In the last few months I’ve felt better overall than I have in a long time. My current combination of self-care practices seem to be working well for the most part, and it feels good when I’m able to maintain a feeling of balance for extended periods of time. My main struggle continues to be meeting the sense of losing balance with stress and frustration. After a wonderful Sunday of biking around the city, lounging in the rose garden in Golden Gate Park, and hanging out with friends, I woke up feeling anxious and stressed on Monday (primarily related to pending housing uncertainties). My inner dialogue starts up the anxious thoughts of, “Ugh, but I was doing so well yesterday!” and, “I must immediately figure out a plan! That’s the only way to get out of this stress!” When I allow myself to fuel these thoughts with similar ones like them, the fire spreads, and I have a much harder time remembering the tactics that help me maintain balance.
Part of the issue here is the false narrative that because I was “doing so well yesterday” (read: feeling happy) the reappearance of stress or anxiety signals that I’m no longer “doing well”. Feeling balanced, like anything in life, is not a linear trajectory, which is extremely hard to remember in moments that feel anything like a setback or a failure. I try to remind myself that the movement above and below the state of balance is a cycle. Unfortunately I still forget this, and worry when the lower feelings surface or catch me by surprise.
Fortunately, the more awareness I have (depending on the levels of self-care being maintained), the better able I am to disconnect with stress becoming all consuming and eventually somewhat apocalyptic. I strengthen my awareness through meditation, and setting intentions. The following four (and a half) intentions have become the base of my practice, and seem to work well at helping me achieve the balance I need to feel calm and collected throughout my days. I try to pick one to focus on each day, though ideally they’d all be in practice at once!
1. Focus on now, not yesterday, and not tomorrow. This intention is my foundation. As a planner, I tend to channel my anxiety into try to create stability by planning everything out. (Spoiler: it ends up making me more anxious). By reminding myself that I don’t need to worry about what is going to happen in the future, or even in more than a few hours from now, I take the weight of trying to predict the future off my shoulders. Not getting caught up in thinking about / worrying / analyzing past is equally as distracting and unhelpful. It’s over, there’s nothing else I can do about it, just let it go, (as much as this is easier said than done).
1.5 Do one thing at a time. This is closely linked to the foundation intention, but I figured it deserved its own half bullet. Like planning, multitasking is something I do when I’m stressed. The idea becomes something along the lines of, “If I can get everything done, then I can relax,” but ultimately gets more stressful as I’m not fully present with anything. When I am fully present with each task I have the headspace to say, “huh- I may not have time to complete my whole to-do list right now- that’s totally okay.” This is extremely freeing, and without being present intentionally it is so much harder to be aware of the world and people (and their thoughts and feelings) around me.
2. Remember self-love/care/support. There’s a part in my meditation packs that asks you to remind yourself why you’re doing the meditation and then think about the people it will benefit. I always start with, “because I love myself, and I’m here to support myself,” which always brings the biggest smile to my face. When I’m focusing on self-love I take time to do nice things for myself like getting a massage, buying myself a kombucha, noticing how happy I feel when I’m cozy on the couch with a book and my slippers on, calling my grandparents, watching the sunrise, etc. Exercise is an important daily self-care ritual for me, but I’ve learned that it must be kept in the context of, “I am doing this because it will make my body and mind feel good,” and if it starts to feel like something I must do instead of something I want to do, that’s a sign my body needs to rest.
3. Engage with the world. When I’m aware of my surroundings I’m able to disengage with my inner dialogue and interact with the outside world in a positive manner. Smiling at fellow humans when crossing paths, saying “bless you” to someone who sneezes on the bus, offering assistance to someone clearly confused or needing it, asking how the bus driver is doing- all of these kinds of interactions prove to increase my optimism in humanity, and as a bonus, make me feel better in turn. Remembering that everyone is fighting their own battle and dealing with their own plethora of thoughts and feelings is another way to lessen feelings of isolation. We really are all in this together.
4. Appreciate and give thanks. A few Thanksgivings ago my Mother hung a banner that said “give thanks” spelled out in a bunting style with metal letters over our table. She let me keep the banner and it now hangs in my room next to my bed, a reminder to give thanks every day. When I focus on being grateful I am often filled with amazement at the beauty of my life. I am surrounded and supported by so many wonderful friends, family members, and coworkers. I live in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet that gives me access to clean drinking water and clean air. The days I focus on gratitude I go to extra lengths to call, write, and connect with the people I love.
4.5 Nurture my family as people. I’m not sure why it took me so long to really connect with the idea that my family members are people too, but I’m glad it’s something I figured out sooner than later. I make a lot of effort to nurture my friendships, and know my friends very well, but this year I’ve been working on applying that to my family members as well. Getting to know my parents as people gives me a better understanding of them and myself. Finding out common interests I share with my grandparents has allowed my relationship with them, one I always took for granted, to become a source of deep enjoyment on both parts. Becoming fully aware that my extended family members are all individually complex, interesting people, who love me to boot, has been a wonderful realization (albeit a kind of, “well duh” one), and allowed me to focus time and effort on getting to know them in a way I wasn’t able to as a child and teenager. This is something I feel incredible gratitude for, and brings me joy in the moments when I feel the most alone. Through therapy I was about to let go of the ideas I held about what a “perfect” family was, and realize what incredible love and support my family gives me. I released the fantasy, let go over the disappointments, and discovered so much more. Leave the gun, take the cannoli. You won’t be disappointed.
There’s a reason they call self-care a practice. Unfortunately it’s not something you simply learn to do and then go on your merry way, having leveled up in the game of adulthood. No, self-care requires continual energy and awareness, and about as many hours of practice as anything else needed for mastery (10,000 hours? 100,000 hours? Still trying to convince myself I could sit still long enough to learn to play the guitar. TBD on that one).
This has been the first year that I’ve headed home for the holidays with the set intention of continuing the self care practices I’ve put in place in SF. Over thanksgiving I diligently meditated daily, and made time to exercise- even if it was only going running for 20 minutes (in the COLD). As a result of this I enjoyed the time I spent with my family more, ate more mindfully and was able to enjoy it, and kept my spending in check (in fact, by rationalizing that the $125 Madewell dress wasn’t worth it I eventually found essentially the same dress at American Apparel, on sale, for $9. George Costanza levels of excitement ensued.)
What in theory seems simple, the notion of continuing the helpful routines of daily life when out of your regular habitat, has radically changed my ability to enjoy being in places and around people that would normally trigger old behaviors that bring me stress and anxiety. Binge eating is the most common of these behaviors, and when surrounded by a lifetime of historic stressors, and delicious holiday food, it’s not hard to see why. This may have been the first Thanksgiving I didn’t anxiously devolve into binge eating followed swiftly by a dose of self-hate and the desire to get back to the West Coast so I could, “be an adult again.”
Back in San Francisco, I had dinner with my cousin, and relayed the success I’d seen in mindfully recreating my routines while in New York. I reflected on the various practices I employ to try and maintain balance (exercise, meditation, therapy, medication and soul enriching communication with friends) and during the conversation I came to an interesting realization. For so many years I thought I needed to figure out how to strong arm myself out of making the decision to binge eat in the moment. What I really needed to figure out was the right combination of self love and self care to prevent myself from reaching my breaking point where I think, “fuck this- I’m binging.”
The hardest part is keeping that in mind when I feel bad, whether physically or emotionally, and I don’t want to go to the gym or be forced to sit with my feelings while meditating. I’m not even close to mastering this, and I still have weeks where I choose chocolate and wallowing over self- love, support, acceptance and motivation.
But I’m also starting to have weeks where I actively, mindfully choose the positive behaviors- and the practice feels like it’s paying off.
I had no idea what to expect going into Burning Man, aside from the knowledge that it was the supposed holy grail of festivals, without being an actual festival. A few moments came as more than mildly shocking- but those happened more along the lines of “I am by choice biking at night in a dust storm with 0 visibility while slightly intoxicated at the same time as 80,000 other people… Let’s again put the emphasis on by choice,” and less along the lines of, “oh look, the 100th naked person I’ve seen today. (Hope they’ve been reapplying sunblock).” The group that I went with has attended countless festivals, camping trips and holiday celebrations together, and venturing into the desert together certainly felt right, however much it may have impeded experiencing full participation in the wider Burning Man community. If I go again I’ll certainly push myself more to do some solo exploring, which, thanks to Burning Man I now feel ready to do. Because my profoundly simple takeaway from my five days in Black Rock City was this: being open to meeting strangers is a choice you can actively make (and they usually are 0% as intimidating as you were anticipating). As an extrovert I’ve never had a problem meeting new acquaintances through friends, but I would not often be the person to instigate interactions with strangers, whether they are waiting next to me in the bike lane at a red light or squished next to me on MUNI. What I saw first hand at Burning Man was just how easy it is to actively decide to be open and friendly to everyone you meet, how easy it is to make the choice to be open and not guarded- but also that is is certainly a choice, and one that is made with each human interaction you encounter.
And all I had to do for this realization was almost die in a dust storm? Totally worth it.
I read somewhere recently that the best company culture is still a work in progress. What I’ve come to believe is that company culture, on a fundamental level, is simply about relationships. The relationships that employees have to their jobs and to the mission of the company. Relationships that exist within the organizational structure, between managers and associates, between members of the leadership team. And of course, the bonds and friendships that exist between coworkers. Without those relationships there is only work from 8:30AM to 6PM, Monday through Friday, 261 days a year (give or a take a few evenings and weekends thrown in).
Like any other relationship then, the relationships which make up company culture require continual investment and maintenance. A good (married) friend of mine once told me that the thing about marriage is that every day you wake up and you choose to be in your marriage. Every day you wake up and you choose the person you married to be your partner and your friend. In the same vein, I believe that growing a great company culture means choosing to be the culture you wish to see, so to speak, every day. Fostering community and happiness, trust and positivity, I believe culture is the key to a successful company.
With the requisite amount of Kombucha and yogurt jokes, of course.
In four days I will graduate from college. I have never been more ready for something to happen in my entire life. I have made the most of my college career and the flexibility it allowed me. I felt from a very early point that the social style of my school was not for me, and I’m going to skip out on writing a lengthy rant about it (though I may have wanted to).
My move to California heralds more than just the end of college. My move is the product of four years of endlessly applying to internships, learning how to network, learning to distinguish who my real friends are, and finding a career path that I find exciting, challenging and rewarding. I’ve learned, too, that I will not let the expectations or judgements of others prevent me from achieving or even just doing what I want to do. (This has been helpful when it comes to choosing studying over drinking, though not as much when I don’t feel like listening to my gym instructor).
The only real drawback is the sadness of my parents about my migration toward the sunnier coast. The bittersweet irony of this is clear to me, as they raised me to be a strong and independent person willing to take risks and pursue dreams. I owe them everything (likely translatable to countless round-trip tickets from Albany to San Francisco, which I will willingly and happily purchase).
Growing up is always hard, and always unexpectedly so. It is comforting, however, knowing that over the last four years I have made lifelong friends and relationships (across the world) that will accompany me forward, into the unknown (and very bright) abyss that is my future.
So here’s to the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one.