3 Self Care Habits to Boost Your Mood + Creativity
I've been planning for months now to branch out and start blogging about not just design, but the holistic nature of healthy self-employment (and life in general). And here we are with my first post about it – and a yummy recipe – and I'm so excited!
I first recognized how intertwined your mental health, physical health, and creativity were when I went through a pretty rough patch last spring. My parents had just gone through a divorce, I was only able to find part-time work, we had a very personal tragedy happen, and my husband and I were unhappy with our overall place in life. It just felt like I couldn't get a grip on anything happening around me. It seemed impossible to change my world, and the anxiety and depression hit hard.
In a desperate attempt to gain control over at least something in my life, I took a close look at my eating habits and mental state. I was in a constant state of stress and worry, and would often eat junk or drink alcohol to cope. As anxiety attacks came on, I found myself reaching either for the whiskey or the pantry to calm myself down. Not that whiskey or Oreos are entirely evil (my two loves); but in that state it was unhealthy at best and at its worst, abusive to my body.
As these episodes became my norm, I found my motivation and creativity plummeted. I was unable to focus and work without having extreme anxiety, which would lead me back to the couch for the day. I struggled with crazy low self-worth, self-esteem, self-image.
But here's where everything turned around: I accepted that my soul needed rest and my body needed healing. This wasn't a hole I was going to be able to work myself out of. Productivity as a coping mechanism only goes so far. So I began to get into a self-care routine that got me out of my rut and back to loving life and business.
Let's be real too – even after realizing this, I still occasionally slip back into old patterns. But this isn't about being perfect (that is very anti self-care), it's about being aware of how your body, soul, and mind actually feel. This is meant to be free of shame and guilt, and about getting into a rhythm of doing what's best for yourself as a whole.
(HONESTY TIME: In recent weeks, I've noticed myself starting to drift back into old patterns. I've had trouble focusing, I've been more prone to anxiety attacks, and my motivation has been low. So I'm medicating in the best way I know how – self-care.)
Here's what helped me out of my last rut and what I'm doing to get out of this one:
Daily meditation was the start of my mental, physical, and creative turnaround last year. Every morning I'd wake up, pour myself a cup of coffee, sit on the couch and set my timer for 15 minutes. No music. No prayer. No planning/daydreaming. Just sit and exist in total mental and physical silence for 15 minutes.
If an incessant thought keeps popping up, keep a notepad and a pencil by you and write it down. Knowing you won't forget the thought will make it easier to let those thoughts pass through and you can return back to silence. Keep your mind as quiet as possible.
Truthfully, God on more than one occasion has spoken more clearly to me during non-prayer meditation than when I'm actually praying. Quieting your spirit often gives the conversation space to breathe and become two-way rather than one.
Give yourself the silence to hear what God is saying, what your body is saying, what your soul is saying. It was through the quiet of meditation that I was finally able to hear my body say, "Heal me, and I'll heal your mind." Which takes us to 2:
2. Eat Real Food
This article is incredible if you can read around all the technical terms. It describes how depression and food choices are an endless cycle – poor food choices cause depression and stress, stress and depression cause poor food choices. Both cause inflammation in the body, which inhibits your body's ability to fight chemical depression, causing you to continue craving awful food and remain depressed. It's fascinating.
According to this article, diets high in antioxidants (which you can get from fruits, veggies, whole grains) and omega 3s (certain fish, chia seeds, walnuts) can help your body fight depression and stress, inflammation, and the negative associated health effects.
Now I focus on eating mostly fruits and vegetables, with sweets and meats being a rarity through the week (but I still indulge). I'm not afraid of gluten and whole grains, since gluten only causes significant inflammation in people with celiac disease and whole grains are a necessary and great source of fiber and antioxidants. The main priority, for me, is to eat as minimally-processed foods as I can find. A good start is to read your labels. If there's something on the ingredients list you can't pronounce or find by itself in the store, ditch it.
(I ALSO INDULGE. Pizza is a dear friend of mine, and Taco Bell and I go way back.)
I could talk about this forever, so I'll spare you in this article and maybe expand another time. What I'll tell you is this: don't make food decisions because you're trying to avoid guilt/certain food groups/calories/whatever. Make food choices based on how you know you'll physically feel afterward. If it's worth feeling tired and foggy to indulge, go for it. But I make way more healthy decisions when I consider how I'll feel, not how I'll look.
3. Exercise as Close to Daily as Possible
My husband and I started something called "CEO Rabbi" a couple years back where we chose to imitate the daily routines of the world's most successful people. Here's what we found – they exercise daily.
There is something that happens to your body and mind when you exercise for even 20 minutes that makes you more focused, more creative, and more energetic.
I've found that daily exercise also help me make better eating decisions throughout the day. I also tend to drink way more water. Overall, I've found it makes me more aware of my body and what it needs throughout the day, which makes me much healthier than when I don't exercise.
Exercise also boosts serotonin levels, which is in very basic terms the "happy chemical" in your brain. Serotonin, when released, helps improve your mood and can also prevent mental health disorders (why diet and exercise both combine for an excellent one-two-punch against depression and anxiety).
Again, I have so much more to say about self-care and overall health, how it all connects to your creativity, and how necessary it is as an entrepreneur (well, and human - let's be real); but we'll stick to the basics for now and save all that for a different time.
In the meantime, here's a super easy recipe I've been making all week that is SO freaking simple and good – Cherry Tomato + Spinach Sauté. I make this for breakfast with toast (Dave's Killer Bread Whole Grains + Seeds is my favorite, and is way cheaper when you buy at Costco). I also make it for a light lunch sometimes when I'm in a hurry and just need to eat quick.
Here's the recipe!
1/2 T avocado oil (or olive oil)
1.5 cups halved cherry tomatoes (Costco's are my favorite)
1/2 t minced garlic
2 handfuls of spinach (one of the best things to buy organic)
Salt + pepper for seasoning (I prefer kosher salt or sea salt)
1. Cut all your cherry tomatoes in half while heating your avocado oil in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat (I usually set it to 7 out of 10 on our electric stove).
2. When your oil is hot, add your garlic and sauté for 15-20 seconds, stirring occasionally so it doesn't burn. Then add your tomatoes and stir.
3. Cook the tomatoes and garlic for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. I add a little bit of salt and pepper here so it sticks to the tomatoes before adding the spinach.
4. Add two big handfuls of spinach to the pan. It looks like a lot, but spinach wilts so much when you cook it, so it won't look nearly as extreme when it's done.
5. Cook until all of your spinach has begun to wilt and turn a deep green color. You don't want to cook it too long though, or it'll get a little soggy. It usually takes me about a minute and a half to get the spinach where I want it!
6. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot with your favorite toast!