My hierarchy of well-being: real people, nature and physical activity

Following up on this weekend’s post (One step at the time. And that’s a good start), I figured a few other things out this weekend, in terms of what grounds me and helps me deal with stress and prevent sliding back into a depressive state.

1. “Real” people
I feel like I covered that in my previous post but today I used that very group of people, to set some boundaries at work and give myself a good reason to log off, clock out and shut down my work brain. I’ve talked before about the importance of setting boundaries too (3 steps to prevent negativity from taking over my life) but since I already lost sight of that due to the maelstrom of crap that’s been going on at work, I clearly need to remind myself of it…

So this afternoon, in spite of a giant pile of sh** hitting the proverbial fan an hour before I was planned to leave the office, I stuck to my plan and just left. To go meet up with “the Polar gang” as I call them, for the weekly Happy Hour at one of the neighbourhood dive bars. I will leave it at that but I do want to call out how proud I was with myself to be the first woman on scene, one minute before our 5 o’clock meeting time! And for not dragging everyone else down with my bitching over work.

2. Nature
Getting myself outside for exercise, or like yesterday when not even a really hard 37-mi bike quite did it for me, a hike in the mountains, really helps me release a lot of tension. I am starting to learn it is like pure medicine to me. I was still feeling anxious after the ride and a great brunch and decided to find a short hike in the mountains because I could not bear the thought of going back to the city, to my messy and stressful house on the Hill where I knew anxiety would be lurking. I guess I have just never really made that place home and I have never been able to relax there. Maybe because of all the negative stuff that’s happened since I moved there, I don’t know. But I am determined to do something about it and having met someone not that long ago that got me into hiking, I am starting to feel like I should move closer to the mountains – that will be another blog post, or most likely posts, though.

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So I mustered up the courage to go for my first solo hike and drove up to Snoqualmie pass for a short 3-mile hike at Mt Catherine. It amazed me what a healing effect those walks have on me and how much it helps to clear the mind, pushing hard up a steep and sometimes not that easily conquered trail in the woods. It is not only the physical strain (and sometimes pain) although that is an important part for me, but the beauty of the mountains, the clear air filling your lungs and the feeling of being disconnected from the (digital) world that you get from balancing at the top of a rock, thousands of feet above ground.

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It gives me a similar sense of freedom that I get when I am 90 feet below the surface of an ocean. It brings me peace and takes me back to feeling like one with nature, in complete harmony with the universe and that’s when nothing else seem to matter. All the noise just muffles and fades away into the background. My brain is finally able to shut down and stop worrying about stuff that isn’t really that important in life…

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3. Physical activity
After all that fresh air and hard (physical) work, I actually slept quite well last night, waking up only a few times but being able to get back to sleep almost immediately. But for a few minutes when the alarm went off at 5.40 am, I was tempted to blow off my original plan to do a 10-mi run, mostly because I was still really tired and did not feel well rested. Not enough REM sleep apparently, which I always know when I wake up and can’t remember my dreams, or if I dreamt at all.

So I dragged myself out of bed and went for the run as planned. It wasn’t a great run. In fact it was my slowest 10-mi run ever, even slower than the last one I did a few weeks ago, but instead of beating myself up over not meeting my goals, I got the clarity that I so desperately needed. The fog that has been thickening in my brain all of last week finally lifted and it helped me look at things from different perspectives, so that when I got into my first meeting this morning I was able to bring my team a concrete solution, as opposed to pile a bunch of issues and problems onto their already full plates. Needless to say, not only did that make me feel a lot better (for not wasting their time venting) but it also resulted in me getting exactly the support I needed, while saving us all a ton of painful discussions and (negative) energy. So it was a win-win all around!

It may sound banal and like an obvious thing (and believe me, it is obvious but still very hard for someone like me!) that being outdoors or doing physical exercise, are great ways to purge your body and mind from all the toxic waste that stress and frustration (or overload) creates. But when you are at the point I found myself in again this weekend, it is a lot easier said than done to pull those shoes on and go for that run! Call it burnout syndrome, depression or whatever. They are all closely related and they all have a lot in common, especially one thing: you lose the drive and will to do anything but wrap that wet blanket of self-pity, and sense of uselessness, even tighter around you. Everything is anyway meaningless so why even bother…?

That is why routines and boundaries are so important. Something I keep coming back to in these posts, and will continue to come back to, until I manage to live by these simple rules and not fall back down on my arse every time things pile up. And to help me stick to those routines and boundaries, I have now identified at least three things that will help me and that I will make my key priorities outside of work.

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