Taking care of yourself is so important. I decided to use this platform, however small, to push the importance of taking care of your mental health, as it deeply affects your physical health, and how focusing on your physical health can help you mentally.
First of all, I am not an expert on this stuff. Don’t take my experiences, routines, or advice as actual medical advice. I’m just here to offer my two cents.
So a little backstory. Last summer I was diagnosed by my PCP with obsessive compulsive disorder. The OCD was giving me such anxiety that I was having heart palpitations and eventually panic attacks. This was aside from the other OCD symptoms: turning around halfway to school to make sure my door was locked, repeating myself when having a single conversation to make sure the other person understood, spending nearly $100 on pesticides because I had one roach, staying up all night researching air conditioner smells because I thought my AC was catching on fire (when really the ducts just needed cleaning), and other ridiculous things that kept me from being places on time, saving money or spending it in more logical places, sleeping, and being happy.
I started getting a handle on things last fall, and in 2019, I made it a resolution to put myself first. I wanted to share my routine with others in the hopes that it might help someone out.
I’m a morning person, so I don’t mind at all waking up. My alarm is through my phone’s bedtime feature. My phone makes a gentle sound when it’s time to get up, wishes me good morning, and tells me the weather.
This is all I do on my phone for the next hour or so.
I get up and immediately make my bed. It’s an instant sense of accomplishment.
Next I go into my living room (though you can be in whatever space you’re most comfortable in) where I begin my 2019 routine.
First a make a cup of coffee- good coffee. I value good food and drink, personally, because I think if it’s worth going into your body, the place you’ll live all your life, it needs to be good. While the coffee is brewing, I get some smell-good going: a candle, incense, my diffuser… something that wakes up my senses with a smell that makes me smile.
Coffee and candle going, I get on the floor (on a yoga mat or blanket or both) and begin to gently stretch, focusing on my back, neck, and shoulders, which is where I hold my tension. When I’m stressed, I tend to tighten up in those areas, sometimes to the point where I get tension headaches. I once had a tension headache that lasted five days. I’m not playing that game anymore.
Once I’m loosened up and awake, I take to my journal. Journaling early helps center my mind. I write down the weather to feel present and write how I’m feeling, good or bad. Either way, I like to expand upon it: write my anxieties, how I can solve them, why I feel that way, whether or not that which is worrying me is in my control… If it’s good, I write why. Next I write what I’m thankful for. If there isn’t much to write that morning, I look to journal prompts or, my personal favorite, making lists. I find that making lists gives me a sense of control, which is key for me. I’ve noticed that if I don’t have control of a situation, that’s when my anxiety raises its head. Some lists I’ve made are my favorite wines and skills I want to learn.
One list I keep going is my “small victories, small joys” list. I read something one morning (which I’ll get to in a moment) that noted that noticing and savoring in the little things can improve your overall happiness. A research study was conducted to prove this, so I’m not making it up. After reading about this study, I decided to try it out. Now, I have alarms set throughout the day to remind me to stop, look around, and see if I am currently experiencing or have just recently experienced a small joy. If so, I make a note of it, and at my next journaling session, I add them to the list, describing the best in great detail. After my list grew to a decent length, I found the things that consistently gave joy and have been able to intentionally and consistently incorporate them into my life.
After I’ve journaled, I check my to-do list for the day. Not the week or the month (even though I do have those lists as well), just for today. It’s calming to think, “this is all I have to do, and I can do this.”
Lastly, I pray. I ask for God’s blessing and for whatever or whomever else I feel the need to pray for that day.
In the evenings, I’m usually wired from my day, so I try my absolute best to chill out before bed. It isn’t much, but it helps:
I go back over my to-do list from the day and make any changes to my other lists. I get my stuff together for the next day (set out my clothes, pack stuff up, make a lunch, set my coffee to brew, do the dishes, pick-up, whatever) so that I don’t have to deal with it in the morning.
Once I’m in bed, if need be, I consult my journal once again to get all the words and feelings out of my brain for the night. Then I read my book until my phone says it’s time to go to bed, and like the morning, this is about the only reason I’m on my phone during this time. Once it’s time to go to bed, I say another quick prayer.
Sometimes, I’ll have tea (the type of tea depends on what’s going on… chamomile, lavender, and rosehips for anxiety, blueberry for detox, peppermint for indigestion, etc.), get some smell-good stuff out, and/or stretch.
One thing I’ve started using is this app called Soothing Sleep Sounds. It’s totally free (free download and free to use after you’ve downloaded it). I turn it on when I’m going to bed (the only exception being if it’s raining outside). I love it!
During the Day:
Outside of these two detailed regimens, I try to be physically healthy overall. I workout five times a week, a combination of running or other cardio, weight lifting and strength training, and pilates or yoga (which has rocked my world). If the weather is good, I try to kayak or hike. I think the fresh air is vital to good health. Sunshine is even better. I try to eat right, floss, moisturize, and take vitamins, too.
A new favorite thing of mine (remember that thing I said I’d mention later?) is Shine Texts. The company Shine sends you a text every day that is designed to help bring your assurance, comfort, confidents, or reminders to take care of yourself, as well as links to articles that give you in-depth informative, research-backed content on all this stuff. That’s where I learned about setting reminders for small victories.
Another thing I do is check-in with a Facebook group I’m part of called Radical Transformation Group for Ladies. It’s a closed group with about 3,000 members, and we post in there when we have questions, need tips, or want to share a story (positive or negative). It’s all about support and building each other up. I recommend joining! Another thing though… I try to stay off social media as much as possible. I’ve found that while I get good content and maintain some meaningful connections, it has also caused me to be anxious and worrisome about certain people (i.e. my boyfriend, my sister, a couple of my friends), left me questioning my own life and my self-esteem (the whole highlight reel thing), I’m constantly checking (fear of missing out), and sometimes it’s just a waste of time (imagine the more productive, meaningful things you could be doing in that time). Because of all this, I used a feature on my iPhone that limits my time on Facebook. Once I’ve reached my limit, it shuts me out. It’s been amazing.
I believe that all this stuff is connected- your mental and physical health. I take care of myself physically because it wears out some of my pent-up energy from my over-active mind, in addition to everything else: making me strong so I can lift things by myself, building my endurance so I can walk farther and do more in a day, keeping me flexible so my muscles stay healthy, and helping all the inside stuff (heart, lungs, circulation, blood pressure) be alright. Just like our physical bodies need the upkeep, so do our minds. They need to be challenged to be strong, nurtured to stay healthy. If our mind is right, our body can be right. Conversely, if our minds aren’t right, it can affect us physically. For me, it’s in the form of tight muscles, leading to shoulder pain and tension headaches, and every now and then, an anxiety attack, which leads to lightheadedness, a racing heart, or even heart palpitations. A friend of mine actually had to go to the doctor because she was throwing up so much. What they first thought was kidney failure was actually just her anxiety taking over her.
The biggest thing in all of this? If you don’t get to some part of your routine or you miss a workout, FORGIVE YOURSELF. Life happens. You oversleep, you go out at night with friends, it’s too damn hot to drink a steaming cup of tea, you run out of matches or your diffuser batteries die… life happens. And that’s okay. Yes, discipline is important, but acceptance of what is and forgiveness are just as important.
I hope this helps someone out. I think the discussion about mental health needs to be amplified. It’s so, so critical that we take care of our minds.