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  • Writer's pictureSteph

What’s in my toolkit (part 1)

Updated: Mar 5


Lots of well-used tools neatly arranged on a wooden table

In the next two posts, I am going to share a few things that are helping me stay calm and manage my anxiety. Most of them are fairly obvious, so it's more about creating the habits and building the routines so I keep up the good work when the going gets tough.

For this first part, I’ll focus on creating an external environment that helps me be more zen. In the next post, I’ll be looking at the mental side of things.


No more caffeine


Let’s start with the hardest bit. There are so many things that I LOVE about coffee. Smelling it, tasting it, the ritual of preparing it, the temporary increase in alertness I get off it. So cutting it out completely was hard on many levels. I had a pretty persistent headache for about two weeks and was craving a caffeine hit sooo badly. But once I got through the withdrawal stage, I noticed that I slept better and woke up refreshed and surprisingly (some might say: annoyingly) perky when previously I hardly functioned before my first cup of the day. But more importantly, I was less jittery throughout. Substituting my morning coffee with a lavender infusion added further zen and kept the morning brew habit going.


No screens before bed


To help with sleep hygiene and avoid spending my nights ruminating, I also overhauled my nighttime routine. Instead of staying up late reading (which sadly involves a screen, in my case) or watching TV, I tend to have a pretty early night these days. I’ll make myself some sleep tea (I can recommend one with passionflower), then go to bed armed with an audiobook or podcast to listen to while I do some crocheting. If you think that’s boring, I’ll just remind you that this is my wind-down and as such, it’s not supposed to be exciting. Working with wool also means my hands are busy and I need to keep them clean, so I won’t mindlessly snack the way I used to. Wins all around.


Reduced sugar intake


Cutting down on sugar was the second-biggest lifestyle change after ending my decade-long love affair with coffee - and also had a significant impact on how anxious I felt. While I can get away with carbs in the mornings to some extent, there’s good evidence that I feel a lot better (and calmer!) when I don’t overindulge in the evenings. I can literally see on my Fitbit how my resting heart rate almost doubles after I’ve had too much sugar. It’s hard to relax or go to sleep when your heart is beating like it’s getting ready to climb out of your throat and Fitbit pings you notifications that you’ve reached your activity minutes goal for the week.


A good stretch


I used to get really hung up about yoga and was pushing myself to get better and improve my form and my balance and my flexibility all the time. Leave it to Little Miss Perfectionist to burn herself out doing yoga! Because I’m also not known for being patient with myself, that really turned a positive thing into another stick to beat myself with really quickly. So I gave up on yoga for several years. It’s only fairly recently that I’ve done a super quick and simple flow again in the mornings, mainly to stretch a little. I also tend to drop into a plank a couple of times a day between meetings and whenever I feel cold. Sprinkling these little moves in here and there has been surprisingly beneficial for my mood.


Play


And when I say play, I mean that in the widest sense of the word. It’s not (just) about getting stuck into a Sudoku, Hashiwokakero, or some online game with friends. It can be about gamifying chores or trying improv. More generally, it’s about introducing more playfulness to one’s life. I don’t have children, so it did not even occur to me for a long time that play might be missing from my days. It was only when I started cat sitting for a friend that I discovered the joy of being completely immersed in play again. Now, I’m not quite at the stage where I blow soap bubbles in the garden on a sunny day, but I do catch myself finger-painting with the washing-up liquid when scrubbing a frying pan or drawing a smiley when cleaning the shower walls. Small acts of rebellion against the drudgery of life.


There are lots more things that help me stay in a positive mental space and I’ll share five more of them in my next post.


What are small (or big!) tweaks to your routine that might add some zen (or zest!) to your life?

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