I had a year full of turmoil starting at the end of 2017. Deaths, losses, internal strife, a job change, a fire. One stressful situation after another, and I reached a point at which I had to do something to strengthen myself against the next blow. After all, I’m the matriarch, and people depend on me.
For a long time I depended on a quiet morning, a cup of coffee, writing in my journal, hiking, and occasional yoga classes to stay centered. Last year I added meditation, most often using an app on my phone but sometimes just sitting in silence and trying to clear my mind.
Last fall after the fire, which served as a big wakeup call to so many of us in the burn area, I started doing more. I’ve been recommending one tool or another to people at least daily ever since, so I decided to compile them here to share with anyone who needs them.
How I Don’t Go Crazy
I have a 30-minute drive to work which is when I listen to podcasts (and then I crank up some lively tunes on my way up the last hill to the parking lot). But I also listen when I’m walking or running, or folding laundry, or sometimes to help me fall asleep. Here are my favorites:
- My Favorite Murder: Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff, two funny gals, tell true crime stories amid countless humorous tangents. I listen for entertainment and humor and to escape, though it teaches subliminal lessons like “stay aware of your surroundings” and “don’t assume others are going to call for help” and “stay sexy and don’t get murdered.”
- Unfuck Your Brain: Kara Lowentheil uses each episode to teach you another different way that your brain can make you miserable. Your thoughts create your feelings, and if you have bad feelings all you have to do is think different thoughts. It sounds simple, but it’s very difficult to re-train your brain. Coincidentally, Kara is a former lawyer who started her coaching business for women lawyers, but realized that her methods apply to all people. But the early episodes aimed at lawyers made me understand lawyer brain a little more, which comes in handy now that I work AT A LAW SCHOOL. That’s serendipity right there.
- Mindset Reset: Mel Robbins, a pretty popular motivational speaker, did this series starting in the new year. It’s not a podcast exactly, but I treat it like one. She did a daily series of videos available on YouYube and Facebook that I could listen to wherever I was. The goal is similar to Unfuck Your Brain but the framework is a little different. Also I think I could be her for Halloween.
The second and third podcasts listed here helped me turn around some thoughts and behaviors that were keeping me feeling negative. For example: taking things too personally, believing I was responsible for other people’s feelings, being ashamed that I was too emotional (I am just emotional enough thank you very much), not asking for what I want, and not blaming other people for my emotions. That’s just the beginning, but it has changed me so much already.
I’ve actually been going to talk therapy once a week since last spring. I had to stop once my new work schedule started, but I have come so far that I don’t rely on it as a weekly island of sanity in the stormy sea of chaos. My therapist helps me work through my thoughts and emotions and together we pick the facts out of that hot mess and I can decide from there what to do next and feel good about my decisions.
I am as religious about my sleep schedule as I was for my sons when they were babies and toddlers. I don’t ignore my body’s signals, the ones that say I AM SO TIRED PLEASE STOP ABUSING ME. When I start to feel droopy and sleepy, everything shuts down and I go to bed. On weeknights that happens by 9:30. I might read in bed a little bit before turning off the light, or chat with my husband if he’s there too, but I’m usually asleep by 10:30 at the latest.
I get up at 5:45 AM on workdays. I don’t hit the snooze button—I just get up. (Thank you, Mel Robbins.) This gives me the alone time in the house before everybody wakes up, time to sit and drink my first cup of coffee and write in my journal in peace, and meditate.
- Wherever You Go, There You Are by John Kabat Zin. One of the writers in my group gave me this book. It’s all about meditation and centering and peace and calm. Each short chapter explores a different thought related to meditation. Sometimes I read a passage before I sit down for a writing session. Sometimes I read it before sleep so I can fall asleep thinking about it.
- Temporary Tattoos: I bought a bunch of temporary tattoos with positive messages from Conscious Ink (not sponsored). I put them on the inside of my left wrist and every time I see them I am reminded of that thought. I have worn Be Free, she believed she could so she did, Actually I Can, a phoenix, and a graphic of books turning into birds. I might get a permanent tattoo someday but for now I like trying on different ones.
- My Word: I will admit this was an impulse purchase I made after seeing this on instagram but it was so worth it. I wear this MyIntent necklace (also not sponsored) with the word FORWARD on it because hello? That had to be my word! It’s genius marketing or God calling to me through social media. Either way, this necklace is a talisman that helps me and reminds me of my purpose.
Because I was starting a new job and I knew it would be exhausting at first as I met new people and soaked up new information, I made a pact with myself to not make plans after work for the first four weeks. I would do things with my family but that’s it. Social outings had to wait until the weekends. That meant I missed out on a lot of things and I didn’t see dear friends for a while. But the upside was that I got enough rest and I had some energy for the husband and kids even after a long day. I didn’t have to remember what I was doing on any given weeknight because I was just going home. The end result of this self-imposed activity reduction was that I felt more calm, more centered, and happier than I have in a long time. And I suspect it helped my performance at work, because after only four weeks on the job, I was promoted!
A Better Me
On the outside, my life looks more or less the same as it did a year ago. I have a job, a husband, two kids, a cat, and we all live in a comfortable house. I exercise sometimes, go out with friends sometimes, go hiking, see movies, do laundry, write my never-ending book, go to doctors’ appointments, shop for things I need or want. All of the basic activities of a suburban life.
But inside I’m healthier and happier. I’m a better wife, mother, and friend. (I’m not yet a better daughter, sister, and niece, but I’m working on that.)
And I’ll say it here, because after all these years it’s still my blog: I’m proud of myself. I’m grateful to have found the resources that helped me get here, but I did the work, even though it was hard and made me take a closer look at myself.
I hope you find these suggestions useful, or that they serve as inspiration to look for something that works for you. Namaste.