Team Calm

Be Your Valentine!

No matter our relationship status, our capacity to love and be loved relates to our ability to love ourselves. 

The concept of self-love is often tossed around as if it were easy or some place to arrive (like the top of the mountain, you're either there or your not). The truth is, it's more like meditation, it's a practice. 

Some days it's romantic like taking a bubble bath or buying yourself something special. Other days, it's ordinary like making your lunch and paying your bills. You might be rolling your eyes right now, but just imagine if someone were to make you lunch and pay your bills, you might find yourself in awe of their generosity. However, when was the last time you thanked yourself for doing these things? Recognizing all of the work you do to take care of yourself is an act of self-love. 

Another way to show love to yourself is to listen inward so that you can understand what you need and then honor whatever arises. So often, our body or heart communicates something to us, and we say that's silly, you shouldn't need that or you don't deserve that. What would happen if the next time you became aware of exhaustion, you gave yourself permission to take a nap?  

Or, the next time you stood in front of the mirror, you looked for the beauty (or the handsome)?  

At Calm, we believe these acts of self-love add up and enrich the love we feel for ourselves and others. So whether you're single, in a relationship or it's complicated make sure to send yourself a valentine.

 

With love, 

The Calm team

When saying no is the nicest thing you can do

The younger me wanted to be friends with eeeeveryone. She wanted everyone to like her, or at least ‘be okay’ with her. She hated to disappoint, or upset, or anger anyone. In the end though, this meant that the only person who was disappointed, upset or angered was myself. This was exhausting. 

Then one day – one of those days when I was thoroughly exhausted and fed up – a friend asked me this hard question: “Are you your best self when you’re with these people and doing these things?”

That question fired up something bright, a single flicker in a dark room and the answer came immediately: of course I wasn’t at my best; I was too depleted to be. It was revolutionary to me to realize that so much of what I was doing was actually stopping me from fully being me. I’d spent so much time and energy worrying about how to keep everyone else happy that I didn’t have anything left for me. I wasn’t expanding, I wasn’t developing the things I was passionate about or broadening any of the good qualities I was fortunate enough to have. I was just… there, hovering at the flattest, broadest, most stagnant plateau there was just so I could get through each day ensuring that everyone around me was pleased with me (or at least not displeased). 

The same friend went on to point out a second hard truth (she wasn’t mincing her words that afternoon): that although I was ‘being nice’ to everyone by answering their calls for help, volunteering to do everything and never saying no to requests, I was actually being quite dishonest about it all. And that’s not very nice. 

Back up. Dishonest? But I only wanted everyone to be happy. How could that be dishonest? 

She was right though. I was agreeing to all these things and nodding along to requests, but then going away and feeling resentful, tired and reluctant. Because these weren’t necessarily things that I personally wanted to do, and these people weren’t all people that I was particularly close to and loved, a lot of what I was doing was half-hearted, even slightly angry. I went into things – tasks, offers of help, friendships – with plenty of zeal to please but at heart, I felt mostly dread, annoyance or sheer indifference. The truth to hit me hardest was realizing that I didn’t actually care about what I was doing anymore. 

For all I was doing to try to be nice, I wasn’t of any real service to anyone, not least myself. As much as I felt like a champion of doing so many things and being so many people’s friend, none of it was making me more of me. Actually, it was diminishing who I was; I had become a miserable, downtrodden shadow of the person I was. 

I had to change what I was doing because it was too exhausting to continue that way. Since then – and it’s been a long, hard road – I’ve learnt to very carefully and gently say no to things, situations and people as soon as I start to feel like something is making me back down on myself. By that, I mean I feel less able to be myself, or that something is pulling me directions I don’t actually enjoy or am uncomfortable with. 

This could be something as simple as choosing not to engage in a difficult conversation, to something more complex like stopping contact altogether with people who I feel are being too demanding or on very different paths to my own. It could mean literally saying no to a request; or more subtly, being discerning about who I choose to spend my time and energy with. 

Sometimes, I decline all social invitations and stay in the whole weekend with nobody but myself and mugs of tea – and know that this is totally okay and kind and honest to everyone, even the people I’ve said no to. It is okay because these are the days I build myself back up to my fullest potential and charge my spiritual, emotional and mental batteries. It is okay because I know that when I do start interacting again, I’m clear-headed enough to choose to surround myself with situations and people that are going to uplift me and enable me to give my best to whomever I’m with.  

People-pleasing has become a scourge of our modern day sensibilities. Of course it’s important to be sensitive, mindful and as kind as possible to the people around us, but if trying to fulfill all these demands on our time and energy restricts our own growth, dampens our spirits and tires us out, we’re not giving of ourselves fully anyway. We give only partially, perhaps begrudgingly and distractedly – so how helpful is that going to be to anyone anyway? How much can we really give or do – for ourselves or anyone else – when we’re running on empty? 

Sometimes, I’ve learnt, the kindest thing we can do is to say no, to step back, to unashamedly enjoy the rest and quiet we need for ourselves, recharge and recalibrate. Then, when we do say yes, it’s an emphatic one – yes! We make the deliberate choice to engage with what energizes us, what supports us to contribute the best we have to bring with us, what makes us fuller, more joyful, more excited and curious. 

Then we know that when we finally say yes, it is truly a good thing for our own growth, clarity, happiness and peace of mind. And if that’s making us the fullest, brightest beings we can be, we are offering the best of ourselves to the people we choose to spend our time with.

Now that’s really nice. 


Jamie Khoo is currently doing a PhD in Women’s Studies at the University of York, UK, where she is researching contemporary constructions of feminine beauty and body image. She has also written for Elle MalaysiaHuffington Post UK Blogs, Time Out Kuala Lumpur, elephant journal and the be you media group. Sick of being told by mass media and society what “beautiful” is or isn't, Jamie founded the website a beauty full mind to challenge conventional beauty ideals and create new conversations around what beauty can mean today. Say hello to her on Facebook or email hello@abeautyfullmind.com

Are affirmations wearing you down?

My mother worries constantly about not being able to find parking, working herself into such a great frenzy that she often chooses not to go out at all. While it’s true that my hometown is notorious for its messy traffic and terrible drivers, no one else I know has nearly as much difficulty finding a parking spot as she does. 

She is also proof that affirmations work – parking causes her an inordinate amount of stress because she actively reminds and reinforces to herself how stressful it is. 

A lot has been written about the power and potential of positive affirmations for directing us towards goals and aspirations. I’ll admit I’ve found it difficult to do the whole thing of standing in front of a mirror reciting uplifting mantras to myself – it has often felt inauthentic. Telling myself ‘I’m a beautiful, strong, confident woman’ doesn’t only feel untrue; it feels a bit silly. 

But seeing my mother manifest her own stress around parking got me reconsidering how affirmations work, whether or not we really believe in them, and whether they’re corny bumper sticker sayings, or beliefs we hold in the quieter spaces of our minds. 

My mother’s daily traffic stress might seem a little trivial – not finding parking isn’t cause for a great deal of anxiety – but the affirmations add up. All the little things become big things if you think about them enough and before you know it, you’re a testy, edgy ball of misery. 

Because of all the political upheaval around the world this year, a lot of us can’t help but be sucked into thinking and talking frequently about what are often incredibly agitating issues. I’ve started noticing how people around me are winding themselves up far more than they actually need to.

Whether it’s looking for things that are ‘wrong’, or reading negativity into situations, or just talking incessantly about the things that upset us, I’ve recently noticed how we repeatedly invite negativity into our lives. 

Once we’re weighed down by this negativity, our actions and reactions to things around us inevitably become colored by what we’re feeling and the energy, mood and beliefs we surround ourselves with. What we’re doing is affirming how miserable things are, which does nothing but reinforce the misery, create more of it and shroud us in a shadow of gloom. We probably all know a Debbie Downer like this who’s always moaning about how awful she feels, how bad everything and everyone is to her, who always has some big drama happening in her life that seems to physically grow every time she talks about it (which is often). 

It goes back to that old saying that we get what we put out into the world. Clichéd maybe, but also very true. It’s like the universe saying to us, ‘Hey, so you want misery? Here’s more!’ 

We can’t expect to put out one vibration and get something else in return. It’s like a radio – we can’t tune into a channel full of white noise on 55.5FM and expect to receive the top ten hits playing on 100.1FM. This seems obvious, but this is also what we do every time we repeat those negative affirmations, whether in action or in word. We can’t keep tuning to a frequency of self-pity, for example, and expecting to get confidence in return. If we’re focused on failure, then even when success does come our way, we won’t be able to identify and appreciate it or see it as anything other than something bad. 

So how do we stop this vicious cycle? The important thing isn’t to deny our feelings completely, to shut off a bad day and sweep our anxieties under the carpet. I’ve found that it starts with simply acknowledging these worries or feelings, but not to allow them to take centre stage and define our day, our decisions and actions we take. It is not to allow these fears to form a whole new reality for ourselves that we believe, become invested in and act from. 

I have found that in every dark situation, there is still something positive we can focus on instead that serves as a focal point for directing our energy and attention outwards. There is the option to tune into a different channel. If negative affirmations are wearing us down, the surely the opposite of more positive thinking can work to uplift us. We might not win the lottery the very next day, immediately get the job we desire or land a perfect relationship, our hearts and minds can expand and react in gentler, kinder, more joyful ways to ourselves. 

To use the example of my mother again, she could reframe her parking anxiety to a gentler, simpler, open thought: The parking will be fine. She may not get a spot straight away, but she’ll get a space eventually, it just might take a few rounds. A positive affirmation and focus will allow her to remain calm and unruffled in that time that she’s circling the parking lot, rather than spiraling into panic, impatience, irritation and stress. 

Changing our affirmations may not completely solve our problems nor fulfill our wishes like a magic genie. But it will allow us to move into a space that is peaceful rather than agitated, open to receive rather than closed to opportunities, relaxed enough to respond thoughtfully rather than tense and reactive. 

When we’re in this space, then whatever does come about, we are more able to handle it in ways that are more mindful, effective, beneficial, peaceful and even joyful. We see a different perspective, feel a different vibe, find a different way of thinking. 

And then we act. 


Jamie Khoo is currently doing a PhD in Women’s Studies at the University of York, UK, where she is researching contemporary constructions of feminine beauty and body image. She has also written for Elle Malaysia, Huffington Post UK Blogs, Time Out Kuala Lumpur, elephant journal and the be you media group. Sick of being told by mass media and society what “beautiful” is or isn't, Jamie founded the website a beauty full mind to challenge conventional beauty ideals and create new conversations around what beauty can mean today. Say hello to her on Facebook or email hello@abeautyfullmind.com

6 ideas for a sleep-friendly bedroom: for a sound night's sleep

We’ve spent the last 6 months dreaming up a big new feature at Calm and we’re excited to share it with you today.

It’s called Sleep Stories and is a unique new way of winding down every evening. 

Sleep Stories are soothing tales that mix music, sound effects and world class voice talent to help you drift off into dreamland.  

We believe there should be a more natural way for people to fall into a deep and restful sleep every evening. Our goal is to bring deep sleep and joy to millions of people around the world. 

Fittingly, we’re sharing our top 6 tips for creating a sleep-friendly bedroom to ensure a restful slumber every evening -

Invest in sleep props.

Invest in sleep props to help you on your way. Hang black out curtains to keep early morning light out during the summer months, and try earplugs if you are easily disturbed by noises.

Keep your bedroom decor simple and calm.

Avoid clutter, which can trigger your stress response, and make sure work papers are out of sight.

Opt for blue surroundings.

Opt for blue walls, or flashes of blue in soft furnishings: looking at this color can lead to a drop in your heart rate and blood pressure, and gentle blue hues are widely believed to have a soporific effect.

Keep a note pad or journal handy.

Keep a note pad or your journal by your bed. Then, instead of lying awake, worried you will forget something in the morning, you can write it down and allow the thoughts to pass.

Invest in a SAD lamp.

Invest in a SAD lamp which you can set to wake you up gently. Its light mimics sunlight and has been found to reduce the winter blues. It’s also a far more tranquil start to the day than a sudden blast of reality from your radio, or worse still, the blaring siren of a snooze alarm.

Listen to a Sleep Story.

Sleep Stories are particularly effective if you suffer from an overactive mind that goes into full whirr mode the minute your head hits the pillow. The soothing voices will send you off to dreamland in no time.

To celebrate we’ve made all the Sleep Stories in the Calm app completely free for a limited time. There are currently 22 to choose with new ones added all the time - stay tuned!

Why not try it out before bed tonight and let us know what you think?


The expansive joy of doing nothing

We are filled with busy-ness, wearing our full calendars like badges and armor. I know I often find a certain pride in turning to a new week in my diary and seeing it crammed full of scheduled meetings, lectures, lunches and dinners. I feel like I’m doing something! going somewhere! accomplishing! 

Recently though, I’ve found myself burning out, fizzling, slowing like wind-up toy winding down. All the busyness was keeping me, well, busy, but when I looked back on the past few weeks, I realized I hadn’t actually done anything. I haven’t felt creative in months, I’ve hardly done any writing and I’ve even struggled with reading more than a chapter of a book a time – a problem if you’re doing a PhD, as I am now. 

So, paralyzed by the overwhelming amount of work I needed to catch up on, I found myself one weekend unable to do anything at all. It’s like all the distractions, all the busyness finally added up and tipped the scale. I came to an abrupt halt. My body, dense and heavy and unmoving like a boulder, did not want to get out of bed. And finally, finally – I let myself stay there. 

There is something to be said about the value of rest – the negative to ‘doing’ which is just as valuable as the doing itself. Just as gym trainers advice us of the importance of having regular rest between vigorous work-out sessions, we need to accord ourselves that same mental stillness between all the things we do each day and each week. 

It is about breathing out, as much as it is breathing in. 

It is about allowing ourselves – body, mind and spirit – to take in as much as we expend in all our frantic doing. 

I know the idea of letting all of it go can be frightening. A part of us balks at the thought of absconding responsibilities, cancelling on people, not showing up. But this isn’t about giving up what we have to do. It’s about balancing all the things we have to do with moments of ‘doing nothing’ – and most importantly, allowing ourselves to sink into it, guilt free, knowing that this is just as important as the other things on our task list. (I have known people who, unable to relinquish their planners completely, schedule in time to do nothing). 

We can bring this whole, expansive nothingness into our lives in three ways: 

Do nothing during a task.

Allow yourself mini breaks between whatever it is you have to do, even if it’s just five minutes every hour. Do absolutely nothing but take 10 deep mindful breaths. If you can’t sit still, pick up your knitting for a few rows. Drink a cup of tea. Listen to your favorite song. 

Do nothing every day.

Find some time every day to just do nothing. This can be as short as 10 minutes when you first wake up in the morning, after work, or right before you go to bed. Give yourself time for you, whether it’s to ease into a new day or, at the end of the day, to let all the busyness you’ve had settle and dissipate. 


Do nothing for long(er) periods of time.

This could be taking a weekend to lie in bed, eat greasy takeout and read trashy novels, or going on a holiday. Proper periods of rest after being on the go for extended periods are so helpful for pressing that reset button, getting clarity and finding new inspiration. Let an auto-responder deal with your emails and don’t try to get updates from friends and colleagues.  

Whether it’s micro breaks or a big lush holiday, you’ll find that something magical happens in that empty space. When we’re not trying to fit ourselves into tightly constructed to-do lists and precisely divided hourly segments throughout the day, all the parts of us exhale and expand.

Instead of mentally and physically donning different hats to fulfill the multiple roles we set up for ourselves – student, employee, daughter, sister, friend, partner – we let ourselves just be. 

More importantly, as we relax into a place of doing nothing, the rigid boundaries we set up for accomplishing goals, finishing tasks and meeting people lift away.

All the different parts of ourselves reach across and connect to each other. Thoughts and events from one part of our life find their way over to other parts of our minds and inspire new thoughts, new ideas. 

As you sit and do nothing, a remnant from a conversation with a friend reminds you of a new approach to a work problem; a piece of music you’re listening to inspires you to start practicing the piano again and revive a much-loved hobby; a meditation helps you process the emotions from a nagging, difficult encounter and let it go. 

Actually, you realize, in that space of doing nothing are opportunities for an infinite number of juicy, awakened, energized, inspired somethings. 

But this won’t happen as long as we keep trying to force ourselves into perfectly planned schedules and run rings around ourselves to complete as many things as possible in a day. We need to gift ourselves space to expand and dream and float because that’s exactly where all the goodness happen.

Give yourself the treat of doing nothing this week. You might be surprised to discover that you end up accomplishing far more than you thought you would. 


Jamie Khoo is currently doing a PhD in Women’s Studies at the University of York, UK, where she is researching contemporary constructions of feminine beauty and body image. She has also written for Elle Malaysia, Huffington Post UK Blogs, Time Out Kuala Lumpur, elephant journal and the be you media group. Sick of being told by mass media and society what “beautiful” is or isn't, Jamie founded the website a beauty full mind to challenge conventional beauty ideals and create new conversations around what beauty can mean today. Say hello to her on Facebook or email hello (at) abeautyfullmind (dot) com. 


Need some extra support? Head to the Calm app and listen to our 7 Days of Calming Anxiety program, designed specifically to support you living a calmer and happier life.


3 tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving and the holidays are a time for celebrating, spending time with our loved ones and acknowledging all the good we have in our life. But they can also be the cause of a great deal of stress and anxiety - whether it’s family pressures; expectations on how the day should turn out; or even just wanting to make sure the day runs smoothly. 

Here are 3 simple tips for having a calm and stress-free Thanksgiving, so you can relax and enjoy this special time with your loved ones.
 

Use the S.T.O.P technique.
 

When you notice stress building you can use the S.T.O.P technique. S stands for stop, T stands for Take a breath, O stands for Observe and P stands for Proceed. 

By stopping, taking a breath, observing what’s going on within and then proceeding, we can get present and de-escalate our stress before it grows. 

Notice how it feels to stop and break the cycle of stressful thought. It’s important to do this especially when stress is high. 

Try this practice the next time you feel stress starting to build.

Let go of expectations.

A large part of the reason the holidays can overwhelms us is because we place high expectations on how things should be, and resist what is.

We have this idea that whatever is causing our stress shouldn’t be happening. And this resistance is a huge part of what exacerbates stress. 

Stressful things happen in life. People don’t act the way we want them to. Things may not turn out as we had planned. 

We often can’t change the external events of our life. 

But we can choose to surrender to what we can’t change rather than resist it. 

So in times when there’s nothing we can do to change our circumstances; in times we feel stressed, anxious and overwhelmed; the most kind and compassionate thing we can do for ourselves is to let go of our expectations and surrender to what is.

Be present.

Pay attention to everything about the people you converse with – their body language, the emotion behind their words. Offer them your full attention and resist the urge to drift off into thought about what to say next before they’ve even finished their sentence - just listen. 

Each time you notice your mind has wandered, bring it back in a gentle, patient way.

Being fully present in the moment and paying attention through mindful listening is one of the best ways to connect and deepen relationships with your loved ones. Give it a try. 


Need some extra support? Head to the Calm app and listen to our 7 Days of Calming Anxiety program, designed specifically to support you living a calmer and happier life.


3 key ingredients for good sleep

We’ve all been there—tossing and turning, willing our tired bodies to hit the sack when it refuses shuteye. To help, we turn to sleeping pills, herbal remedies, over-the-counter sleep meds and other antidotes.

But the truth: we already have everything within ourselves to get a good night’s sleep—it’s built into our amazing mechanism as human beings.

So why then do we still struggle to get good Zzz’s?

Most, if not all, slumber problems stem from not having one or more of three key sleep ingredients in place when it’s time for bed. 

1. Feeling sleepy.

It may sound obvious, but many times we go to bed before we’re actually sleepy. And by “sleepy” I mean not just feeling tired or even exhausted, but where you actually find yourself nodding off.

And while our reasons for hitting the hay may seem sound: it’s your usual bedtime, your partner is going to sleep so you should too, or you want to get “the right” number of shuteye hours—if you’re not sleepy, you won’t sleep. 

So how can you ensure your body is ready for lights out? 

  • Establish a set wake-up time. Generally, we need to be awake about 16 hours before we’re ready for sleep (assuming we’re already well-rested). The key? Having a set wake-up time and sticking with it.

If you get up about the same time each morning, including weekends, your body will establish a regular sleep/wake cycle, and you’ll get sleepy around the same time each evening. 
It can be challenging at first, especially on the weekends, when all you want to do is stay in bed and sleep late. But your body will adjust after a few weeks—making it easier to wake up earlier (which means more time to enjoy your days off!). 

  • Stay active during the day. Engage in your life wholeheartedly. Put everything into your work, relationships and leisure activities. The more mentally and physically active you are during the day, the more tired you’ll be at night, and the easier sleepiness will come. 

2. Allowing Yourself to Relax.

Relaxing in the evening is challenging for many. Life can be stressful and demanding, so when bedtime comes, we can still be wound up, making sleep feel impossible.

Here are a few tips to get relaxed before bed:

  • Give yourself at least an hour to unwind.

This means no work or stressful activities for an hour (2-3 hours is ideal) before going to sleep. You can read or listen to a not-too-heart-pumping story (be sure to check out Calm Sleep Stories for some great bedtime fiction). Or enjoy peaceful music, do a puzzle, or make love. It can be almost anything as long as it helps you relax and decompress. 

It’s important to carve out this time for yourself. Mark it into your calendar so nothing else will take its place.

  • Move your Body.

Working out 3-6 hours before bedtime has several benefits: it decreases stress and anxiety, facilitating relaxation; if exercising outside, the natural light helps maintain a regular sleep cycle (making the desire to sleep at night stronger); and it raises and then steeply drops your body temperature, which is ideal for good sleep.

  • Take a hot bath.

If exercise isn’t an option, then a good substitute is a bath. Keep it hot and soak for 20-30 minutes, no earlier than two hours before bed. This will allow your body temperature enough time to drop for optimal sleep.

3. Listening to your sleep signals.

Many of us try to force sleep or expect it to come when we want it to. But just as our body will signal when it’s hungry, it will tell us when it needs sleep.

Unfortunately, we lose touch with this innate signal because we (unknowingly) interfere with our sleep by trying to make it come.

But your body will sleep when it’s ready. 

Learning what to do, and not do, to reset your sleep cycle and being in touch with your body’s signals are fundamental to get and maintain a strong, consistent and healthy sleep pattern.

For more details on how to achieve this and cultivate great sleep, listen to the introduction to Sleep Stories at www.calm.com and check out my story in the app.


Dr. Steve Orma is a clinical psychologist, recognized mental health expert, and specialist in the treatment of insomnia, anxiety, and stress.


Try these tips for a stress-free daily commute to work

Next time you find your blood pressure spiking and your stress-levels reaching an all time high on your daily commute, bring your attention back to the present moment.

 There is a golden quality to travel time when you start to re-frame it as an opportunity for a rare and precious slice of solitude.

To avoid the stress you face on your daily commute, try these simple tips for a calm and relaxing journey to work.

Begin with the intention to be compassionate.

Think about being kind to others. Whatever your means of travel, you can choose not to let bumper-to-bumper traffic or other inconveniences create anxiety.

Rather than trying to beat the clock, take this time to practice relaxing in the present moment.

Focus on the sounds around you.

Use beeping horns, ringing bells and any noise you hear as a reminder to bring you back to the present.

Practice non-judgement.


With a relaxed mind, view the people around you without judgement. Acknowledge the fact that you all share the common goal of getting somewhere.

If you face a traffic jam, or the passenger sitting beside you is coughing, try not to react with aversion, but rather observe what’s happening with compassion for your fellow travelers. Use this opportunity to feel a connection with others.

As you continue your daily commute with a compassionate attitude, you’ll find it transforms not only your journey, bit the rest of your day.


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