In my last post, I emphasized the three pillars of mental health: nutrition, sleep and movement. Most of us know that even if we discover the perfect formula for these pillars, there is no guarantee that we’re going to feel great. And there will always be a disruption to the routine. The pillars are about having something you can come back to as opposed to being rigid about your formula. Remember, this isn’t about finding guarantees, it’s about learning how to live life on life’s terms, develop solid habits that support well-being while cultivating curiosity and self-awareness. What works for me is probably only going to work for me. Paradoxically, we all constantly learn from others. Learn to curate information.
I love routine. Our brains love patterns and routines too. Having habits actually changes the structure of the brain by developing new dendrites that fire when engaging in the routine. My challenge has been to find routine and flexibility. When I first started practicing yoga 25 years ago I was really great on the routine end but I did not value flexibility at all. Back then, yoga was more about relieving my tight hamstrings. What I really learned was how to develop and value flexibility of mind and attitude. Yoga became my greatest mirror and what I saw in my reflection was someone completely out of balance. Yoga became my instructor, not on how to do a perfect warrior pose but rather, how to encourage a flexible mind. Now, when I step on my yoga mat a calmness immediately arrives, my breathing and heart rate start to slow down and I am able to access the internal benefits that a yoga practice embodies.
Develop habits. Break habits. Learn to discern between helpful and hurtful.
I encourage you to lean into the parts of yourself that you’d rather avoid. Our growth comes in getting out of our comfort zone. Since I tend towards liking routine and over-valuing discipline, my growth comes in letting go, being spontaneous, doing less. Mental health is, essentially, accepting paradox–seeking comfort and discomfort, pushing and letting go, accepting and relinquishing. I personally like to find new ways of making myself uncomfortable. My first example of this came unexpectedly a few years ago. During a massage, my massage therapist was talking to me about her recent experience with fasting and I remember my immediate reaction was to recoil. I have always hated being hungry (you know, hangry is my middle name) and the idea of fasting literally terrified me. I decided to do a deep dive into learning more about fasting and realized I had a lot to learn, nothing to lose and maybe something new to gain. I eventually faced one of my biggest fears and fasted for three days, several times. Here’s what I learned: 1) I now know how to be hungry and it’s ok, 2) It’s hard to have something to look forward to when you’re fasting, 3) I can basically do everything I normally do in a day when I fast, 4) Empathy. I am grateful that I don’t have to live in a perpetual state of hunger. Now I fast regularly but usually for shorter periods of time, like 24 hours.
My second example of pushing myself into discomfort came from this podcast, which I highly recommend:
Brené with Tim Ferriss and Dax Shepard on Podcasting, Daily Practices, and the Long and Winding Path to Healing
During their discussion, Tim Ferris talks about his daily practice of sitting in an ice bath, for 2-3 minutes. That’s a long-ass time to sit in ice water…and I just couldn’t see it happening for me. I cannot tell a lie, I was intrigued. In addition to fasting, sitting in ice water is right up there with something I hate to do. But the benefits are not just about sore muscles. It also reduces inflammation, helps the immune system, eases depression, improves sleep. And when he offered a modification, specifically turning the water to cold at the end of a shower, I jumped on it. I can do this. Now, at the end of every shower, I go to cold for 30 seconds. Sometimes I count to 30 a little too fast, sometimes I go to 45 or even 60 seconds. Do I have an improved immune system? I really don’t know. What I do know is that my interest in getting out of my comfort zone keeps me curious and makes me do odd things that I truly don’t want to do. And I’m pretty sure it’s good for me.
Here are a few more suggestions:
- Allow someone to take care of you
- Learn to be flexible, physically and emotionally
- Be curious–what opportunity is being presented to you?
- Find something new that’s hard to do and commit to doing it
- Learn new things-read and listen to fiction and non-fiction
- Invest in people that truly love and appreciate you
“After all these years I have begun to wonder if the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.”My Grandfather’s Blessings, Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.