Last night was both the winter solstice— the darkest night of the year— and a magnificent full moon. As if the sky wanted to remind us that the light returns, starting now!
Lots of folks, myself included, find it hard to keep our energy levels up at this time of year. Exactly when there seem to be extra demands on us. Funny how that goes, isn’t it? If we just accept the defaults, we’ll probably crash at some point (who hasn’t had a December meltdown?). So what can we do? How can we turn this strain into a teachable moment for ourselves?
Stress can point out to us exactly where the inflection points are. Then it’s up to us to pay attention.
So, ENERGY: each night, experience rest, gratitude, and yoga? even night-owl extroverts require gentle years? eggplants! nectarines! endive! radishes! ginger! yams!
Here’s some low-hanging fruit— things that are easy to blow off in the moment, but that add up to exhaustion:
- Go to bed! It’s OK to lean into the hibernation instinct a little bit. When you have a lot to do, don’t knock sleep off the back. Set an alarm for bedtime, use the function on your iphone, and stick to it. If you don’t have a true reason to be up too late, don’t be. I don’t mean skip out on being present for important events, but I do mean maybe turn off the Hallmark channel and get some quality pillow time. (I’ve given the sleep rundown before, but I’ll give you the short version again: make your room cool and your bed warm, no screens in bed, make it dark and unplug stuff with little glowing lights, use do not disturb mode on your phone).
- Eat your veggies. Of course there’s lots to indulge in around the holidays, and I’d never tell you not to do so. Just don’t crowd out all the nutrition your body needs to function. Remember to eat green stuff every day. If you know you’re going to a party, maybe start your day with a smoothie or have a big salad for lunch. Order a side salad. Bring a veggie dish to the potluck. Whatever works.
- Pay attention to energy vampires— sugar and alcohol. It would be easy to drink wine and eat dessert every single day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. This will probably make your energy levels tank. Both will disrupt your sleep, in addition to taxing your system, dehydrating you, and giving you that fuzziness (you know). So just pay attention. You could think about skipping either or both few days. While we often think there’s social pressure to indulge, the fact is, most people don’t really care what you do or don’t eat and drink. You can say no thanks. You can have a seltzer with lime or a kombucha or an apple cider at a party. You can say those look delicious but you’re totally full and would love one for later. If you do take a day off, note how you feel in the morning.
- Get some sunlight. It’s in short supply in December, so get creative. If before and after work are dark try midday (a walk, at least?). . Go out in nature on the weekends. If you live somewhere dark, maybe light therapy lamp is for you. Using a bright light (look for “10,000 lux) for 30 minutes per day has been shown to combat depression.
- Relatedly, get some exercise. Maybe you can organize a family hike? Or run a 5k? If you’re a gym person, carve out the time. Even if it’s less time than you’d like, make time. This will feel easier if you do 1, 2, and 3. And everyone feels better after a sweat. Promise.
- Don’t burn yourself out. You don’t have to say yes to everything and everyone. You can put in an appearance and go on to the next event. It’s OK if that event is a date with a good book and your dog.
- Finally, don’t lean too heavily on artificial sources of energy to pull you through. I love coffee, I really do, but it doesn’t replace the things I suggested above. If you’re too tired, maybe you should listen, honor that, and cool your jets.
Which one of these fall off first for you? Can put it back?
So, I’m moving. Moving from Arizona to Oregon. Moving from one job to a new one.
Transitions engender reflection, and I’m thinking about what I really value.
This effect shows up as I sort my possessions. I’ve thought about this before, but now it’s inescapable. Do I like this? Do I use it? Do I need it? Do I want it? Or, did it just slip into my life somehow and attach itself, without my deliberate attention? Or was it once valuable and is no longer? Is it beautiful? Or, am I keeping it out of some sort of guilt at the idea of selling it, donating it, or throwing it away? I’ve been answering these questions a lot lately, and it’s very revealing.
It also shows up as I visit people and places here. I have beloved teachers and communities at my yoga studio (where I’ve taken over 2,000 classes) and my krav maga gym (where I learned that I can, and should, fight when threatened). I have favorite trails and coffee shops. I have coworkers who’ve taught me and learned from me. Of course I’ve valued these things over the years, but the thought of moving away from them brings my appreciation into sharper focus. Each visit feels significant.
I also think about myself and my life in the ten years I’ve been here. I moved here with Max and took my first job as a nurse. I took my habits of yoga and running from occasional to nearly daily. I went to graduate school and became a nurse practitioner, then a researcher, then a teacher. Max went to graduate school and cycled through jobs. I hosted weekly dinners with Max for years, sharing a love of vegetarian food and socially progressive conversation with smart and loveable friends. I cooked a lot of vegan food, and learned to love eating that way, even when I haven’t made it a firm rule in my life. I’ve travelled from here, to Europe, to Asia, to Mexico, to Montana, to New York, to California, to the Midwest. And then I cam home, to the home I made here in this funny desert city. And now, I’m going. New beginnings are exciting! But still, leaving is sad. What would you miss if you moved?
What helps you be healthy, happy, and productive when you need to be in the zone— whether that’s at your job, in your creative workspace, or somewhere else? Many of us spend a ton of time working at our desks— almost as much overall as we spend in bed, sometimes. And as with sleep, work goes better if we get the environment right.
For me, a big piece is being able to move around. I fidget, shift position, stand, sit, stretch, cross/uncross my legs, squat, sit on the floor, sit in half-lotus on my office chair. . . as I’ve heard Kelly Starrett Say, the best position is the next position. While I’m all about the ergonomics experts who will adjust your mouse and your monitor and whatnot, I think the best solution is generally to avoid spending too much time in one position to begin with. Variations on office furniture that help this? Sitting on something like a ball instead of a chair, a standing/adjustable desk, a treadmill/bike desk, stools/footrests, and my personal favorite— the headset, so you can take calls while moving around.
What else? Continue reading
- Stop worrying so much about being safe.
Life isn’t safe. Excellence isn’t safe. Innovation isn’t safe. Fun isn’t safe. And truly, what’s “safe” for the short-term is often not so over time. Staying at home and watching TV is safe, but it boredom and inactivity are perilous in their own ways. Staying in a job that you don’t love is safe, but burnout and lack of interest are real dangers.
It’s OK to get dirty, to get a few bruises, to get lost. These are often some of our most memorable and transformative experiences. Sure, there are limits. Common sense things— wear a helmet, tell someone where you’re going. But for pete’s sake, go! When I go to my krav maga class, I don’t take hard hits to the head, but I get hit. I get bruises. This is a good thing— it lets me know that I don’t need to shut down and freak out if I get a little roughed up. Because in life, you WILL get roughed up, even if you’re careful. Continue reading
I got an email about classes at my local REI the other day (desert hiking with your dog? yes please!), and among the offerings was bike maintenance. This got me thinking about something I read not long ago:
Kelly Starrett says all human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves. He’s right! I prefer this way of thinking about it to the ubiquitous “self care”— not that that’s wrong, but it’s been sort of distorted to mean, like, taking bubble baths when you’re stressed out. For me, maintenance is more about getting the basics under control day-to-day.
Dr. Starrett was talking about the tissues of the body. Spend time every day finding the areas that need attention— spots that are a little tight, a little tender, not quite as supple as you’d like— and work on them for 10 or 15 minutes. Do this daily, and you can prevent a lot of major problems in your musculoskeletal system. This just makes sense! Little things are easy to fix. Little things that you don’t fix turn into big things.
What else can you do as maintenance on your human self? What little things can you do every day to head off major life fails?