September 22, 2017

My Recovery Toolbox

Last week I wrote a bit about my past anxieties bubbling up since I started working for myself. This week, I wanted to share some of the things I do to manage them. Some I started when I still had a full time job, and I’ve just adapted them to fit my schedule.

Over a year of experimenting with different things, I’ve found that they work best when they’re:

  • Easy to repeat
  • Challenging, not defeating
  • Enjoyable (at least a little bit)
  • Flexible at different times of the day

Exercise

Before I started working from home, I was already used to running regularly (both inside and out) a few times per week. Running has been a huge part of helping me stay in shape and a great reliever of stress. The only downside was that it was hard on my knees, and I noticed the stress catching up with me after 5 years of active running.

Now that I have more flexible time and can exercise during the day, I decided I should try some different things. I picked a couple of routines from Nike’s Training Club app, and was completely destroyed after every workout for the first few weeks. It was working muscles I never knew I had, and I felt a pretty wimpy after lifting 5 pound weights for the first couple months.

Whenever I felt my weakest, I remembered how I absolutely hated running before I loved it. It just took some time, repetition, and patience. So I took the same approach with these new exercises, and repeated them 3-4 times per week, slowly increasing the weight and speed. Almost a year on, those 5 pound weights became 45 pounds. Never thought that would happen!

Eating Well

I never seriously considered changing my diet until I was really in control of making my meals for breakfast and lunch (my wife usually makes amazing Mexican food for dinner, so I’m usually happy with that). After years of eating cereal for breakfast and lunch out during work, I used my new found time to explore new habits.

For breakfast, I became an oatmeal lover. By itself, it’s not that much better than cereal, but add in a bunch of fruit, maple syrup, yogurt—and it becomes a healthy bowl of stuff that lasts me well into the middle of the day.

For lunch, I have a few rotating dishes I make. One is a sort of egg taco—with beans, corn tortillas, salsa and a bit of cheese. The other is a quinoa bowl, which I’ll mix with an assortment of veggies and protein-usually celery, black beans, tomatoes, and red peppers. They’re perfect for getting me through the rest of the day—especially for my workouts.

With all the meals I cook now, I try to keep the ingredients as low cost and fresh as possible. And I’m not too picky about making the same thing with the same ingredients every day. If a certain fruit or vegetable is in season, I’ll mix it into one of the dishes somehow.

Creating Stuff

I’m at my best when I’m making things, which usually means drawing or taking photos. So I try to make sure I have the tools to do one of those at almost any time. I have a small notebook and pen that will fit in a pocket, and a smartphone for taking photos when I’m out and about. Even during a busy day of work, I make sure to fit something personal and creative in. Otherwise feelings of self-doubt and worrying over accomplishments start to take hold.

I make little projects that keep me inspired often: a black and white photo series of city buildings, an illustrated portrait series of my favourite jazz artists, or a photo series of people and their favourite thing to cook. I think of the things I’m curious about, the tools I have to explore them, and figure out how to make something fun out of it.

Reading

I started reading in the mornings regularly a few years ago, when I still had a full-time job. It began as a way to limit my usage of my phone and social media, but it turned into something that is a big passion of mine now. Even if it was just 10 pages or so, it completely changed the pace of my mornings. Reading slowed things down enough so that I didn’t feel rushed every day.

Books that were short and easy to read were my starting point, and I branched out into the harder stuff later. Like exercising, I stuck to a simple daily routine and used that to grow. This year, I’m on my way to finishing 22 books! Here’s what I’ve read.

Cleaning

I saved this one for last, because it’s my new found thing that I secretly like. Since my workplace is my apartment, there’s a little more motivation to keep it clean and tidy. This doesn’t mean I’m spending all of my time wiping stuff down and polishing—it just means I put more effort into it, and I make a loose schedule.

I put things like dishes and clothes away when they’re washed as soon as I can, and make sure to clean tables, do laundry, and vacuum stuff at least once a week. I’ll organize papers or bills for part of the day if they’re piling up. It’s a comfortable schedule, and it works best if I do these things on slow work days—so I don’t have to think about them on busy days.

It’s important to note that I don’t do all of these things every day. But they’re handy chunks of routines I know I can use to manage my anxieties in a constructive way. Sometimes, I still have overwhelming days where few routines work. But it’s still something, and it’s been good to have a sort of ‘recovery toolbox’ I can pick things from.

If you’re starting your own recovery toolbox with routines like mine, I’d recommend starting slowly and simply. Some activities might clash with your work schedule and personal life—it’s important to be mindful of those when making any big changes. I’ve tried to make the most of what I had, and patiently worked up to the big stuff later.

Matt

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