As extensively alluded to in my previous post, life has been moving at quite the intense pace recently. All the ongoing changes are being welcomed with open arms and great enthusiasm, and I am teetering at the precipice of both exhilarated and completely overwhelmed.
I try to be mindful of when I teeter, so I have the opportunity to back away from the edge before it becomes a crisis and things go completely sideways. When I need to keep myself firmly rooted back into reality, I always go back to the basics: healthy, familiar routines, exercise, eating well, and sleep.
Keep Up with Comforting Routines
I am a creature of habit, and I generally follow fairly consistent morning and bedtime routines. The integrity of these routines is paramount when everything is in flux, because it allows me to start and end my day with a familiar baseline. When I’m feeling flustered and out of control, I have gone so far as to write a daily routine To Do list so I don’t have to think about it: I can run on auto pilot.
I have previously discussed Early Morning Habits, and the value they provide to me. The evening are not quite as regimented; however I have fallen into a light routine that includes flossing my teeth, putting on face moisturizer, giving Feist, the dog, her evening chew, and settling down with my book that is completely unrelated to work or stress. At the moment, for instance, I am reading a yoga teacher training manual that I have found very informative and pleasantly unrelated to software development.
It is important that these routines are just for me, and I am set up to be successful. Getting up at 4:45 am to clean the kitchen or do laundry feels like a punishment for not having everything under control, where as getting up at 4:45 am to leisurely drink my coffee, do my yoga, and read or write feels luxurious and relaxing.
Make Space for Exercise
This is old news, and everybody has heard the benefits of regular exercise, yet it is so often the first thing that falls by the way-side when one is frantic. Why is that? Is exercise viewed as this painful chore that one is anxious to escape? I see exercise as this wonderfully hedonist indulgence that is always so invigorating and relaxing. I can feel my mood change from tense and cranky to cheerful and focused during a single sweat session. I am firmly of the belief that the best exercise is the one you love, and there is an exercise for everybody. Enjoy running? Great. Have fun at Zumba? Do it. Love power lifting? Power lift away.
Admittedly, I am never at a loss for finding a tiring sport or hobby, and would gleefully bounce from one work out to another. I need to distinguish between the non-negotiatible exercise, the high priority activities, and the nice-to-participate options. Hell nor high water will keep me from my lunch-time spin class on Wednesday and Friday. I try to be fairly flexible in both my personal and professional time, and those classes are absolutely non-negotiables. Every day Feist gets a bare minimum of a 30 minute walk, and on weekend, there will be at least one hike (although two is ideal). I try to climb two times a week, and if I can only make it one day that is fine too. I angle for between four and six hard workouts a week, and am sure to get moving through walking and yoga every day.
Plan Meals and Buy the Groceries
Again, I am sure this is not news to most people. Eating well is well documented as being crucial to people’s health. Food fuels us for all the challenging, fun, and satisfying things we want to do, and helps us stay sane while we do all these things. What’s not to love!? I have noticed in myself that eating well makes the difference between stress and anxiety or calm confidence. When in doubt, I always eat.
When I say ‘Eat well’, I am not talking about flawless clean eating, or extravagant luxury dinners. I am talking about eating foods in their natural form, and cooking from scratch as much as possible. Yes, it can be a hurdle to make time for cooking; however, it is also a lovely respite from an often-chaotic life. As a planner and a bit of a control freak, I plan our meals (and snacks) out for the week, accounting for our plans (lunch with friends? working out right after work?) and cooking time. Usually I make a few soups that pull double duty as dinner and lunch, a nice sandwich filling, and lots of protein-filled snacks. I only cook two or three times a week to have plenty of food.
Now, here is the real clincher for cooking at home, that guarantees that the meal plan comes together and I can hit the ground running: I buy the groceries online. I have no idea why it has taken me so long to try out online grocery shopping; now that I have, I absolutely love it. In the time it takes me to make the grocery list, I have also purchased the groceries. I order for pick-up, and my partner picks them up on his way home from work. It’s the little push from a well-made plan, to a running start on a well-executed plan.
Waaaaay back when I was in school, I had a particularly difficult semester. I was staying up until 3:00 or 4:00 am trying to finish assignments, drinking RedBull to get going in the morning and crashing at 3:00 pm. It was dismal. I scrapped by the semester by the skin of my teeth and pretty much nothing else. I was burnt out, exhausted, and frustrated. The next semester I decided that this was no way to live, and that I was going to sleep for eight hours a night, no matter what. Didn’t have my assignment done? Going to bed. Needed to finish a reading? Going to bed. During that semester of prioritizing sleep, my grades improved, my stress level improved, my mood improved (not to surprising), and I haven’t had RedBull since.
Sleep is amazing, So amazing. Study after study is showing that we need 7 – 9 hours of sleep, and getting anything less over an extended period of time is damaging to our bodies. It’s so easy to think “oh, but I need to finish the laundry, and the dishes, and the meal plan, and, … and, … and, …”. Fuck it. Go to sleep. Everything is not always going to get done, and it certainly won’t get done well or efficiently if one is chronically sleep deprived.
Above all else, be compassionate with yourself. What works for one person to stay grounded doesn’t have to work for you. I know you are doing the best you can right now, and are learning what works for you, and what doesn’t. I would love to know how you cope during transitions.