By many people’s standards, I could be classified as a “health nut.”
Perhaps it’s the long history of cancer diagnoses in my family along with my own vanity in trying to preserve youthfulness, but for years taking care of myself has been my top priority. I’ve only got this one body, right? Better treat it well. So I’ve dedicated myself to daily exercise and clean, healthy eating habits.
About a year ago, I found myself in the midst of various life changes: I was planning my wedding, preparing to move, had recently left my job to explore a new career path, and felt caught in the midst of surfacing family issues. Despite all the stress (or perhaps because of it), I was especially disciplined in my self-care routine. My fiancé and I woke up early each morning to workout. We cooked healthy meals at home. We got into “the best shape of our lives” in preparation for our nearing nuptials.
But I felt awful.
My body felt strong, but simultaneously, I was utterly exhausted. My fiancé was supportive but entirely befuddled as he witnessed frequent emotional meltdowns that took me days to bounce back from. I felt unable to keep up with all that was happening around me, and yet responsible for the outcomes, too.
One day, while feeling especially down and overwhelmed, I decided to take my mind off of all my stress and distract myself. Profoundly (for me), I allowed myself time to do something I love, but for which I never took the time: writing. And through writing, I gained a sudden clarity into my own problems. I realized that I was so good at taking care of my body, but so very bad at caring for my soul.
This revelation struck me. I’d effectively been able to drown-out this intuition for so long, but it rang true to my core: I’d been neglecting an aspect of myself even more important than diet and exercise.
I’d forgotten to nurture my heart and mind, forgotten to be gentle with myself, and in doing so I was forming the most unhealthy lifestyle habits of all.
Below are the results of my revelations. A “soul cleanse,” as I call it. Similar to a dietary detox, it contains recommendations for certain eliminations and additions to daily norms, but with an emphasis on achieving a more balanced state of mental and emotional health, as opposed to just physical.
The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” The goal of this soul cleanse is to maximize mental health and nourish our right to feel our best and enjoy a productive and happy life. By cultivating behaviors that positively support our hearts and minds, these practices help recalibrate our lifestyles to become happier, more confident and more emotionally fit to embrace life’s joys and challenges.
So what does this inner-life detox entail? Although the details will be different for each individual, putting these ideas into practice helped me regain balance and happiness in my daily life, and I hope they can encourage others to re-examine their own habits as well.
Make a commitment. I’d suggest 30 days because it takes time to change behaviors. However, we can each decide how long or short to go, whether it’s a few days or a few months. This is also something to come back to again and again. Whatever the time commitment, though, it’s important to follow through. Promises to oneself are the most important promises to keep.
Incorporate the seven practices into daily life for the duration of the chosen time. None of the practices are particularly time-consuming. In fact, some of them will probably add more free time to each day! Intentionality is key: finding what works best within our schedule and deliberately building the practices into every day.
1.Daily quiet time.
Spend at least 10 minutes a day in a quiet space, free of distractions, and just be still and quiet. Simple as that. Or…not so simple? For those of us trained to be always on the go, allowing time for stillness can be a huge challenge. That’s why it’s important to build it into our routine, whether first thing each morning with our cup of coffee or sitting in the car during lunch break. We may choose to meditate, journal or simply sit and stare out the window.
Mindfulness is central to this practice since it can be really challenging not to go through the laundry list of to-dos in our head. It requires a lot of focus to just be in this moment and this space. Breathe. We are inundated with so much information and so much communication that it’s easy to forget to communicate with ourselves. Retreating inward to restore balance will ultimately give us so much more to offer the rest of the world.
2. Incorporate inspiration.
What encourages us to be the best version of ourselves? Is it reading poetry? Creating art or music? Learning about the lives of people we admire? Actively seek inspiration. These things should remind us that we each have within us everything it takes to live happily and meaningfully. Incorporate a bit of inspiration into you everyday.
3. Avoid vanity.
In an image-obsessed world, it’s easy to get swept away with appearances. Most of us spend a significant amount of time trying to perfect our exterior, and yet we’re often left feeling inadequate. This preoccupation with image affects self-esteem, sense of worth and the way we interact with others. Sadly, standing in front of a mirror becomes a dangerous place if we find ourselves prone to self-criticism or degradation: I’m not [skinny/muscular/attractive/well-dressed] enough. We tell ourselves hurtful things that we would never dream of saying to another person! But what if we stopped feeding the mirror-meanness and focused on our inner-beauty regimen instead?
While it is practically impossible to avoid image completely, if we examine the time we spend in front of the mirror on a daily basis, most will admit that we could reduce it significantly. Don’t misunderstand: I am not advocating that we forego self-care. Maybe we just start by shaving 10 minutes off of our morning primping routine. Setting a timer can help keep us accountable, and we can spend those extra minutes doing something that reminds us of what makes us truly beautiful beyond external appearance.
4. Take a social media time-out.
Yes, we can survive without checking Instagram/Facebook/Twitter for 30 days. No, I’m not saying that social media is evil, nor am I suggesting that we throw our cell phones in the toilet and delete our Facebook accounts. Just take a breather.
Thanks to technology, we are virtually connected to each other like never before but it can also easily become an escape, an inundation and an addiction. Yep, I said it: addiction. Though we may not think our daily Facebook posting or reliance on Pintrest for outfit ideas qualifies us for a social media rehab, consider how difficult it will be to give it up for 30 days… Piece of cake, right?
The challenge is to take a close and honest look at how much time we spend engaged in social media, and ask: Is it benefiting me in meaningful ways? Or is it eating away at my time and replacing more meaningful interactions? We are the only capable judges—and supervisors—of our own behavior. Taking a step away from being constantly plugged-in can help shed light on both the positive and the negative affects of our tech habits, so that we can better determine what is a good balance for our own life.
5. Give back.
It doesn’t take volunteering at a soup kitchen every day to make this world a better place. It can be as simple as picking up litter we see while walking the dog or writing a note to someone who needs a bit of encouragement. If there is a volunteer program you’re interest in, maybe it’s time to make the move and get involved. Let’s step outside of our individual lives and all our own worries to engage in the community. We are not alone and we can all help one another. No matter how seemingly small our acts, they will make a huge impact in the lives we touch, and also on our personal perspective of what is truly significant in this beautiful, messy world.
6. Do something you love every day.
This one should be fun, because we get to do things that bring us joy! Do you love painting or dancing? Does going on a hike make all your worries disappear? Is there nothing better than a good book and a steaming cup of tea? Ask: What activities really make me happy? Try to do at least one of those things daily. It may be for an hour or two one day, or some days only 15 minutes. But if we do them—and enjoy them, free of guilt—we embody the truth that we all deserve happiness. Plus, joy is infectious and can spill over into the lives around us.
7. Practice gratitude.
Actively focusing attention on what we are grateful for recalibrates our minds to be more optimistic. An easy way to do this is to write down one thing each day and keep the list somewhere we can see it often. It can be anything from, “I am thankful for my friends who understand and support me,” to “I’m grateful for this beautiful day!” We may also choose to practice gratitude by openly and sincerely expressing appreciation to others, or doing a small act of kindness as a “thank you” to someone. However it is manifested, gratitude is an essential part of a joyful life.
So there we have it—a little spring cleaning for our souls! Pretty simple, right? And yet, if implemented with intention and dedication, it will create profound ripple-effects throughout our lives and overall well-being.
Taking care of ourselves means tending to all aspects that make us who we are: body, mind and soul. If we nurture each part, we can live more happily, fully and wholly, and inspire others to do the same.
Author: Maggie Anbalagan
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Luis Dávila/Unsplash