Body, soul, and mind: a sacred trio or the recipe for a perfect storm. Some reflections on self care and mindfulness, also known as my journey to less stress, better health, and some gosh darn peace.
To preface, over the course of ten or so years, I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit wrestling with stress, nightmares, and worry. Worry led to bad dreams, bad dreams led to lack of sleep, lack of sleep led to more stress, which ultimately had a significant negative impacted on my health. It’s been a ten year journey working on self care and stress management, however, over the last three years, I’ve come across some beneficial and tangible ways to manage stress, relax, take care of myself, and enjoy life as a busy twenty-something. Enjoy.
Ultimately, body, soul, and mind are all connected; when one suffers, so do the others.
When our bodies aren’t functioning well, all other areas of our lives end up suffering too.
Sleep and Rest – Between working a few jobs, being a full-time student, and attempting to maintain some sort of social life, sleep was always the first thing to go when trying to trim down my schedule. During my first few years of college, it was not uncommon for me to be running on there hours of sleep and four cups of coffee. This worked for a time, but after a while, I noticed my grades dropping, my attitude slacking, and an overall uncomfortable feeling with my body and health. Since making time to sleep and rest, I’ve found more time in my schedule to be productive. Not only do I have more energy, but I’m also typically in a better mood. My digestion, skin, and motivation have all drastically improved. Turns out, if my body was exhausted, I was exhausted in every other category.
Exercise / yoga – I never would have consider myself athletic. Growing up, sports were not part of my routine or in my priorities–I was much more interested in band or quizzing. It wasn’t until this past year that I decided to give “hitting the gym” and yoga a go. The first month was not pleasant–sore and sweaty, I couldn’t imagine how people actually enjoyed working out or bending into strange positions. However, after the initial misery of burning muscles and fatigue, I noticed an increase in energy, sound sleep, and a significant decrease in my stress level (which is unheard of, to put it nicely; see years 2011-16 for reference). I figured I’d give it another few weeks to see if exercising was worth the time and energy investment. Simply put, the gym and my yoga mat have become part of my regular routine, and I dig it, completely. Taking time to work up a sweat or to focus on my breathing has given more than I expected: energy, sleep, a bit more flexibility, and a spring in my step. Finally starting to understand the hullabaloo surrounding moving the body and getting the heart rate going.
Balanced diet – In a previous post, I shared some reflections on being Pescaterian, as well as some of my joys and struggles along the way. These days, I’m more on the side of plain ol’ vanilla vegetarian. The goal became finding the right foods to eat (enough protein, iron, fiber, calcium, and vitamins–the things that makes my body move and work properly), and learning the difference between living to eat and eating to live. Once I got past the initial fatigued phase of having an out of balance meal plan, I started adding types of food which made me feel better. Finding balance was the key. There are still days when I can feel my iron tilting toward the low end, or I notice that I need a protein kick, but overall, the switch away from meats and toward more variety and balance has proved to be fantastic. The bottom line is we are what we eat: if we eat balanced, we’ll be balanced.
An empty soul is like coffee with no caffeine. Finding ways to recharge my soul (although it sounds hippy-dippy) has become crucial to my attitude and drive for enjoying life. Living life is inevitable, but enjoying it is a developed skill.
Hobbies – It wasn’t until a bit over a year ago that I realized most of my hobbies had taken back seat to other life events. Sometimes sacrifices are worth it, but in this case, I wish I hadn’t sacrificed the time previously reserved for hobbies. Thankfully, I’ve been able to rediscover some of my old hobbies as well as explore a few new ones. Hobbies have become positive outlets to blow off steam as well as recharge. Who knew hobbies could be so critical to self care? Reading, Zentangle, writing, music, exploring, cooking-shenanigans–all of these have become productive ways to fill my soul, or simply pour energy and enthusiasm back into my body. Engaging in hobbies have become more about making the time versus trying to find the time.
Travel – Traveling has become more than an outlet and rather an avenue to soul search: time to take a backseat to my lifestyle and observe how others live and do life elsewhere. This was very evident while in Europe over the summer; something about being completely outside my typical comfort zone and emerged in someone else’s was very restorative. The soul refreshing part of travel is really having the opportunity to step away from the normal and every day routine, which in turn, adds value and perspective. From personal space and reverence, to history and social norms, there is something unique about traveling–the potential to cause paradigm shift is incredible. Not to mention, there are some pretty gosh darn breath taking and life giving places on this gorgeous planet we call home. Hills to climb and rivers to jump in, places to explore and shenanigans to be had.
Reading – There is one thing in common with all of the people I look up to: they read regularly. Somewhere down the line I decided these people had qualities I admired, so I figured I best start reading if I ever wanted to be like them. Although back in the day I very much disliked reading, I’ve grown to quite enjoy it. Reading has been a positive and tangible way to relax and fill curiosity. This first summer post graduation, I took a break from most of the academic texts I’d been reading and switched to more artistic and creative literature. Not only was that season fulfilling and intriguing, it was also the boost of creativity and colors-outside-the-lines that I needed. After the summer months, I switched back into psychology, history, and sociology texts–these have been beneficial in evaluating my career path and passions. All in all, reading is a magnificent way to listen for a change. Taking time to read someone else’s thoughts, perspective, or expression can be both edifying and encouraging. Ask me what I’m reading, I dare you.
People – Being a fairly excitable extravert, spending time with people has become crucial to my soul being healthy, or feeling alive at all. I like people, conversation, interaction–the whole shindig. However, that being said, spending time with people has both pro’s and con’s. This is another instance where balance is key. Spending time with people has become less about quantity and more about quality–not how often, but rather with whom. Interacting with people is simply part of life, but there are times when it’s more on the draining side. In the pursuit of energizing my soul, spending time with people has become more about surrounding myself with the right kinds of people: ones who encourage, challenge, and who have a healthy exchange of me investing in them and them investing in me. I make a point to regularly see people who challenge me and lead balanced lives. Sometimes this happens on a weekly basis with friends nearby, and sometimes it’s a little bit less often, on a monthly basis seeing my kindred spirits far away. All in all, people are important, particularly for me (somersaulting ENFP over here), to feel alive, connected, and growing.
If our body is the vessel, and our soul is the energy, our mind is the…well the mind: the driving force and reason behind it all. However, if our mind is exhausted, our bodies will quickly follow and our soul will deteriorate. Mind you that you take care of your mind.
Quiet – There is something to be said about solitude, silence, and unplugging or detaching for a time. During my final semester of undergraduate studies, I lived alone in a one bedroom apartment. There were both frustrations and blessings in this arrangement. Often times I craved company and movement in my living room, but other times, there was something soothing and serene about the silence. Silence and quiet can be both audible and in interaction, however, there are more ways to simply practice quietness. Perhaps my three favorite ways to practice quiet are: listening, unplugging, and not speaking for a time. Listening is, easily, one of the most underrated practices in American culture; there’s always an opinion to be shared, or statement to make, but so often, we forget to exercise the exact thing we crave–having someone simply listen. By taking a moment to listen and be quiet, it opens opportunity for us to both rest and recharge. Unplugging has similar benefits. This was most noticeable while in Europe; with wifi and cell service being sketchy, at best, I found significant peace not having a regular chime in my pocket. From time to time, I’ll silence my phone or leave my laptop at home. It has become more about creating quiet space, rather than trying to find it. Last, simple silence. My mom would go on these strange ‘silent retreats’ when I was younger. Initially I thought it was a waste of time, “who in their right mind would go spend a weekend in silence?” Little did I know, there is something absolutely refreshing about getting in touch with your thoughts from time to time. When our ears take a break, we can be much more in tune with what’s going on inside our mind.
Mental Health, Healthy Coping Skills, Positive Outlets – This is a big one, and frankly, I don’t think I’d do it justice in a paragraph or two, so I’ll keep it brief. As I’ve said before: body, soul, and mind are all connected; when one suffers, the others do as well. Taking care of our mind, emotions, and thoughts are key to peace, overall health, and happiness.
Learning – Someone once asked me if I thought we would die because we stopped learning, or we would stop learning because we die. I struggled to pick an answer, because frankly, it could be both. Learning is crucial to survival, but also significant to enjoying life. Roommates over the years have casually said, “You learn something new every day.” I couldn’t agree more. Finding ways to learn new things, or explore other ideas seems to be one of the most productive ways to grow as an individual. On the flip side, learning can also cause distress. Perhaps learning about the reality of social justice or the state of our environment can cause stress. However, some stress is good; it springs us toward productivity and pursuing passion. That pursuit is key to finding peace and purpose.
Disclaimer: I’m a work in progress–but it’s been a blast along the way. I don’t have it perfect, but I suppose the journey can be just as beneficial as the destination. Peace, stress-management, and health are key to enjoying life. Here’s to the future and the joys and sorrows we’ve learned from in the past.