Even though the snow on the deck of our house is still up to my knees, I’m sensing a shift in the light, the breath of a new season. Winter is waning, no matter what the depth of the snow may be.
Along with the shifting light and that promise of change, I’ve been thinking about self-care and how the writing life involves an awful lot of sitting down. The adage that we need to have our butts in the our chairs and get our work done is true. It is also true that sitting for long periods of time on a regular basis is not all that healthy. We all know it. We’ve all been admonished to take walks, look away from our screens, stretch once in a while.
When our deep freeze settled in this winter along with copious amounts of snow, my exercise level fell to a minimal amount. My normal daily routine is one of heading outdoors for mile-long dog walks before breakfast, yoga, occasional evening walks, gardening, and general outdoor time just to be outside. Our deep freeze knocked my habits into submission, although shoveling is pretty good exercise. Add to that a deep love of red wine, good Irish whiskey, caramel M&Ms, anything with cheese, and that’s a recipe for tighter pants.
It’s a recipe for more than that, though. My mood plummeted over the past few weeks, something that I wasn’t really expecting. I finally thought, all right, it’s time to rethink how I manage my days when my outdoor time is limited. I’m not a skier or an ice fisherman. I’m a hiker with a deep dislike of icy paths. Yoga can be practiced no matter what the weather, but it wasn’t just my physical activity that was diminished. It was my time outside. That was what I missed most.
Being outside in the morning is the most perfect way I can think of to begin a day once the bedcovers are thrown aside. Mick and I have heard and seen a huge variety of birds, come upon foxes and coyotes, watched the sun rise, learned where a gorgeous white squirrel hangs out, and had some of our best conversations on our early morning walks. We’ve seen stunning moonsets, watched our neighborhood owls court each other, learned whose dogs are whose. There’s a special connectedness that happens outside when most people are still quiet and animals have their say. I can’t wait to resume those longer walks. Soon.
As for the caramel M&Ms, those will not be coming into my house for a long time. The other self-care thing I’m rethinking is having snacks around. As someone who gets a mid-afternoon slump, I’ve had snacks around to perk myself up for forever. Then I decided to read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and thought, yes, I love to cook and there’s no reason I can’t cook myself something at lunchtime that will prevent me from slumping mid-afternoon and eliminate the need or desire for snacks at that time. And that something can be real food, not the processed things that are supposed to be convenient. Convenient can be re-defined as using up the leftovers from dinner the previous night. But it’s a delicious bit of self-care to cook a lunch from scratch with good ingredients rather than try to find the fastest thing to eat. This first week of trying that out has been quite an eye-opener. I don’t miss my snack at all. In fact, I’m not getting a slump. And our leftovers are getting used more efficiently. The other bonus is the mental-health break that happens when I cook. I’ve always used cooking for that recharge at the end of the day without recognizing that I need it in the middle, too. Win-win-win.
The biggest lesson here is this: as a writer who has a more flexible schedule than most, there is no excuse for self-care to fall to the bottom of the list. It’s essential to be healthy to be creative, it’s essential to maintain health for future happiness and success. Getting lazy about self-care – diet, exercise, mental health breaks – does no one any favors. It just makes us less desirable people to be around.
Balance that butt-in-the-chair time with butt-moving time fueled with real food to keep everything running. And don’t forget to go outside.