Monday, June 25, 2018

Less Stress, More Mindfulness

I recently decided to make some life-quality changes in my life.  I finally hit a threshold that I could no longer will myself to maintain.  I felt over-stressed, over-worked, constantly worried, and anxious to the point
where it was interfering with my happiness, my health, and my relationships, including the one I have with myself.  Despite the fact that I 'pushed through', and 'just kept going' with as much of a positive attitude that I could, I felt beaten down, depressed and honestly, I felt worthless.  Though hard work and perseverance, patience and gratitude in the face of challenge are all things that I value and are rooted to my core, I realized that it was these very things that were breaking me down and making me into something that I disliked.  If I don't have the strength to put myself and my life and my value first, then I was letting myself down.  For all the work that I did to make things better for others, to please others, and to maintain some sort of balance for myself — I was nailing in a coffin on my own dreams, my passions, and my desires.  All because I wanted to 'succeed' at the given tasks in my immediate life.

Sometimes life isn't about climbing up the ladder if it's not the ladder you want to be climbing.

I could push myself to do more, be more, think more, organize more, but I couldn't replenish the energy I was losing, or cut down on the impulses I gave into just to get through one more day.  I couldn't stop the anxiety attacks or get back the lost hours of sleep.  And this was when I said enough was enough.

It was time to stop and smell the roses.

So I began a very concerted effort to eliminate stressors from my life so that I could focus my valuable energy on the things that were worth it to me and my values.

Here lies my advice for leading a less stressful, more simplified life.

It takes a little bit of stepping back from yourself and your current life to note what is causing you to be stressed out... the root causes.   For me it has been food/ diet, money, cleaning and organizing, sleep and general health, and general happiness and ability to do the things I am passionate about.

Step 1: Minimize Your Clutter

I was lucky that this revelation in my life happened in the midst of a big move.  This kind of paved the way for having to go through all of my possessions and make decisions.  I realized that one of the big things stressing me out day to day was my disorderly surroundings.  I am somewhat of a hoarder, so a lot of the house just had things around, piled, on chairs, on the kitchen table, in our closets, on the dresser, the list goes on.  I'm sure this might sound familiar to some of you.  You obtain some object, you don't know where to put it or don't want to make that decision, and suddenly it's just there.  On the bookshelf, on your nightstand, on your desk, etc.  I realized I was getting stressed out from all of the stuff everywhere, trying to find my keys in the morning, or going to work on the computer but there's a stack of papers... where's this stack of papers going to go now?  You get it.  

I had to get out from this literal heap of stuff.  So when we moved we made a very concerted effort that even though we were getting more space, we wanted to have less stuff.  We went through everything, and we were brutal.  Man, has it improved my personal quality of life.  And it was tricky, too.  Because there were still a lot of things I wanted to keep — and that's ok in moderation. 

We went through all our clothes, papers, kitchen things, etc. and decided if we needed it or not.  We made four piles: Keep/ love, Maybe, Donate, and Trash.  We got rid of all sorts of things.  You don't need fifteen travel mugs and five sauce pans.  You just don't.  Pick your favorite and move on.  

I sold clothes/ am selling clothes on Depop.  This was hard.  I love clothes.  But I had so many clothes I was drowning, and certainly not wearing all of them.  So I once again put them in piles to determine what their fate would be.  I just sold one of my favorite dresses and that one was kind of tough.  It had a great print and the style and fit was my favorite, but it didn't fit me anymore!  And it may very well fit me at some point in the future, but the fact is, it might not, and it doesn't fit me currently, so I just had to let go.  There were a number of pieces like this.  

So it is a rough process, but worth it.  De-clutter your life.

Don't have time?  Make time. 

This will create time in your life because you won't be wasting time moving / cleaning/ organizing/ etc. because of the sheer number of things around.  Also there will be more space to move, breathe, and live in.  It will make you feel better and happier.

Clutter in your life isn't limited to getting rid of things, either.  It's choosing not to accumulate it.  When I decided my car wasn't safe to drive any more I didn't try to go buy a new one.  I live in a very walkable town, and I can walk to get groceries etc.  I don't pay a car payment.  I don't pay for gas.  I don't pay for insurance or a parking spot or registration.   I'm streamlining the costs in my life, analyzing what are recurrent costs to me monthly, and questioning whether they are really necessary costs to be accumulating. 

Step 2: Start Each Day with Physical Activity

Ok.  So here is where I have to admit that I haven't yet reached my ideal goal yet.  I haven't been able to do this yet.  But I know that if I did, I would probably be happier.

Ideally, I want to start each day with physical activity.  Whether that's my yoga video or a walk to the lake and back, I like the idea of jumpstarting your day by clearing your mind.  I know sometimes it feels like things will 'get done' faster if you just jump right in to your work, but I think in the end you tire more easily this way.

Physical activity can clear your mind, keep you fit and healthy, and get you inspired.   It's just having the will power to get up and do it, which I'm still working on.

Step 3: Food Analysis

Food was a big one for me.  I'm not necessarily saying dieting (though I am starting to think about that a little) per-say, but more just awareness.  For 28 years I've eaten a lot of crap, I'll be honest.  I love sugar.  Coca-cola is like it's own section on my food pyramid, and cheese understands me better than most humans I think.  I know it's bad.  And for quite a while I've ignored the 'you'll feel better if you eat better' ideas, the 'your acne would be better if you ate less sugar' comments, and so on.

But at the core of it, I've known for a long time that the sugar I eat causes my acne and probably my increased shortness of breath (though I think this is also a larger issue than just my diet) and general feelings of anxiety.  The honest truth is that I just don't want to admit it to myself because I love the food I love to eat, and I don't want to say goodbye to it.

But, I think I have to recognize that it contributes to any feelings that I have that are anxious and self-deprecating.  My diet must have an effect on these things.

Also, eating out is expensive.  And so tempting.  Literally all of the time.  A nice rice bowl with salmon at Roti?  Um, yes please!  And a Starbucks double shot with a Coffee Cake?  Sign me up for literally. every. day.

So I had to recognize that this was part of the problem.   And I think at first I felt I was being cruel to myself.  But I HAVE to eat something every two hours!  I would tell myself.  It was the only way I felt everything all worked without feeling like I was "missing out" on something.

So I can't really tell you definitively how I changed this.

Mostly I think, I changed my routine.

I got a calorie counting app on my phone.

And I started focusing on fresh ingredients.

And I'll be totally honest, the fact that I'll be getting married in a year and want to feel comfortable in my wedding dress probably put me over the edge into caring about my weight for the first time in my life ever.

The app keeps me aware of what foods are taking up the most room in my daily diet, so when I have a 'salad' for lunch that consists of 8oz of mozzarella cheese, 2 tomatoes, and 10 leaves of basil I am fully aware that that 8oz of cheese is 567 calories, and I probably *shouldn't* have fast food for dinner.  At least this way, if I'm over for the day, it's way easier to tell myself I shouldn't go eat 3 brownies for dessert (But I might still go have one!).

Also, I have given myself a minimal budget for eating out each week.  A big stressor in my life was money, and eating out played a big role in that.  I would want to eat out because I was stressed, and I was stressed because I was spending money eating out... it was a never ending circle.  Now I give myself $40 a week for eating out.  I can get brunch on Saturday and a sandwich out for lunch one day, or I could go for one nice dinner out.  I'm at the point now where I prefer to make my own food.  Often I feel like it's fresher and healthier.

With that, I've tried to focus on fresh ingredients.  Now for the cost of one lunch out at work, I'm ordering from Imperfect Produce every other week and getting fresh produce that would otherwise go to waste.  I plan some fun recipes around my bi-weekly delivery ingredients and I get really excited about it.  This week I'm making a peach tart for example.  And I think I'll enjoy that fresh peach tart way more than I enjoyed spending $30+ on coffee and coffee cakes every week from Starbucks.

We also do Blue Apron (and have been for over two years), which is great, fresh food that keeps us busy and fed three nights of the week.

Step 4: Recognize Your Values (And Your Value)

I talked a bit about this at the beginning of this post.  What is important to you in life?

Are you passionate about something?

Do you allow yourself time to do it?

Do what you need to do to make sure you are feeding your passions.

I let a lot of my passions wither before I simplified my life.   I did fight for them but I wasn't capable of putting them first for a long time.  Take a look at what is inherently "you".

What makes you, You?

Don't let that thing become last on your list of to do's.

I got to the point where I devalued my own interests so much that I felt like a shell of a human, I was so overwhelmed and anxious .  Don't do that.  You need to do the things that make you you.

Don't just do other things because 'you can', or because you feel like you're 'supposed to', or because you feel you'd be letting people down to not be doing them.

If you're sacrificing the things that are important to you, you are killing your values.

Life is short.  You don't have forever to make your passions happen.

If you want something you need to put in the work and stop waiting for someone to tell you it's ok to do so.  No one is going to do that until you show them it can be done or why you need to do it.

This applies to less serious things, too.  I like to buy fresh flowers every so often, because it makes me happy.  When I see them I am filled with joy, and feel refreshed.  I like feeling this way, and that has value to me, whether or not someone else might think buying flowers is 'non-essential' or 'frivolous'.  Great, then that person doesn't need to buy flowers, but that shouldn't stop you from doing it if you find value in it.

Step 5: Simplify

Picture the life you want to be living.  Picture how you want to feel day to day.

And then realize that you can do that.

You can do anything.

Simplify what is standing in your way, and figure out the steps you need to get there.

Dive into your new simplified life.

It might take some work, but you can get there.

Plant the seed today.

And remember when you get there, to not take life for granted.

Choose to make the best out of every day, despite life's challenges.

Believe in yourself and the life you want to lead.

And don't forget to stop and breathe.

Until next time,

- The Lovely Red Fox

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