selfie stick getting choppered off the mountain!
But done safely and in good company, mountain climbing and hiking can feel like a sort of active meditation. Believe it or not, you’ll come down the mountain feeling physically exhausted but mentally and emotionally rested, and ready for anything.