Wednesday, May 1, 2013

may day! 10 commandments for rescuing myself

And just like that it's May.  I don't often get confessional on this blog so let me just say that this winter was not my favourite time.  There are a lot of big changes afoot in my life and while there are still a lot of unknowns, I am feeling optimistic.  But it's been a bit of a slog to get to this point.  I always find winter a bit tough.  Add in exhaustion and confusion and I wasn't feeling particularly glad, good or brave. Quite the opposite. I've spent much of April trying to take care of myself.  Over the past month I've come up with 10 commandments. Many of them I learned in 4th grade health class but the fact is they're also the first things that go out the window when I'm stressed.

Thou shalt drink water. Like, lots of it.  When I was a very little girl I used to end up in the hospital hooked up to IV fairly regularly. That's how bad I was at drinking water.   But  that sluggishness?  That headache?  Water is gonna help.   If you want to give your water a little punch skip the artificially sweetened additives and toss in some fruit or veg or herbs.  My favourite is sliced cucumber.  And right now I'm sipping on a glass flavoured with fresh ginger slices.
Thou shalt get moving. Just start. Doesn't matter if you're not a natural athlete.  Just move.  Get off the couch.  I get into a vicious cycle when I'm stressed: I don't feel like doing anything.  So I don't.  And then I feel more sluggish and down.  So go for a walk.  Dance in your kitchen.  Take a yoga class.  Shoot some hoops for the first time since high school.  Just do it.

Thou shalt eat more fruits and vegetables.  Because again stress makes for a vicious cycle - I find myself reaching for processed food with empty calories and little nutritional value, which only makes me feel worse... and then I reach for those same processed easy foods. When I was visiting my parents at Easter I was finally starting to feel like I was on the mend.  And I was overwhelmed by my craving for fruit and raw vegetables.  I used to balk at buying prepped trays of chopped fruit and veg - after all, I should be together enough to chop up broccoli, right? But the fact is, when I'm stressed I'm not.  And if it means the differnece between reaching for  fruit and veg or not, then spend the little extra on the prepped tray.   On a related note: Thou shalt take your vitamins.  Consider it your back-up plan.

Thou shalt get fresh air whenever you can.  I would love to be a winter person; one of those rosy-cheeked people out on the ski hills.  I'm not.  I hibernate.  So now that the weather is getting nice here, I am trying to get outdoors as much as possible.  I'm lucky to live in a city that encourages this behaviour with great trails, parks and a beautiful river.  So I'm choosing picnics on the green over restaurants, catch-up walks with pals instead of coffee whenever I can.

Thou shalt review your emotional investment portfolio.  This can be a tough one.  We all have those people in our lives who are high-risk or low-return when it comes to the emotion, time and energy you invest in them.  And when you're already feeling stressed and vulnerable they can stretch your resources even thinner.  I'm not advocating that you just cut people out of your life (although sometimes that's the hard truth about what needs to happen) but you need to be mindful about who gets your time, energy and attention.  Invest heavily in people who inspire, encourage and refresh you.

Thou shalt clean up your messes. One of my favourite Dorothy Parker quotes is: "It's not the tragedies that kill us, it's the messes."  Both literal and metaphorical.  For me a cluttered house only increases my anxiety.  Don't leave dirty dishes in the sink over night.  Hang up your clothes.  Take the 10 minutes to fix that little household annoyance like a wobbly towel rack that bugs you every time you encounter it.  And same thing in your emotional, financial or professional life.  I believe most of us have the ability to rise to the occasion when we're faced with a  serious crisis, it's the day to day messes that add up and wear us down.  Take a hard look at what you need to clean up and start figuring out how to take action. That one step alone can make you feel better.

Thou shalt make your bed. This was my mom's rule.  No leaving the house with an unmade bed.  If you make your bed you won't come home to sloppiness at the end of a long day.  And you will have made order out of at least one messy thing today.  Also run a comb through your hair and put on some lip gloss.  You'll feel better.

Thou shalt get creative and make things.  Make the time.  This is an important one for me.  Again it can feel like there's no time to do this but taking a few minutes to turn a pile of materials into something lovely always energizes me.  And it's a bonus if I'm making something for someone else.

Thou shalt seek out beauty.    Take half an hour an go to a gallery. Take a different route to work.  Create a little corner in your house that makes you smile.  Post pretty images on your fridge or your bathroom mirror.  Give yourself a few minutes a day to look at pretty things on Pinterest. Plug into Songza and treat your ears to new music.  Look at the sunset.  Look at the stars.  Look at a tree. Just look.  Once you start seeking it you'll start to see it everywhere.

Thou shalt practice gratitude.  Write down things you're thankful for every day. You'll be surprised by what you come up with.  And you'll start to notice things more.

I'm lucky that these self-care habits can help reduce my stress and improve my mood but I also understand that for many people who live with depression or anxiety, lifestyle changes might not be enough. I've never understood why we can't move past the stigma associated with mental health issues.  No one judges a diabetic for needing insulin in addition to healthy eating and exercise - no one expects them to 'buck up' or 'snap of it'  - but for some reason we're only beginning to tear down the misconceptions about mental health.  That's why I'm really excited to be headed to A Day in Her Shoes next week with my mom in support of the Canadian Mental Health Association.   The more we can bring mental health out into the open and the every day, the better!

How do you take care of your mental and physical health? 


Kandise said...

Do you think it's the time of year that leads to this sort of thinking of personal renewal? Because I just posted about this a few weeks myself, and I know we're not the only ones.

We have very similar goals, and I'm going to adopt a few more of these for myself :)

Aside: what is it about chopped fruit and veggies that makes them so much more edible-seeming than just approaching an intact apple? Time to bust out the food processor!


Anonymous said...

Love this post, Heather! I am feeling inspired to take on your list, too.

Hetty said...

Beautiful, Heather! And I have pretty much identical commandments for myself. Maybe they're universal for our type? If you need help with the creative commandment, let me know. We can make a date...:)

Lori Quick said...

I love your commandments, Heather! I wasn't allowed to leave for school if my bed wasn't made either! Now, for me, the thing I need to make time for is getting creative and making things!