About a month ago, I wanted to test out one of the many wellness routines I found online. I needed a boost to my mental health. I needed to feel more gratitude for what I have and less anxiety over situations I couldn’t control. And my pursuit of happiness started with yoga. Simple enough.
On day one, I sweated a ton as I watched my wrists twitch as I tried to hoist my frame up off the ground. I bent my legs backward and elongated my spine. On day two, I sat cross-legged on a meditation pillow, concentrating on my breath, smelling it since I hadn’t even got ready yet. On day three, more yoga. I also made myself a smoothie and opted to read a chapter of my book and avoid social media. By day four, I planted myself back onto my meditation pillow and breathed in deeply. And just like the other days, I still felt anxious, unhappy, and truth be told, a little annoyed.
Experts say that it takes 21 days of doing something in order for it to become a habit. This whole quarantine situation has shown me how effective that works. My house has never been cleaner. Every morning is spent tidying up, tossing dirty dishes into the dishwasher, throwing in a load of laundry, and making my bed. Before quarantine, my house often looked like a bomb went off. And making my bed every morning? I’m laughing while even typing this.
But when it came to me developing my own wellness routine, it quickly dawned on me why it wasn’t working: I don’t fucking like yoga.
Granted, I envy people who are into yoga. My sister-in-law is a yoga instructor. She eats plant-based meals, works out and seems to have very little stress as a result of her routine. Whether that’s factual or not or just a ruse could be debated. Still though, people who practiced meditation, did yoga and slowed down seemed to be much happier. So, in my own little world I thought: “If it works for them, it can work for me.” And that’s true. But that also wasn’t what I needed to make me happy. So I went out in search of it.
One of my top complaints was often that I didn’t do what I wanted to do. And, truthfully, that’s probably most people, especially as we grow older. When I was 20, the concept of not putting myself first was ridiculous. Now, on the cusp of 30, I tread a lot more lightly. I have a career now, in addition to freelance jobs, an apartment, an elderly father to take care of, and my own marriage. When I get home from work, the creativity I once felt on my lunch break has drifted and turned into pajamas and quoting Jim Halpert from The Office. And then, around 9:30 at night, when my eyelids are droopy and my speech is slurred from exhaustion, I flop myself in bed, angry that I didn’t do what I wanted yet again.
This cycle has repeated for years that has only found solace on my return from vacation. After a week-long trip, I’m rejuvenated, and everything, once again, becomes possible. Once that high fades, it’s back to hitting snooze on my alarm, hesitating to spend money on myself, taking care of others, and being too mentally and physically exhausted when it comes time to do something for myself. So, when it came time to practice yoga, watch my breath, and down a flaxseed smoothie, the reason I grew anxious and hesitant to continue was not because they’re not GOOD things to put in practice, they were just the WRONG things for me to focus on yet again.
I used to think that crafting a wellness schedule was about minimizing stress. I think that’s only part of it. Minimizing stress for me came in the forms of showering at night, laying clothes out the night before, waking up to a healthy breakfast, and having time to get through my morning instead of rushing around. In actuality, though, what brought me happiness was having the time to write something I felt passionate about. Happiness came in the form of taking the time to be creative.
For example, I love to paint. I love to express myself. I love to create something. I love the feeling that overtakes me when I see my article get published. I love the feeling of sitting outside with a cup of coffee and taking pictures of my dog or nature. I love playing music so loudly that it wakes the neighbors (granted, I don’t do this). They’re simple things, but the common denominator amongst them all is how they are all forms of expressing myself. And that brings me happiness because I genuinely love myself. I love my sense of style and sense of humor. I love the things I create, even if they’re not particularly good by someone else’s standards. I love the sense of camaraderie my words have brought in the past. I love the feeling of accomplishment in all its forms.
The reason why yoga doesn’t work for me is because I’m just not the kind of girl who likes to do yoga. And when I try to develop my happiness based on someone else’s routine, it overshadows my own. Therein lies the secret I want to share with you.
Loving yourself is hard. Looking at life through a lens of positivity is difficult and I will be the first person to say that it’s impossible to feel good about yourself, your life, and your current situation all the time. Life has its peaks and valleys, and with it, so do your emotions. While you can’t control all the little things that spring up and cause anxiety, you can start by listening to the tiny voice inside your head that desperately wants you to pay attention. Maybe your voice is telling you to draw or write or sign up for that marathon you always think about. Maybe your voice is telling you exactly what you need to take care of yourself. All you have to do is listen.