1. Spend more time in the actual outdoors.
One of the greatest things about my job as a nanny is that I have a lot of freedom (within reason) to do what I want with the baby during the day. We do a lot of lounging, playing, dancing, and talking (he mostly listens — five-month-olds are great listeners), but recently, I’ve made sure to get in a long walk every day.
I don’t exercise the way I used to — I was a runner for a long time, but as any religious runner will tell you, it ages your poor joints so quickly. I have more knee, ankle, and hip pain than any 23-year-old should, so walking seems to be the perfect low-impact replacement for running.
Going for a long, uphill, 1-2 hour walk with the baby every day gives him a chance to nap, and me a chance to be outside, walking around, drinking in the scenery. I’ve always loved looking at people taking leisurely midday strolls and saying “I wish I could do that, I’d love to be a person who took daily outdoor walks!” — and now I’m one of them!
Arguably the most important part of this: I do it in complete silence. No music, no podcasts, no headphones. Which leads me to my next point.
2. Spend more time in absolute silence.
I spend almost 100% of my day every day listening to something. I talk to my boyfriend when I get up, I watch TV or videos on YouTube while I get ready, I listen to music on my way to work, I watch cartoons with the baby and talk to his mother, I listen to podcasts and have conversations — it never really ends. There are so few times during the day where I’m in silence, besides maybe in the shower — even when I’m cooking, I probably have the TV on in the background, or a YouTube playlist going.
When it came to working out, having headphones with music blasting was always a staple. The cardio machines at the gym that played Keeping Up With The Kardashians reruns were my favorite. There was always something going on in my ears making noise, ensuring that my poor little brain never got a second to itself to think.
I think our minds have a lot to tell us, but we’re never quiet for long enough to actually listen.
When I started taking my long, daily walks with the baby, I went headphone-free and fell in love with the way my mind was free to do absolutely nothing but wander. It has made me feel smarter, more creative, more relaxed, and overall happier and more productive. I cherish those moments lately — it has made me realize that I get my best thinking and working done without speaking a word to anyone or hearing a single peep, and it feels really powerful to know that all I need to do everything I want to do is to sit in silence by myself for a few minutes.
3. Eat healthy food actively — stop justifying food that makes you feel crappy because you’re young and know you can eat it without gaining weight.
I am still in the glorious part of my twenties where eating six candy bars for dinner isn’t going to make me go up a notch in my belt, but routinely pigging out on unhealthy food ~because I can~ has other consequences (like feeling nauseated and sluggish, or throwing away moldy vegetables you bought a week ago but skipped eating in favor of frozen dinners or greasy takeout). I’ve written about this before, and I definitely was doing better with it for a while, but more recently I seem to have fallen into a pattern of eating whatever (it hasn’t been uncommon for me over the past few weeks to eat a bagel for breakfast, pasta for lunch, and chicken nuggets for dinner on a busy day), and I’m definitely noticing it. I don’t feel like I’ve gained weight or had any change in my body — but I do feel weaker, sleepier, and sick. (I’ve had a stomachache and a stuffy nose for a month now — help?)
I forget how much your body has to do with the food you put in it, and I’m doing myself a disservice by believing my body will accomplish anything amazing while running on chicken nuggets.
4. Acknowledge the financial things that scare you most, and make uncomfortable decisions.
There are things I love not thinking about, and leaving for Future Mary to deal with — things like all the work that goes into getting a mortgage and buying a house, figuring out how to best plan and save for retirement, and even what career path I’d like to see myself on throughout my entire life. But these are things I need to think about — even when I push them under the rug and pretend they’re not even a thing, I still know in the back of my mind that they exist, and it just feels like anxiety brewing beneath the surface of my calm, collected life.
It is uncomfortable to make financial decisions that aren’t fun and don’t feel great in the moment, but pulling that $50 or $100 out of your paycheck to put in an IRA every month is good for you, and acknowledging that you might need to someday leave a job you know you love because it isn’t going to be the best thing for your future sucks, but you have to do it. (Alternate explanation for this point: I’ve realized that being a nanny isn’t exactly a career that will be lucrative or offer any room for growth, and I understand that I can’t do it forever. It makes me sad to think about, because I love babies and love the work I do as a nanny, but I have to think about it.)
5. When cutting down on spending for whatever reason, don’t automatically assume the best place to cut back and save is on personal things that bring you health and joy.
When I need to trim my budget, the first place I stop by is the “health/beauty” section, or the “entertainment/extra section” — naturally, of course, because these are non-necessities that are easier to cut out than something like electricity or groceries. However, it doesn’t feel good to wear thick night cream as day moisturizer under your makeup for weeks on end because you’re not allowing yourself to buy a new tub of your daily face lotion. It doesn’t feel good to forego parts of your personal care routine that make you feel like you. In the long run, the few bucks you’ll save not buying moisturizer this month to save yourself fifteen bucks is probably not worth the ten times a day you’ll be nervously blotting that thick night cream and melting makeup off of your face.
There are a lot of smaller swaps you can make that feel less impactful than the ones that directly affect the way you live your everyday life — especially when it comes to your personal hygiene and maintenance routines. I’m not saying you should always allow yourself to get $50 weekly manicures even in times of financial stress because you ~love~ them so much, but taking care of yourself a little is important, too.
6. When it comes to sleep, don’t focus on staying up on purpose, but don’t focus on obsessing about getting to bed at a certain hour.
You shouldn’t be stressed about sleep, but for some reason, I find myself worrying, in the hours leading up to getting in bed, if I’m going to finish what I have to do in time to get to sleep by 10 PM and get my eight hours in. Worrying about sleep before you’re even nearing bedtime is a surefire way to stress yourself into a sleepless night of anxiety, so I’m trying to be loose about it. Anxious sleep Mary: go to sleep when you feel sleepy. Stay up and do work when you need to. Don’t freak out about getting five hours one night, or (god forbid) three hours one night, as long as it doesn’t become an everyday thing. You need sleep, and it is cool that you understand how important it is, but worrying about it constantly just fuels the vicious cycle of losing sleep because you’re stressed about losing sleep.
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