Now, here’s the thing – I wrote a version of this post a long time ago and it’s been sitting around in my drafts for…I don’t know, FOREVER. Why you ask? Because life has actually been really great lately. The Secret Agent and I have been having tons of great adventures: we’ve gone to Vancouver multiple times together, seen Erykah Badu in concert (my 3rd time seeing her!), plus been to a handful of other amazing shows and events (Zaki Ibrahim, Ester Rada, Talib Kweli!) We’ve been having a great time. Work has also been going well and am in the midst of working with a lovely editor to finish up the next stage of my book project.
However, the thing about having anxiety is that you can still have off days even when life is good. Anxiety is a bully like that. Although medication has helped me so, so, much, sometimes my brain chemistry can make it feel like life is either moving too fast or like it’s a bit too slow and foggy. These feelings are much more subtle than they used to be, but they are still there. Also, writing all day everyday can sometimes make you feel burnt-out. When these changes in mood happen, I don’t feel like the best version of myself.
One of the most important things I’ve learned over the past few months is that in order for me to feel my best, do my best possible work and be a good partner to The Secret Agent, I need to look after myself and make sure I take time to practice these good habits or touchstones – even when life is going swimmingly.
So, without further adieu, here are a few of the things I do to keep my anxiety in check and have fun in the process! (Thanks to Joe the Intern and his friends for helping me with the visuals…) Whether I’ve been travelling a lot or just need a mid-week re-boot, these are some of my favourite personal rituals.
Feeling overwhelmed, burn-out or creatively uninspired? Here are a few things to try –
I always joke that I consume books like most people consume food – and it’s almost true! I read a lot and always aim to read at least 3-4 books a month in hopes of staying on top of my perpetually long “to be read list” on Goodreads. Reading is not only highly enjoyable, it’s a great way for me to relax my mind when things start to feel “busy” in there (if you can relate to my stories about anxiety, you know what I’m talking about.) I like to make time to read for at least an hour before bed and an hour or two during Saturday mornings (I regularly document my coffee & reading adventures here.) When I read a lot, I also write better – so, there’s that.
Some of my favourite reads from 2015 so far include Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, The Wild Oats Project by Robin Rinaldi and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’d also recommend anything by Junot Diaz, Cheryl Strayed, Cristina Henriquez and any of the female friendly reads from this or this list.
One of the things that brought the Secret Agent and I together was our mutual love of 90’s hip hop and R&B – among other genres. I love that I can play him a song I really love & there’s a very good chance that he’ll enjoy it too.
One of my favourite things to do when I’m having writer’s block is to explore new music. Although I’m always on the look out for new music to fall in love with, if my boyfriend mentions that he’s heard something on Soulbounce that I haven’t yet, I know that life has been busy & I need to spend some time with my headphones exploring some new sounds. Listening to music is one of my favourite ways to get energized and inspired.
(FYI, in a few days I’ll be losing my music festival virginity at Squamish Fest, so I’ve been preoccupied sonically researching all the acts we’ll see like Sam Smith, Drake & Alabama Shakes (eeee!))
Green smoothies made with Vega One mix have been my saving grace over the past year. With the exception of weekends that I usually spend at The Secret Agent’s, I drink one each and every morning – even while travelling. The older I get, the more important it becomes for me to pay attention to what I put in my body. Having a protein rich green smoothie everyday means I eliminate the “ugh, what should I eat for breakfast?” question, therefore creating more time and energy in my day for other pursuits, like writing and client work.
Regardless of what else is going on during the rest of the day, my green smoothie habit ensures that I get more than enough servings of veggies & fruits first thing in the am. Also, green smoothies are delicious and make me feel awesome. Joe the Intern agrees.
When I sat down to write down this list I asked myself, “what makes me feel most like myself?” One of the first things that popped into my mind was moving my body. I spent most of my childhood to young adulthood dancing ballet. I’ve since learned that whether I’m dancing, taking a barre class or punching & kicking the crap out of a bag at the gym, I feel my best when I’m getting sweaty & moving my body. Doing exactly that on a regular basis is what keeps me sane & feeling good. A workout has always made me feel better, not worse.
In the past, one of my go-to relaxation tools was to watch a couple (or many) episodes of a favourite TV show. While I still love Netflix (the latest season of Orange is the New Black made me feel all the things & I’m wholeheartedly in love with BoJack Horseman) ever since the release of Serial, I’ve become completely obsessed with podcasts and have started listening to several on a regular basis (most of which are about social justice issues.)
I’m of the belief that we’ve become so programmed to communicate & “connect” – especially online – that many of us don’t slow down long enough to really listen to each other or ourselves. I love podcasts because they force you to listen and focus, without looking at a screen. As I discovered from my experience listening to Serial, there’s something really intimate and comforting about hearing someone’s voice tell you a story – even if what they are talking about is a murder case. Plus, learning about something new about the world around you is a great way to get out of your own head (this is one reason I also really love to watch documentaries!)
I used to scoff at the term “self-care” and accompanying articles that suggested that I do things like “take a bubble bath” or “paint my nails.” More often than not, I couldn’t relate. Hot baths usually make me feel lightheaded and painting my nails is futile endeavour (the chipping frustrates me too much to make it worthwhile.) In the inaugural words of Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins, ain’t nobody got time for that.
However, self-care is really important. Looking over the above mentioned actions, they all fall under the banner of self-care because they are all things that make me feel good. With that said, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel better when I take the time to give myself a pedicure and stick to my regular at-home laser hair removal sessions (more on that later.) So, whether it’s giving your hair a new paint job (above) or treating yourself to a much needed pedicure, I’ve learned it’s important to take care of the external as well as the internal.
Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all. When people ask me about how I ward off creative burn-out, I simply tell them, “naps.” Whenever my mind starts to feel foggy or like I can’t concentrate, I lay down for an hour and sleep it off. I tell myself that when I get up in 60 minutes, things will feel better and I will keep working. I liken the mind to a computer: sometimes you need to shut down and reboot. And you know what? It works.
So, whether you’re just really busy, have anxiety or both, these are a few rituals that I embrace to re-balance and feel good. However, this is by all means not an absolute list. Everyone is different and what works for one person, might not work for another.
Do you have any touchstones or personal rituals that you practice? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.