For the past several weeks, I've been thinking about practices, habits, routine. I have some bad habits, for sure. When the puppy wakes up at 5:00 in the morning ready to be taken out, I'm tempted to scroll through my overnight notifications as I linger on the back deck in my bathrobe, waiting for her to finish her business. Since it's still dark at that time, I'm wary of venturing out sans device. It's part of my mother's paranoia training from my childhood. If nothing else, I need to have it on me just in case.
But then I also use my phone to keep a list of daily observations, an idea I got from an episode of On Being with Marie Howe, such as "three breadcrumbs on the kitchen counter" or "the steam rising off a clump of freshly fried eggs." A longer one reads: "My folded pajamas lying at the foot of the bed; not neatly, but giving the illusion of neatness." I keep them filed on my Evernote app and mark the practice under the good habits column. Which reaffirms my stance on technology not being inherently bad, only the ways in which we use it. Mindlessly liking posts we barely glance at on Instagram—bad habit; but, creating a collection of uplifting calligraphic artwork to brighten our mood on a bad day—better habit.
Funnily enough, none of the ways in which I stay well need to involve my phone, or any technology at all. In fact, I would argue that there is a very small percentage of good habits that can be derived from your phone, computer, or tablet. Although, deeply researched articles, inventive podcasts, and the existence of ebooks are some of the better ways in which we can utilize our devices. But then I'm an internet snob...most of the time. While I'm certainly guilty of becoming mentally trapped within the throes of scrolling, swiping, clicking, and typing (if you can believe it, that rhyme scheme was actually unintentional), I acknowledge that the more I can find to do away from anything obtaining a screen, the better it'll be for my mental and emotional health.
I do this by:
1. Keeping in touch with my mind. A couple of years ago, I read Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and started keeping a morning journal I would write in at my desk before I did anything else. (She has a book you can order separately for your journal entries, but I used the extra large soft cover Moleskine Classic Notebook, because it is perfection.) The idea is to write three pages in thirty minutes each morning, because “our creativity will use this time to confront us, to confide in us, to bond with us, and to plan." It's not necessary to journal in the mornings, though. I'm unable to do it very often now because my puppy gets up so early, but I like to adhere to completing one journal per year. I don't need to feel pressured to journal daily if I can't make the time, but it still ensures that I'm doing it often. For me, writing is my prayer, my meditation, my self-exchange, so what's necessary isn't the amount of days I'm able to accomplish it, but that I'm writing as needed to nourish myself on a deeply intimate level. Because as Madeleine L'Engle wrote, "you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair."
2. Putting my body to work. When I was journaling in the mornings, I would do a sun salutation afterward to stimulate my body. I would follow this up with post-lunch walks down the street, an afternoon workout, and another yoga session before bed. Because my weekends tend to be lazy, I like to make sure that I'm staying active during the week. Though I'm no longer able to do sun salutations very often anymore (see puppy situation above), I do still maintain my practice in the evenings before bed. It's a great way to wind down before falling asleep. Especially if you follow it with a chapter or two of reading. You'll notice how easily it is for you to fall asleep when you get yourself properly situated for rest, and a lot of that has to do with the ways you use your body throughout the day.
3. Practicing a routine. And if you want this to succeed, the first thing you need to do is create a routine. It may take quite a bit of time to find one that works for you. I experimented a lot with different routines before I found one that seemed to stick. Also, if you experience frequent bouts of depression, you'll start to notice that this routine can be a saving grace. There are times, yes, when it can feel constricting, but what I always remind myself (after many episodes in which I allowed my routine to unravel due to intense waves of apathy) is that the constriction of routine can actually serve to free you from the mental weight of your emotions. When I wake up in the mornings, I wash my face with a cool rag, brush my hair, and take my vitamins before I amble into the kitchen to take care of the puppy. Once I have her situated with food, I cook breakfast, eat, wash the dishes (hand washing is a wonderful mindless chore that allows you to be productive while stimulating your subconscious), and start getting ready for work. When there are other things to occupy your time you focus less on any underlying issues that have been disturbing your daily life and focus on taking care of yourself.
The same goes for your work routine, your evening routine, and your bedtime routine. Know what time you want to go to bed then schedule your time backwards so you know when to quit vegging on Netflix (also, I don't watch television during the week anymore and it has been one of the best accidental decisions I ever made; I highly, highly encourage ditching TV until the weekends or using cardio at the gym as your hour for catching up on House of Cards). When I'm at work, my routine is mandated by when I eat, which really helps structure my day. I also come in thirty minutes early so I can leave early for the gym and get home at a reasonable time to eat and play with the puppy before I shower and start getting ready for bed.
Like I said before, finding the right structure and pace will take work and time, so be patient with yourself. Feed your body good foods, drink lots of water, and get plenty of sleep. When you neglect yourself, trust me, you are no good to anyone else. Caring for yourself is essential to being present for everyone else.
4. Restoring my surroundings. Since most of my Saturdays lately have been reserved for family and friends, Sundays become my day to reset and prepare for the week ahead. I'm sure this is something you've read in numerous articles. It just so happens that Sunday is the best day for me, it may different for you. You may be much better at maintaining a clean house during the week than I am. Or maybe you live in a big metropolitan area, so you have to make grocery runs several times a week rather just on Sunday afternoons. Whatever the case, you'll need to restock, you'll need to clean. I have a habit of doing bulk work. I'm not as good at staying tidy during the week, so when I clean it takes over my entire day. I don't necessarily hate this, though. Long cleaning days are mentally restorative and invigorating for me. Not to mention the swelling sense of accomplishment I feel at the end of it all, when I pat myself on the back with a glass of chilled Chardonnay for a daylong job well done. Whatever way works best for you, staying tidy and prepared will take a load off of your daily stresses.
5. Replenishing my relationships. I want to clarify that this article is not a testament to putting yourself before others, or even to putting others before yourself. The main goal is to achieve balance. It will take work and sacrifice. Because this is life, not a merry-go-round. So spend time with the people close to you as well. Be the one to call your mom before she calls you, roam a bookstore with a friend, take a walk with your significant other, give your puppy a belly rub before attacking her with nuzzles. Make sure the people in your life know you're still there and are invested in the relationship. I know I'm not always perfect at this. I've actually struggled considerably with not crossing over from self-care into selfish. Be conscious of the fact that other people are also trying to take care of themselves and may also be struggling, so make sure they know you're there to help when they need you.
How are you staying well?
I hope you have a lovely Tuesday.