Rituals to open and close your day

All life on earth follows a rhythm that’s governed by the 24-hour oscillation between day and night, light and dark. Living in synchronicity with this cycle, which our inner body clock is programed to do via our circadian rhythms, is key to our health and wellbeing.

It’s not only good for our biology, but also our psychology, to make the most of nature’s generous offer, which is the opportunity to clear the slate and start again, every single day. That offer stands for the rest of our life and it means that no matter how bad things get, it will be only another 12 hours or so, before you can begin afresh.

However, we will only enjoy the benefits of this cycle if we tune into, rather than over-ride, our body’s inherent rhythms.

Morning – how to get out of the right side of bed.

How you get out of bed can set the tone for the whole day. If you start off rushed and cranky, your whole day can follow suit. How can you set yourself up to feel spacious and supported instead? Here are some suggestions:

  • Rise early enough so you don’t have to start the day in a rush. Yes, that may mean going to bed half an hour earlier, but it’s worth it! If you are a night owl, put some energy into re-setting your body clock, so the mornings aren’t so tough.
  • On waking, start the day with some self-appreciation, by acknowledging the qualities and abilities that you bring to teaching. Feeling valued is one of our core needs, and you can take responsibility for meeting that need by regularly appreciating yourself, rather than relying only on external recognition. Carry this awareness of your inner resource-full-ness into your day.
  • Notice the way you get out of bed. Get back in and this time step out with respect for your body and with a quality you’d like to take into the day. Calm? Centred? Harmonious?
  • Once out of bed, see if you can get some direct sunlight first thing, maybe as you exercise, or commute to work. At a minimum go outside to brush your teeth. Morning sun helps you wake up naturally, signalling to your body clock that it’s time to release alertness-inducing hormones. Solar energy is a source of renewable energy for the human body as well as the planet.
  • Review your breakfast – does it nourish and sustain you? And how do you eat it – mindlessly, on the run, or consciously?
  • At work, make someone’s day by acknowledging another staff member. Be specific about what you appreciate about them. Research suggests that in order to flourish, personal and workplace relationships need a ratio of 5 : 1 positive : negative comments.
  • If you feel really stressed thinking about the day ahead, get pro-active about lining up someone to talk to.

Evening – reclaim the night to power down, not power on.

Do you ever wake up feeling hung over, not from alcohol, but from unprocessed issues from the day before? You took some ‘leftovers’ to bed, and then they woke or unsettled you during the night. (Read more: Losing sleep over work).

This is more likely to happen when we miss the opportunity to embrace our evenings as an opportunity to bring a sense of completion to the day, rather than power on until we drop.

A quarter of all Australian adults use the internet most or every night of the week just before bed and have frequent sleep difficulties according to the 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australians.

Reclaiming the night for the purpose of bringing the day to a close is worth the effort, as just one or two hours less sleep each night has a measurable effect on our mood, ability to communicate clearly and think straight the next day. Even our ability to behave ethically at work declines the less sleep we get. (Read more: Sleep your way to Success)

If you struggle with insufficient quality or quantity of sleep, review your night-time patterns and see if there is anything you can do to help you catch the downswing of nature’s 24-hour cycle.

How does your evening line up against sleep hygiene advice which includes reducing alcohol and caffeine, establishing a wind down routine that includes a 30 to 60-minute technology free period before bed and regular exercise? Also consider these suggestions that can help change the tone of your evening:

  • Before you leave work, establish some simple practices that indicate closure, even and especially when your to-do list is not all ticked off.  You can transform the acts of turning off your computer or tidying your desk a little, into rituals that signal completion.
  • If you are frustrated by the lack of ticks on your to-do list, write down what you did achieve. Before leaving work, allocate a time to address outstanding matters tomorrow.
  • If it has been an especially hard day, debrief with someone. Journaling or talking into a voice recorder is also therapeutic. Physical activity of any kind also helps shift your perspective.
  • Look at the activities you do after dinner at home. Where possible, chose tasks that close the loop on the day’s activity, rather than crank up something new.
  • Begin to dim the lights in your home, well before bed. Take a moment outside and look at the night sky and check what phase the moon is in. This is a nice thing to do with your children.
  • Notice how you respond to that first wave of tiredness. Do you ignore it? Or think – it’s too early to go to bed!? Unless you are going out, can you embrace it as a reminder that it’s wind-down, not wind-up time?
  • Make getting into bed the most delicious thing you could do. So rather than plonking yourself on the mattress, lay your body down with great appreciation for how it has served you today, and in anticipation of sleep’s wondrous restoration.
  • Finally, turn the lights out on your nervous system. Imagine that your spinal cord is a high-rise building. Then go through each floor (segments of your spine from neck to tail) and turn the lights out. Sweet dreams!

Thea O’Connor is a health and productivity writer, presenter and coach. She specialises in personal sustainability, helping individual and groups adopt healthy, sustainable and effective work habits thea.com.au