Cultivating Joy: Getting Cozy

Cozy is something that I’m learning to appreciate more and more as I age. I suppose this was what I was looking for when I would frequent bars. But cultivating cozy brings with it a sense of ease and joy. Now-a-days, I don’t search for my coziness pulled up on a bar stool. Now I’m surrounding myself with family members, friends, a clean or natural setting and a few creature comforts that engage the senses.

In the following, I’ll be going over some of the ways I cultivate cozy in my life. Why it’s so important to create these spaces as a refuge to feel safe and calm and refuel, if you’re an introvert like me. Also how to foster these spaces in your life. Getting cozy is also a great way to relieve stress and cultivate intimacy with those you love. So let’s jump in by slipping into something more comfortable.

Why the Need for More Coziness

There is a terrific amount of emphasis placed on being productive in American culture. I was reading Lee Iaccoca’s autobiography where he pointed this out with an astute observation. He explains, while talking about poor time management skills, how some business men will brag about working all year without taking a vacation. This is something I know to be true from my experience, of myself and those I’ve worked with.

Though I don’t work in the business sector, working ourselves too hard seems ubiquitous in American culture. It seems that everybody I know or meet has a second job to make ends meet. This leads to increased stress levels and less overall life satisfaction. I know in my family, we speak about working six to seven days a week with a sense of pride. I myself held two jobs for the past six years until recently. All in the name of paying down my student loans more quickly.

But all of this working lead me to feeling tired, anxious and unable to partake in the things and be with the people in my life, that bring me a sense of joy. No bueno. This is why it is so important to cultivate cozy in our lives as a direct response to all the tension and stress that we place on ourselves by pushing ourselves past what is healthy. So how do we do this? How do we create space in our lives for more cozy?

The Elements of Cozy

For me, I’ve found that it’s important to find what brings you a sense of ease, and tend to that. When you find something that sparks those feelings of being relaxed, take note of it and repeat those rituals or indulge in those things, but do it sparingly. For example, I’ve always been drawn to a well lighted room. Not in the sense that it is bright, more so that it has many sources of diffused lighting. Lending a softer feeling to the room. I love the flicker of candle light and the low glow from string lights. So I’ve incorporated these into my living space. Let’s take a look at some of the elements and how I’ve put them into practice.

1. Meals

Mealtime is an important one for me. Having worked in the food industry for most of my career and the negative reinforcement I received around my food consumption/weight, not to mention never being taught how to cook for or care for my nutritional needs, I suffered an awful lot when it came to my food intake. Luckily, this is an area I spent some considerable time reparenting myself around. It started when I decided to go veg.

I went vegan first, then switched to vegetarian. I did so for the health benefits, but mostly because, and I can’t remember where I heard this o don’t quote me on this, but if you eat vegan, you will naturally maintain a low body fat to high muscle ratio. Basically I wanted to look good naked. Now my new goal is to be healthy. To value being healthy over physical attraction. This is something I’m still struggling with a little.

But since I started taking care of my nutritional needs with a focus on my health, the quality of my meals has greatly increased. The food I prepare for my meals now is better than many restaurants I go to, and I’ve really learned to love the process. It helps that I also cook professionally. But when you’re making your favorite dish, engaging your senses in the process, something magic happens. Add a few friends or family to the mix and you have time well spent in cultivating cozy.

2. Cozy Space

This is essential for me, in maintaining a healthy headspace, mentally and emotionally. For me, it helps to know that I have a space that I can go to, that evokes a sense of ease and comfort. For me, this space is my room. It’s clean, has pieces and trinkets that remind me of my personality, smells good, has all the right ambient lighting and is cozy in all the ways that bring me a sense of feeling comfort.

This is especially important for unwinding from a stressful day or just time to recharge. If you’re introverted like I am, having downtime is essential to your mental health. Life gets hectic. Why not create a space that will bring you a sense of joy and well-being, just by being in it?

In creating your own space, try looking for what brings you joy just by looking at it. I enjoy the Boho vibe myself, but spend some time looking through photos on Pinterest or Instagram. Look for the images that bring you the most of joy, and see if you can replicate that in your space to cozy it up.

3. Cleanliness

Another element of cozy for me is having a clean living space. Really any space I spend a lot of time in, it’s beneficial for me for it to be clean and well taken care of. Because when you surroundings are in disorder, your inner space can feel the same way.

But sometimes we get busy. It’s not always easy to stay on top of our daily chores and cleaning duties. I try to set aside a day to get tasks like this done. One of my days is dedicated to food shopping, cooking and cleaning. This way I know I’ve set aside the time I’ll need to get done what needs my attention, while also enjoying the benefits of a clean living space.

Try assessing your surroundings and see where your space could use a little more attention. What is the state of your surroundings and are they as clean as you would like them to be? Do you have a regular cleaning schedule? What does your space look like when it’s in its ideal state of cleanliness? Try clearing some space in your schedule to find time for your own cleaning routine. Set aside a day like I have, to create a chores list, yes from when like you were a kid, and get down and dirty with your space. It’ll yield dividends in your happiness for sure : )

4. Creature Comforts

When I sit in my chair, with some music going and a cup of herbal tea, I feel more at ease. Add the ambient lighting I spoke about above, with my essential oil diffuser going and I’m feeling pretty relaxed. These small comforts are a big part of feeling more at ease in my space. Making the over all experience a more cozy one.

Again, this is a space where you need to find what you like. What are the small things in your day to day that bring you a sense of comfort? For me, living in New England, its cold in the winters and we being thrifty Yankees, set the thermostat to 64 degrees. So on the colder days, I have a few throw blankets and an electric heater by my side to warm things up a bit. Other wise I’d be freezing in my own house!

This is also a form of self expression. What scents do you like, and fill your space with those. It’s amazing how supported you can feel in an environment that has a few of your favorite things in them. So find what you like and make a list of these things, a resources list. This way, you can come back to them when you’re in need of a little cozy.

5. Music & Podcasts

These are essential in living the cozy life. Music has, as far back as I can remember, been a source of joy for me. It’s a great feeling when you put your favorite song on and just float on the rhythm. It’s equally as satisfying when you find a new favorite song. Something you can come back to time and again. The same is true of podcasts as well.

I have a few favorite playlists for days when I’d like to spend some time getting cozy. Here’s a band I’ve been listening to lately that’s been helping me cultivate more comfort. I also enjoy listening to podcasts when the mood strikes. This American Life is one of my favorites. Hearing other peoples stories is comforting. Especially when they align with your own. It’s cathartic to hear how others are handling similar situation and all while hearing a good story 🙂

If you haven’t already, it may be worth your while to explore which songs and artists helps to support cozy and ease in your life. Who are your favorite artists, and do they bring you comfort? I used to listen to a lot of industrial music. Artists like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry were on heavy rotation. These are not relaxing bands, nor do they embody cozy. So if you’re into something a little more heavy, try switching it up to something more light and see what comes up. You never know what you may find that you enjoy.

6. Friends & Family

This is another important one for me, and I imagine most people. Having supportive family and friends around is the difference between feeling lonely and without support, and feeling belonging and a sense of comfort. This is no small thing. It’s important to feel and stay connected to those we love.

I have a list of friends and family that I get in touch with once a week. This way, I’m working to build our relationship, and foster our connection. Otherwise, months could go by and we wouldn’t talk to one another. This was the way I used to be in relationship. I would let weeks or months go by without a word, and just assume that we were still close friends. This however is not the way to foster healthy friendships.

If you’ve been neglecting your relationships as I had, maybe pick a day each week and write a list of people you’d like to keep in touch with. Then send them a text or call them and catch up. I send texts, because it’s easier to juggle more than one conversation at a time and the other person doesn’t feel pressured to respond right away. Pick a time that works for you and start connecting. Even reaching out to people you haven’t spoken to in years. You may be surprised with who gets back to you : )

Make it a Routine

And to help make it stick, try making these habits a routine. For some of the items above, like meals, cleaning and friends and family, I have some time carved out from my day each week to tend to these areas. It helps to know that I have that time and space to get things done, so that they won’t fall through the cracks.

I spent a lot of time neglecting these areas of my life in the past. So if you’re like me, there may be some fear around falling back into old ways of being. But it’s good to remember that these are only fears, and you can choose to be a different person from who you used to be.

Also, there will be times when you fall short, and don’t meet your expectations. It’s important to be forgiving of yourself in these times. We all come up short sometimes. We’re human, it happens. The important part is to remember that it’s okay. We’re not perfect.

I hope this has been of some help to those looking to cultivate more cozy in their lives. Maybe start by taking one thing from this list, or something you already do that makes you feel cozy and incorporate that into your routine. And as you get comfortable, add more things. Pretty soon you’ll be living the cozy life. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Tea Mug Cozy” by KnitStorm is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Cultivating Joy: A Self-Care Routine

I’ve written about self-care on this blog before. One post on the benefits of making a self-care meal for yourself once a week. Well, my self-care meals have turned into a self-care routine that has been evolving since its meal time inception. And it’s something that’s given me a fair amount of joy in the process. I was so focused on pushing myself to achieve, that I almost completely forgot how to relax. No bueno. So my solution? Some forced fun and relaxation : )

I’d like to go over some of the parts to my self-care routine, as it is now, and why it’s so important to my mental health. It has been a difficult road, learning how to care for myself as I would, and have no problem doing, for a loved one. Hopefully, my realizations will help others who have struggled with self love also. Maybe we can relax our way into a healthier version of ourselves, together. Let’s step into something a little more cozy : )

“Find What Feels Good” -Adriene, & Keep Doing it

This was a tough one for me. Because when I started out on my journey to finding what I enjoyed doing, I didn’t really know what I liked. The ways I spent my time in self-care before was by numbing my emotional experience of the present. Usually by playing video games, drinking or watching TV.

These activities felt good, but it wasn’t the type of feeling that was satisfying, and weren’t really self-care. Not the way wrapping up a night by the fire pit with friends and a good conversation feels. It was more about passing the time without engaging in what was happening around me. Much like being on autopilot. There, but not there.

Or the feeling I get when I achieve something. This, however, can be dangerous. I was using the feeling of achieving and being productive, like a drug. I would keep pushing past what was healthy for my body, all to feel the high of my accomplishment. As Melba says, “it’s no easy”.

So what’s the solution? How do we “find what feels good” and pursue that in healthy moderation? And then how do we turn that into a sustainable routine? Something we derive joy from on a regular bases? To be honest, I’m still figuring that out. But I have some ideas. Let’s take a look at what I’ve come up with.

Step One: Get to Know Yourself & What You Even Like?

This one is tricky. I thought I knew what I liked. I thought this one was a no-brainer. And for some, maybe it is. But for me, getting to know what I liked was a challenge. Some of the conclusions I’ve come to on the subject are, I was so busy chasing something I thought I should like; i.e. a lifestyle and image, clothes and cars, that I lost touch with what I really enjoyed.

I’m not saying anything that’s new or mind blowing by any means. It seems that each generation struggles with this a new. But when you wake from, and realize what you’ve been doing, that’s worth paying attention to and to cultivate healthier habits. For me, and I imagine most people in my age and demographic, looking like Tylor Durden from Fight Club was what I thought happiness looked like.

There’s something so deceptively enticing about waking up and feeling completely satisfied with how you look, that you feel will lend you the confidence you need to be the person you want to be. And no matter how often we hear the perennial wisdom, “just be yourself”, there’s still that part of me that thinks I’ll be happier if I’m just a little bit different, a little “better” than who I already am.

Step Two: Breaking the Cycle

So, in order to break the cycle of making yourself chase somebody else’s idea of what we should like, stop, look around at your surroundings and ask, “do I like what I see?” If you’re like I was, it’ll take a while to recognize what you’re looking at. I had so little structure, so little order in my life, that there were very few threads that I could hold onto and say for certain, “this is who I am, this is what I like.”

And to add to the confusion, we change. Who I am now, isn’t who I was 10 years ago. And some things have changed, but only slightly. For example, I still love good food. Only now, I prefer to cook my meals at home instead of spending a night out at a restaurant or bar. I know what I like to eat. That’s one area that I’ve discovered I have a strong opinion about. Hence the self-care meals I prepare.

And like I said above, be patient with yourself. This process may take you some time, as it did me. Don’t be discouraged if you think you like something, only to realize that it doesn’t quite bring you as much joy as you thought it would. Or maybe you’re in a place where you’ve racked up a considerable amount of debt, holding you back from pursuing your interests. In this scenario, I’ve turned to the planning phase for solace. But be adventurous. Try new things. If something looks interesting or fun, give it a shot. How else are you going to find what you enjoy?

Step Three: Make a Plan

Making a plan is something that is comforting and doesn’t cost you any money. And if it’s something you’re going to enjoy doing, it’ll also bring you joy to plan for and think about it. For me, I enjoy the act of planning my self-care days. The routine that has become a somewhat regular part of my week. I spend some time picking out the meal I’ll be preparing. The dessert as well. The type of bath I’ll be taking and the scents that will be involved. Maybe choose the podcast I’ll be listening to also.

Sometimes I’ll write it down in my journal and actually have a template of what my day will look like. It helps me to illustrate what I’m planning. This way I have a sense of permanence to what I’m looking to achieve. I know that I already have an idea of what I’ll be doing, and need only to take a look at the structure to remind myself that I already have support.

This type of support is important. Most days, after working six days straight and some being fifteen hour days, I don’t have the energy or will power to sit my ass down and come up with a plan. Even if it is a plan full of things I like and are relaxing. Having support means that I’ve already laid out the plan and all I need to do is pick a recipe. And I’m pretty much always in the mood to look for something tasty to eat : )

Step Four: Schedule a Time

This is equally as important as making a plan. Because without a scheduled time, this day may never come to fruition. I usually pick my day off. Setting aside the latter half of the day for my routine. This way I can get done what needs my attention in the beginning of the day, then turn that attention inwardly towards my self-care routine. Win, win.

Ideally, when picking a time, it’s best to choose one where you won’t be rushed from your state of relaxation. Or a time that’s sandwiched in between tasks. Rushing from relaxing to something stressful, for me, doesn’t embody what I’m trying to achieve with a self-care routine. Stress, is usually what we’re trying to care for with our self-care. So if possible, planning a chunk of time where you won’t feel rushed to wrap up quickly do to other, pressing matters will go a long way in finding ease in your self-care routine.

Step Five: Relax : )

This step is a lot easier said than done. It sometimes feels a though this is the great trick that biology played on us. The one thing we’d like to do most, is just out of reach. But, it’s not impossible to get to a relaxed state. It only takes practice.

For me, I sometimes, okay, most times focus on how everything needs to be perfect. If I’m making a meal, it has to not only taste delicious, but look insta worthy as well. The place I’ll be enjoying my meal has to be immaculate and all my creature comforts need to be within reach.

I enjoy all these aspects of my self-care routine. The cleanliness helps me to feel more at ease and I like like sharing something I’ve spent time and love preparing for myself. But what I need to remind myself is, that it doesn’t have to be perfect. That even if my surroundings are a little disordered, or my meal looks unappetizing, but tastes delicious, it’s okay to enjoy what is. Without the critical judgements that pop up. The judgements will come, but we don’t need to listen to them and respond to them. We can just enjoy what we’ve created.

Practice Your Self-Care Routine & You’ll be Practicing Joy

And it’s in practicing these self-care routines that we can learn to derive a sense of joy from them. This is why it is so important, for me, to come up with a plan and schedule a time for these events. Because it is in coming back to them that we learn how to come back to the things that bring us a sense of ease and where we learn how to come back to joy.

What’s so strange about this lesson, for me was, that it took so long to learn. Almost all of our states are products of us practicing them. We aren’t born stressed. This is a trait we pick up from consistently over loading ourselves with tasks and responsibilities, while we slowly take away our recovery time. For most of us, this is a life long process. But if we can practice our way into a more stressful lifestyle, the good news is, we can practice our way out.

Stick to Your Self-Care Schedule

This is why a routine is so important. Practice, practice, practice. And the more we practice these weekly routines, the more we can throw a few smaller ones in throughout our days. Maybe you find that you enjoy the essential oils you put in your weekly bath so much that you find a shower steamer to use during your morning shower routine.

Or there’s a snack you find during your self-care meal prep that you make a part of your regular, after work routine. Whatever it is that you find that brings you a sense of ease during your week, practice that. Because it is here where you will find your joy and ease. And it’ll be worth all your while when you are able to relax, knowing that it is a state that you’ve cultivated through positive and healthy habits.

Practice, Practice, Practice

This cannot be under stated. You need to consistently practice these routines and what brings you joy. Even on the days when it just seems like too much work. Especially on these days, because this is when you need a little self-care the most.

What I’ve found is, when I schedule my routine for a specific day, I tend to look forward to that day all throughout the week. It helps to keep me in a positive frame of mind during more difficult aspects of my days. When I’m tired or looking at a task I know I don’t want to do, I remind myself gentle that there is something to look forward to. And in the larger picture, when I’m out of debt and living according to my new values of thriftiness, I’ll be able to go bigger on my self-care routines : )

So friends, start actively looking for the things and activities that bring you joy. Start small and see where they take you. Before you know it, you’ll have dozens of little things that bring you joy everyday. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credit:”#2. Tea” by ben matthews ::: is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Sleep Hygiene: It’s Important

This is something I know I’ve heard time and again. Sleep is important. Though, throughout my life, I’ve neglected this advice for more pressing, or enjoyable endeavors. I’d also over indulge in sleep. Sleeping up to 12 hours at a stretch. Either way, my relationship to sleep was not a healthy one. In the past few years, I’ve been making my sleep hygiene a priority. I’ve been making sure that I’ve been getting at least six hours a night. Even though there are days I work late and wake early, working thirteen hour days all in the name of paying off my student loans.

So it’s in this vein that I want to go over how I struck a balance in finding a healthy sleep routine. One that’s helping me to preform at my best, but also feeling my best, naturally. And also some of the crazy facts I learned about how important healthy sleep is. So let’s start where I usually start my posts, in my reckless teen and twenties.

Sleeping as a Youth

When I was in my teens, it seemed as though all I was doing was sleeping. This though, I imagine is the norm. This article from MSN covers some of the basics about why it is so important for teens to get between eight to ten hours of sleep.

I Don’t remember much about my sleep habits in my teen years. I vaguely remember being out late and drinking too much. Also sleeping very late when I wasn’t getting up early to go to school. Either way, sleep was not a priority for me. In the MSN article above, they say this is due to hormonal changes and normal development. Add to these normal changes, finding your friend group, discovering who you are as a person, or as most of us do, try to fit in, and you’ve got a lot of new and exciting/anxiety provoking life events happening all at once. Our teen years are a crazy time, for sure.

Now a days, I relish the nights I am able to get to bed at a time that will allow me to get the optimal amount of sleep. Not to mention the crazy dreams I have during the night. But if I enjoy sleeping so much, why was I neglecting my sleep hygiene in my youth? I think it has to do with the excitement of finding where you feel a sense of belonging. And the possibility of new experiences we will have.

FOMO

FOMO is a term I first heard from Buddhist Psychologist, Tara Brach. It stands for, fear of missing out. This can be a strong pull for anybody. To feel as though you are being left out, or missing something that people will be talking about for years to come. Or maybe even just the excitement of being young and the feeling of cruising around with your friends, not doing anything but being young. However the feelings play out, FOMO is a big draw for losing sleep.

And for me, later in life, sleep would almost always lose out to staying up late to drink and play video games. The later was an especially pointed one for me, as I would stay up until 2-3am gaming. First I would game with my friends, drinking, taking turns handing of the controller to the next in line. Later, I would game online in some multi-person, massive, online game like World of Warcraft. I would still play with friends, only now we could all play at the same time. And needless to say, we all still had a drink in hand, for sure.

Though what I’ve found is, that when I was acting from this place of FOMO, I was also neglecting my most basic needs. Sleep being one for sure. But there were a host of other areas in my life that needed my attention. In short, I fell way behind in the game of life, and am now scrambling to catch up to where I would like to be. No bueno.

More Crazy Info about How Sleep is Crazy Important for You & Your Health

About five years ago, a friend told me to check out the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. He said it was something he enjoyed and that I should give it a listen. I remember listening to it after he suggested it to me and thinking, that this was more of the same machismo, pop-culture that I just wasn’t into. Though recently, another friend of mine suggested I listen to his podcast, so I decided to give it another chance.

I’m glad I did. The episode I listened to, and the inspiration for this post was, an episode where Joe interviewed a neuroscience and psychology professor at Berkley College, California, Mathew Walker. Walker explains how important healthy sleep habits are, in maintaining overall good health. And, it’s not only for teenagers.

We Need Between 7 to 9 Hours of Sleep a Night

This one was kind of a surprise to me. I knew that teenagers needed more sleep, but I had heard that people need less sleep, the older they get. I was under the assumption that we only needed around six hours of sleep a night as adults. This was something that Walker explains is a common misconception.

Walker explains that our minds need dream sleep. There are two types of sleep; REM sleep and non-REM sleep. And there are four stages of sleep, one through four. We cycle through these stages throughout the night. They help us to heal, consolidate memories and other important functions that keep us at our most healthiest. It’s no wonder why sleep is so important. Here’s an article from Very Well Health which explains these stages of sleep.

And more importantly, any less than seven hours of sleep and our minds and bodies begin to become depleted. Our cognitive and physical functions decrees by around 30%. Sleep is where we process the ideas and activities we learn during the day and commit them to long term memory. So having healthy sleep hygiene is super important for our overall health and self-care. And not something that we should be pushing ourselves to preform without.

How to Create a Healthy & Cozy Sleep Routine

So if we know that sleep is important to our overall health, how do we create habits that are conducive to getting optimal sleep? In the following, I’ll be going over what the experts say, and some of my habits when it comes to getting the healthiest sleep possible. So grab a cup of herbal tea and get cozy : )

Drink Less Caffeine

This one should be a no-brainer, but drinking less caffeine, especially right before you go to bed, will help to ease your mind into a relaxed state. One conducive to sleep. When I was younger, I used to drink a LOT of coffee. Between 5-7 mocha lattes a day. And that’s not including the energy drinks I was consuming either. Usually during work or at the bar when Redbull and vodkas were popular. I was also staying up till 2-3am playing video games as well. All of which were unhealthy habits for optimal sleep.

Now I drink very little caffeine during the course of the day. Usually a cup or two of tea in the mornings if at all. I’ve noticed that I’m not nearly as jittery during the day, and my nighttime wind down and sleep have come much more smoothly. It’s nice knowing that I can lay down and fall asleep without worrying about if I’ll be well rested enough.

Drink Less Alcohol

This one is a little less intuitive than not drinking so much caffeine. I know when I’m drinking alcohol, I feel as though I’m getting drowsy. But, I’ve learned from the Joe Rogan episode on sleep, that alcohol is a sedative. And sedation is not the same as sleep. Alcohol actual stops the mind and body from entering into the realm of dream sleep (stage 4). The same is true of marijuana. So if you’ve been consuming alcohol or marijuana for long enough, you will have gone without REM sleep for as long as you’ve been sedated, using these substances.

Keeping your alcohol and marijuana use to a few times a week, or as I do, I have a beer with my Self-care Sunday meals, you’ll be allowing your mind to get the much needed REM sleep it’s been missing. And in severe cases, if we’re deprived of REM, or dream sleep for too long, it will leak over into our waking lives. This is not optimal. Maybe try a sober October if you’ve been in the habit of using either substance to help you sleep. And notice the difference.

Body Temperature & Lighting

I also learned from Joe Rogan’s podcast that your body and mind need to drop in temperature by two to three degrees. This is why it’s easier to fall asleep in colder weather that in the warmer months. Some tips for achieving this are to take a hot shower before you turn in for the night. The temperature increase in your body will make the surrounding, ambient lower. Helping you to fall into your sleep cycle with more ease.

Also, lighting is an important aspect of sleep. It’s well known that screen time has the effect of tricking our minds and bodies into thinking that we’re taking in daylight. This throws off our circadian rhythm. So to produce more melatonin, try switching off some of your lights at night and avoid screens an hour before bedtime. I light a few candles and have a few ambient lighting sources that I switch on before I go to bed. Creating just the right atmosphere for my bedtime routine.

My Bedtime Routine

My bedtime routine has evolved over the past few years. Before, I had no routine to speak of. I would drink and play videogames until I couldn’t anymore. Then I would stumble into bed in a half sedated state. Only to wake up at some point the next day and repeat more of the same. Now, I have much healthier habits. Let me walk you through a usual night for me and how I’ve created a healthy sleep space for myself.

Shower & Tea

I usually start out with taking a hot shower. This way I feel clean getting into my sheets for the night. I’ll brew a cup of herbal tea, something warm to sip on while I’m relaxing at the end of my day. I’m usually on my feet most of the day, so this down time is relished. This is where I can really unwind from the day.

Lighting, Music & Scent

I also set the mood by lighting a few candles and turning on other, low, diffused lighting around my room ideal for relaxing and no other light sources. I don’t usually use my phone or my computer during these times. Anything that I need to plan or do, can wait until the morning. Here I just soak in the relaxing lighting around me.

Speaking of diffused, I usually have a relaxing scent diffusing just before bed. I use oils such as geranium or lavender to help set a more relaxing atmosphere. So while my candles are burning, and I’m sipping tea under a cozy throw blanket, I’m also immersed in the scent of something pleasant. I’ll also have a playlist of some soothing music playing. Something acoustic and mellow. And I try to set my bedtime for the same time each night. And aim for about eight hours a night.

Tucking in

This is my bedtime routine and it’s been working for me for some time now. After a life’s time worth of unhealthy sleep habits, I’m finally getting a handle on healthy sleep hygiene. I feel more rested during the day and have more energy to get to the things that I need to do on my ever growing todo list. If you’ve struggled with sleep in the past, maybe try implementing some of these changes into your routine.

Sleep is important. Too important to be cast aside as an after thought. In our culture, going without sleep is something that has become a badge of honor. Though this only leads to poor health and other detriments to our daily routines. So keep up with this aspect of your health and wellbeing. You’ll rest easier knowing you’ve taken care of your sleep needs. Peace & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Japanese beds are not as comfortable as they look” by Wayan Vota is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Relax, You Don’t Have to be Dying to Take a Sick Day

The result? Feeling tired and run down most of the time. Also never having time to relax or do something for the fun of it.

I’ve recently been reading a travel book about New England, to get to know Boston and the region a little better and to relax a bit more in my place of origin. Also to look for some places to travel to, maybe for a weekend or a day trip. While I was reading the bio of my people, I was informed that we are known for or thriftiness and our being industrious. This struck me as odd. Mostly because I don’t see New Englanders as having these traits in abundance. But the more I thought about it, the more the evidence started to pile up. I just couldn’t see the forest for the New England Foliage.

My family in particular are very thrifty. We will go a great distance to find the best prices and deals on the things we buy. I remember many a car rides to outlets and discount retailers, looking for a bargain to bring home. And I think we did it mostly for sport. For the bragging rights, to say we got the cheapest price. We are intense about the things we do. And the intensity we bring to shopping, we bring to other areas in our lives as well. Which brings me to number two on the list, our work ethic.

Being Intense on the Job

Thinking back to the travel book, I was realizing how spot on their assessment was. At least of my New England family. Growing up for me, hard work was a given and to relax was to be lazy. There was no tolerance for those unwilling to pull their own weight. This was made clear to me in one of my first jobs as a bus boy in the restaurant my mother worked for.

I was probably 13 years old at the time and my only other working experience was when I had delivered news papers. I never experienced a traditional work environment before and especially not one as tough as a kitchen. On my first day, no more than 3-4 hours into my shift, my mother pulled me aside and yelled at me for being lazy. I was 13, three hours into my first shift and at the only place I had ever worked and I was already expected to know how to preform my duties and do them perfectly. These were the expectations that were set for me and my family. We definitely needed a lesson in how to relax.

How We Look Doing What We Do

Looking back now, I understand how connected my performance was to how my mother viewed herself moving through her work environment. In her eyes, I was a direct reflection of who she thought herself to be. And the one thing she was not going to tolerate was being correlated with being lazy. This was where my work ethic was forged.

So I worked hard. Mostly because I wanted to feel accepted and loved. But I worked from a fearful place. One where I was afraid to relax for fear of being seen as lazy. I adopted my family’s serious demeanor because I wanted to be seen as someone who doesn’t play games. Someone who gets the job done and does it without having to be told how. Also to garner respect. Because this, I was taught, was the mark of a man. But this way of living left me with an intensity that made me slightly mean and definitely unapproachable. And little in the way of tools to help build solid foundations for relationships.

In a more recent experience, while at work, I was being told that I was working too hard. Also that I was difficult to talk to because I had an air of undeserved superiority about me. This wasn’t the first time I had been told I was difficult to manage either. I was let go of a job that I was particularly good at because I didn’t have any people skills. This was jarring because it flew in the face of the values I had been raised with. Which was that working hard and productivity are first priority. Everything else is inconsequential. Being able to relax was at the bottom of the list. But what I was coming to learn was, I had been mislead.

Listening to Our Bodies & Learning to Relax

This type of intensity doesn’t come without its toll. More recently, I decided to take a day off from work because I was exhausted. I had just worked two doubles, back to back, 12 hour days and was feeling worn out. So I called in to my work place and told them I needed the day. They said “I hope you feel better”, and I got back to taking some much needed rest.

Later on in the day, when I was speaking to my father about taking the day off, he was growing agitated with the topic as we discussed it. He was asking probing questions about my decision until I finally asked if he felt uncomfortable with what I had done. Calling in without actually being sick. He said he was and that it was something you just don’t do. He also told me that I don’t work that hard anyway so it shouldn’t be such a big deal to muscle through the day. Unhealthy to say the least.

Well, as the week progressed, I was feeling worse and worse. I worked through the last two days of the week, but by the time Friday night came around, while I was finishing up dinner I knew I was definitely feeling ill. I knew that I would wake in the morning feeling sick and that me taking the day off in the middle of the week was most likely my body telling me that I was tired, stressed and getting sick. So it’s time to take care of yourself and relax. Something I’m not used to doing and if it were up to my family, something I wouldn’t do at all.

Take the Day, Trust Yourself

My body was telling me something that I have been ignoring for far to long. Me and my family have been neglecting our physical needs for as long as I can remember. “Muscling through it” should be at the top of our family crest. And if the need to feel belonging wasn’t drive enough for me to try and work myself to death, I was also being guilted into working more than my body could handle. All because it was making my family feel “uncomfortable”.

I had been stripped of my autonomy because it was too difficult for someone else to see me as being unreliable, or even worse, lazy. Even though I was receiving nothing but encouragement from my places of employment. I was 13 all over again, trying to live up to an impossible standard at the expense of my better judgement and overall health. This, I declared, was unhealthy and unreasonable. Something needed to change in my life and I was the one who had to put it into action.

Trust Your Intuition But Know Your Limits

This is where I am deciding to take the time if I feel I need it. There are some things I’ve come to know about myself. I know I’m a hard worker, to a fault. I take pride in a job well done and usually, enjoy the work. But I can push myself beyond my limits. Knowing these characteristics, I am now able to search for feelings and flags around my work ethic.

How this looks in action is, if I’m thinking about taking a day off, I first need to trust that this is coming from a caring and trustworthy place in myself. This way, when the voice of my family chimes in with phrases such as, “you don’t work that hard anyway” or “don’t be lazy”, I can challenge those thoughts and the emotions of guilt and shame that make me uncomfortable and accompany my thoughts. I can then sit in the dis-ease and make a decision based on what is best for me and my body’s needs. Not the expectations of my family.

These are the healthy self-care lessons I was never taught. And they’re ones that I’m deciding to implement while reparenting myself. It isn’t easy, but neither is the alternative of working myself to death. And I’d rather be in a healthy mental space than buried under stress from the unachievable standards of a dysfunctional past.

Finding the Support to Make the Change

And none of what I’ve laid out above would have been possible if it wasn’t for the healthy support I received from my friends and role models along the way. For instance, my therapist has been a huge wealth of support for me. If I didn’t have a trained professional who was able to give me another perspective asides from my dysfunctional world view, I don’t know that I would have been able to see outside of what I was steeped in. The unhealthy values of my family.

And without a friend to text, or to grab a beer and burger with to talk about what’s happening in my life, I could have easily withdrew. Losing out on a much needed perspective shift. Or some understanding and empathy. And these are the elements that I was missing when I was too afraid to connect. Especially because connecting with others has meant being hurt and taken advantage of in my past.

Luckily for me, when I decided to change my way of living, I had a few friends willing to stand by me through the change. And it was these friends, who allowed me to change without the judgements or criticisms, that showed me what it felt like to be supported. Something that had been lacking in almost all of my previous relationships.

Why Support Matters

Because if it wasn’t for my newly found support, I would have gone on living my life as though I had to meet the impossible standards of my past. The standards that said it is not only normal to work 6 days a week and that 12 hour days are the norm, but it’s also expected. And not that difficult.

The result? Feeling tired and run down most of the time. Also never having time to relax or do something for the fun of it. That’s why we need the kind of support that says, “you look tired, when was the last time you had a day off?” Otherwise, life is a difficult mess. And it’s from this mindset that I want to approach how I budget my resources. With self-care being at the forefront of my assessments. And this is so much easier when you have people in your corner cheering you on. Reminding you what the healthiest version of you looks like.

Because we need these reminders when we wake up after working two, 12 hour days back to back. The reinforcement that gives us the nudge to pick up the phone and text or call our boss to tell them we need to take the day off. Reminders to tell us to do what’s bet for us.

Take the Day & be Kind

If you’re anything like I am, when you decide to take care of yourself you’ll be inundated with guilty thoughts and feelings. It’s difficult enough feeling fatigued and vulnerable when we are feeling sick or super stressed. Then add on the guilt and feeling that you’re failing in some way and we’re making an already bad situation worse. So remember the kindness that we’ve cultivated in our relationships with our supports. Once we do that, we can then extend that kindness to ourselves.

And don’t forget to relax! I know this is a tough one. Especially by those who are riddled with feelings of guilt for feeling as though they’re underachieving. But it is an essential part to feel your best. Nobody has ever guilted themselves into a healthier version of them self ; ) Recently I’ve come up with a few lines to repeat to myself with the help of my therapist. These are there to remind me that it’s okay to relax. And maybe most importantly, to take it a little easier on myself.

So keep an eye on your self and your energies, emotions and physical being. Rest when you are tired, eat when you are hungry and take the space you need to feel your best. If you need a mental health day to recoup, take the day. Nobody knows what you need more than yourself. It may be a big responsibility, but it’s a rewarding one. And head over to The Good Trade if you need some inspo on ways to relax. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “sick day” by jamelah is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Just Relax: Easier Said Than Done

Being able to relax doesn’t come naturally for everybody. For me, it was a lesson that took a while, and one I’m still coming to terms with. In the past few years, I’ve been pushing myself beyond what my limits are. I feel this was in reaction to the ways I used to live and be treated. By seeking external approval now, to validate who I am. That I’m worth something by my work.

I used to be sedentary. I over consumed, just about everything and watched enough T.V. for a family of four. This was a direct result of my upbringing. While I was growing up, I wasn’t taught the value of keeping an active lifestyle. I didn’t have many interests and what’s more, no one to help me discover and foster healthy and active hobbies.

I was left alone for what felt like days at a time. And it seemed as though I had nothing but T.V. and videogames to occupy myself with. There was a short stint where my stepfather tried to get me into lacrosse. But it never took. I had never heard of the sport before my freshman year in high school, when he signed me up for it. And I was terrible at it as well. I had no one to practice with and my stepfather wasn’t available or lost interest. So it was a short lived experience. Nor one that built confidence in my abilities as an athlete.

Being Active to Prove Myself

The most active I remember being in high school was playing frisbee and hacky-sack in the courtyard. The “slacker sports” as we used to refer to them. We were cultivating a life of being sedentary. My friends and I had no goals to aspire to, nor guidance from healthy role-models to show us how to set and obtain goals, had we made any.

We were just drifting through life aimlessly. But we didn’t know any better. For me, and I’m sure for most of the people I hung out with, I was called lazy and put down verbally for most of my youth. I had nothing to aspire to, because I had no one show me how to aspire to something. Only consistent negative reinforcement from my role models. In case you are wondering, this was not a great parenting strategy.

Staying Busy to Overachieve

Though, I imagine my parents had been raised under more harsh, critical familial expectations. I knew my grandparents well. And they were not the happy, go lucky type. They were intense in all aspects of the word. My grandfather once yelled at me without restraint, when I was maybe 5, for forgetting to tell my father to bring a screwdriver to their house. Restraint and temperance were not words in my grandfather’s vocabulary.

My grandmother was image obsessed and cold. She had a standard that nobody could live up to. Considering, I had it pretty easy growing up. But the legacy of impossible standards that our family handed down through the generations, left us all feeling as though we had to work double, and triple time in order to gain any form of approval. This directly impacted our ability to relax. Mostly for fear that what ever small amount of belonging we felt, would be pulled out from under us, for taking some much needed rest if we did relax.

So we kept ourselves busy. We stayed busy to gain approval so we could feel belonging. But we always felt as though we had to keep producing, in order to cull what little approval we could from those that were keeping it so well guarded. This is an exhausting way of being. And one that does not lead to a sustainable way of feeling approved of. And it also leaves us little, if any, time to relax.

Sorting Out Integral Support From External Validation

With all of our hustling for approval, we never left ourselves with the time to take care of our basic needs. Let alone allowing ourselves the time to relax or enjoy what we do for ourselves. And if our tendency is to seek external forms of approval, then we’ll always be hustling for that approval. In order to break the cycle of seeking external validation, we need to validate ourselves first, for who we are.

This can feel like a strange reversal. Especially if you were brought up, as I was, constantly chasing the feelings of approval from those who held it just out of reach. But learning that you can approve of yourself while having that approval be an integral part of who you are, is empowering. And this may look a little different for everybody. As I’ve found approval is something that is a personal experience.

Self Approval

This, like most things, is a practice. I wish I could tell you that it will just magically appear one day and you’ll be solid in your sense of feeling adequate. But even still, it’s something that’s obtainable. It just takes work. For me, I’m still finding the ways in which I approve of myself. Two big parts of feeling self-approval for me lay in two areas: First in feeling accomplished and second, taking care of myself.

Withholding Accomplishment

Accomplishment was something that I had not really felt until very recently. I have vague memories of the felt sense of accomplishing as a child. But since, the standards were set so high, and for so long, that I just forgot what it felt like. This makes me sad to think of now. But this was just the norm for our family. And what makes this so tragic is, this was the foundation on which we built our connections.

We wanted to feel better than the person who was struggling with the standards we had set for them, when inevitably, they would fail to meet those standards. But this just left everybody feeling frustrated and angry. Sure, we felt superior for a while, but that feeling of superiority only carried us so far. Before long, we would have to accept that we pushed everybody close to us, away. Leaving us feeling all alone.

Feeling Accomplished to Feel More Content, Relaxed

Thinking on when I feel most accomplished now, and nothing comes to mind. But the feeling is present, however vague. And the more I dwell on the feeling, the more I recognize where in my life, and what I do, that brings that feeling with it. For example, when I think of No Labels Living, I think about all the time and effort I’ve put into crafting these posts. Turning my feelings and experiences, into pages of, what I hope are, helpful advice.

And when I think about cooking for myself, the food I make for the weeks ahead in an attempt to allow me the time to get after other goals that need attention in my life. I think about the rows of freshly cooked meals in Mason jars that contain my week’s nourishment and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Taking Care of Myself & My Needs

Taking care of myself, in a way, brings its own sense of accomplishment. In the example above, when I cook for myself, I feel a deep sense of pride and accomplishment for taking care of my nutritional needs. I’m making the food I love that nourishes my body. And this is a whole other felt sense of accomplishment. Like pride, mixed with care and doing for myself. Which in turn translates to time for me to relax.

Or like promising that I’ll take a bath at the end of a long work day. Knowing that I’m taking care of my emotional and physical needs, brings with it a sense of accomplishment and way to relax. Knowing that I’m caring for myself in a way that aids me in becoming the healthiest version of myself is gratifying.

Relaxation is Free

There’s a big industry focused around making money from peoples’ inability to relax. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t splurge on yourself once and a while. Especially if it’s something that you enjoy. But try to make doing, or enjoying your treat an event, where you can really savor it. But also keep in mind that the ability to relax is innate in all of us. Not achieved by something we purchase.

For example, I feel so much more relaxed soaking in a warm bath, than I do out at a restaurant. And you don’t have to go to a spa in order to feel as though you’re getting the spa treatment. I’ve been in the habit of burning candles and using an essential oil diffuser to create a more relaxed atmosphere nightly. If this is something that helps you to feel more relaxed, try creating your own spa experience at home. Add a few Epsom salts to your bath water. Maybe some essential oils as well. Add a few candles to the mix and you have something people spend good money on.

Other Ways to Relax That Won’t Cost You Anything

Exercise

Exercise is a great start if you’re looking for ways to sooth your nerves. My go to for exercise now is yoga. It’s low impact on your body, which after running for years is a nice break. And whether you are new to yoga or a seasoned pro, YWA has a ton of free videos on her site. Check her out here, or head over to my Community page for a link to her site and other resources for relaxing.

While we’re on the topic, taking a walk in your favorite stretch of woods will do wonders for your level of calm. Maybe you’re more of an ocean person? Walking by the beach is also soothing in ways that few other activities are. Being out in green space helps to reduce anxiety levels and has a calming effect. So the more you can be out in nature, the more you will be able to relax.

Cooking

This is something I especially enjoy. There is something about being in the kitchen, where so many elements come together. And with the right atmosphere, brings with it a sense of joy, ease and excitement. Burning a scented candle while slowly bring together the ingredients for each recipe is soothing to me. I know I’m nourishing myself with the tasty and healthy foods I’m making, but also engaging my senses with the colors of the fresh veg and the smells from the simmering sauces.

It’s a treat and one that reminds me of the times when I used to cook in a restaurant. It was a small take-out place where the lines would be out the door most nights. We made Mexican food with an Indian/Asian twist. The results were phenomenal and wildly popular in the city where we were.

My nights on the sauté station were most memorable. I had ten burners going full throttle with a line of slips piling up as the night got steadily busier. From the dimly lighted atmosphere complimented by flashes of ignited cooking oil, to the slow jazz playing in the background, it was a busy, yet soothing experience. And something I carry with me into my current cooking experiences. Only this time with fewer items to make : )

Journaling, Reading & Listening to Music

Journaling, listening to music and reading are a few other ways I’ve learned to sooth my nervous system. For example, today I spent most of my day reading about New England’s history while listening to old sea shanties, to really get me in the mood. It was like being transported to another time and place and all while feeling completely at ease.

Journaling is something that has been invaluable for me as well. I bullet journal, so planning out my weeks and organizing my household is something that brings me a great sense of feeling relaxed. Knowing I’m taking care of the parts of my life that need my attention allows me to move on with my day without wondering, “am I forgetting about something”. Being organized is a gift to those who feel they’ve been stretched too thin.

Winding Down

These are some of the ways that I relax, and some of the benefits I garner from feeling relaxed. If you have any go to ways of decompressing, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. It’s so easy to get wound up during the course of the day. And it’s even easier to open a bottle or smoke something to take your mind off of your accumulated burdens. But there are healthier ways of being at ease in your body that don’t need the aid of something other than a calm night, cup of herbal tea and maybe a hot bath. So take a load off and get into something more comfortable. You deserve it. Peace, & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Relaxing feet – 20100417 – IMG_3171.jpg” by Dhammika Heenpella / CWSSIP Images of Sri Lanka is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

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