There are lots of times as a busy New Yorker, when the subway inexplicably just skips my stop or the line for Trader Joe’s wraps around the block, that I have to take a breath and ask myself: “what would my calm twin do right now?”
Stress is one of the most corrosive things on the body. And being complicated emotional beings, alleviating it is a deeply individual and complex process. It’s become apparent from the hours I spend zoning out on the couch in front of The Voice, or with my face planted in the cradle of a Korean nail salon’s massage chair, that my current system of unwinding does very little to help me relax on a deeper level.
I’m a Scorpio and an only child and a Jew, which has historically meant that I hold onto stuff. Resentment, anger, guilt, anxiety. You name the negativity, and chances are I have a hard time letting go of it. True relaxation involves clearing those cobwebs of bad emotion, which even in the most relaxing of settings – like a bath, sauna, or massage chair – can make your mind feel like it’s riding bitch in a Smart car between Chris Christie and Mama June.
Physical problems are endlessly driven by mental ailments, and vice versa. It’s becoming more widely researched and accepted that stress can fuel a variety of issues, including, as we learned from Dr. Amy Wechsler, bad skin. A mounting of this emotional tension can even cause an acute back attack.
In her book The Desire Map, Danielle LaPorte writes “life balance is a myth, and the pursuit of it is causing us more stress than the craving for balance itself.” Some of this month, as a point of reflection on all the experiments and accomplishments from my year of wellness, will be about finding a happy medium going forward—a way to fit de-stressing into my busy day without the scheduling of said de-stressing becoming a form of pressure in and of itself.
It seems only fair that I take on this relaxation challenge just as my manuscript deadline approaches, and my shoulders become ever more reminiscent of a balled up fist. For the rest of you following along, hopefully it comes at the perfect time to tackle the impending holiday crazies.
Read on for some of the new habits I’m going to try to integrate into my month so I don’t have a panic attack by Christmas.
From one healthy hedonist to another,
1. Develop a morning routine.
It only takes subscribing to a few entrepreneurship sites to know that every successful person in the world has a strict morning ritual that gets them out of bed early and powered up for world domination by 9am.
I’ve already made some small upgrades to my mornings. Before I started a smoothie practice during detox month, I rarely took the time to eat a homemade breakfast. In my former pre-wellness project life, I would descend from my sleeping loft, sit down at my computer and immediately start writing emails. It wasn’t uncommon to look up two hours later and realize that the coffee was still on the counter, and I was still in my underwear.
I’ve gotten better since then, of course. My month of sleep made me recommit to a firm wakeup time, which means hitting the snooze button is no longer the only constant in my morning routine. But I’ve struggled to decide where to go from there.
Unfortunately, I can’t just copy/paste Ariana Huffington’s morning rituals into my own life (though her book Thrive gives a good roadmap for doing so). There is no one size fits all approach to a morning routine. The whole point is to find practices that honor and feed your own sense of self.
When I asked experts my “one big question” at the beginning of this project, many people pointed towards small acts of mindfulness and self-tithing as their big piece of advice.
As my acupuncturist Heidi relayed, “we spend so much time renting out mental space to other people’s problems. Spending 10 percent of your day on yourself is like taking your soul vitamins.” Artist and writer Amber Rae said “that first sixty minutes sets the intention for your entire day, and it is often spent honoring other people’s needs and demands. (Cell phone and email first-thing in bed, anyone?)”
So I’m going to spend this month experimenting my way to the answer of what rituals will literally get me out of bed in the morning, and set me up to successfully tackle all the stress the rest of the day might bring.
*How to create a morning routine from Zen Habits
*The morning routines of successful titans of industry via Business Insider
2. Start a meditation practice.
A central part of many people’s morning routine is meditation.
There are more and more studies coming out about how meditation has the power to rewire your brain and boost overall vitality.
I finally started my practice earlier this summer (by taking this course in NYC) and saw some amazing early results.
The exhaustion I felt that first week as my body let go of a lifetime of stress was serious proof in the pudding. But a month in, I lost momentum. Travel has been the undoing of many of my wellness practices, and once I dropped a lot of my routines this summer, meditation became hard to reintegrate into my life.
This month I’m going to try not to let perfection be the enemy of good. While I’m going to try to meditate in the mornings for 20 minutes as part of my new AM routine, I’m also going to find other smaller ways to shift my intention throughout the day, pause and reflect.
Setting aside time for mindfulness can be as simple as turning one of your everyday activities into an opportunity to be present. I love the idea of making one of my mundane tasks like brushing my teeth or doing the dishes into an exercise in harnessing my mind. We’ll see if I’m actually able to do it.
Do you have a morning routine? If so, mind sharing what it looks and feels like? Any other great daily tactics you use to reduce stress in this crazy world of ours?
I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section!
The Wellness Project is now a book! It’s part memoir, part health primer, with 20 inflammation fighting recipes for clearer skin, better digestion, and a thriving thyroid. (Because who doesn’t wake up in the morning wanting a thriving thyroid?!). You can read more and preorder here. To read up on past experiments and get more tips from the trenches, click here.
dixya @ food, pleasure, and health says
i have always been a morning person but i wake up at 5 am most days to do blogging related stuff and answer my email..like you said it is for serving others rather than myself.my dad has been telling me fo years to practice meditation – its a big challenge for me although i know it is really beneficial!!!
Phoebe Lapine says
I used to be the same way Dixya! Especially with blogging, it’s hard to ever shut off. One of my friends does “social media power hour” first thing in the morning. But as I detach from this system, I realize how precious those first few creative hours are. The mindless emails can come at the end of the day when my brain is fried!!
Sarah G says
All I really do is get ready for work and pack my lunch! It’s very structured and I do it all in the same order….but that’s about it. I work in an office so it’s all about getting up, getting ready and getting to work so I can leave x number of hours later! BUT, just yesterday I was talking to my husband about doing 10-20 minutes of yoga before work – maybe not everyday, but at least twice a week during the work week. I am hoping this will be a good way to start the day off right and get a good stretch in. I really hate getting up early and working out right away (I like lunch time workouts) so I’m going to start with my shower first and get my contacts in so I’m not blind and I’m hoping this will wake me up and I’ll enjoy it. The hardest part is wanting to take the time…but wanting to rush so I can get to work and get out of work. So, your post is quite timely for me! It’s easy to know what to do, it’s just hard to do it!
Phoebe Lapine says
Sigh, it is easy to know what to do and hard to do it. I’ve been struggling a bit with parts of my routine this month. The exercise has been the hardest. I think it might just not be my bag in the morning. But I’m loving the meditation and journaling. Stay tuned for the recap 🙂
Jessica Williams says
I too was checking my phone/emails as soon as I turned over in the mornings, but the last month or so… I’ve challenged myself to read my bible before my emails. I can really see a change in my temperament and my peace throughout the day. My morning routine also includes 20 min. of stretching/crunches/Pilates type exercises. Food wise… I have hot water w/lemon.. then an apple.. then a smoothie packed with good fats & superfoods. This works for me… and really makes me feel fresh and energized by the time I’m out the door! Btw, thanks for the Wellness Project… I’ve enjoyed reading along (and joining in!)
Phoebe Lapine says
Jessica – you are ON IT. Acing the morning routine challenge 🙂 I love this! Thank you for taking the time to share. And thrilled you’re following along! What other tweaks have you made? xo
Jessica Williams says
Thanks Phoebe! Well, I’ve green’ed my beauty routine… I use honey as a cleanser, ACV as my toner, and coconut oil for moisturizer. Because of your month on back health, I got a standing desk… my back says thank you! This year I also committed to getting a massage once a month.. I look at it as medicinal 😉 really! It’s helped work out some kinks and overall body alignment, also a big fan of reflexology! For hair, I stopped using a blow dryer and flat iron and now use a boar bristle brush (amazing!) Your sleep month was a favorite. I’m still working on this one, I’m usually about 7 hrs/night give or take, but my goal is to avg 8 a night. What’s been your favorite month?
Phoebe Lapine says
OMG Jessica! I had no idea you were out there making magic happen as the captain of your own wellness machine!! This warms my heart endlessly to hear. And I totally agree with you re: massage. I was literally just having this conversation with a friend who gives herself one a month as well. Medicinal, 100 percent. Don’t beat yourself up on the sleep front. Everyone needs different amounts, and 7 hours is more than respectable – the envy of many! But if you’re still feeling tired, but by all means, prioritize. It’s so tough to say what my favorite has been. I really enjoyed writing the women’s health chapter of my book. I’ve always been passionate about the topic, and found the books on hormones fascinating. Fixing my back though has improved my life the most by far though, as that was a totally debilitating issue for a while. Keep reporting back with more!! I’m so proud! xo
Little Cooking Tips says
Again, fantastic advice dear Phoebe! Panos meditates more than me but for both of us it helps removing all the negativity and the stress. It’s such a wonderful practice, and it’s very weird that most people don’t even know what this is about.
Keep spreading the word, your work will help A LOT of people struggling with stress out there.
Phoebe Lapine says
I’m so thrilled Panos is meditating!! It’s a great tool!