Balancing Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Routines

When I look up tips for coping with anxiety or self-care ideas, I often see people talking about setting up morning and nighttime routines. Creating routines has always been something I am easily able to get excited about. I think new habits are much easier to stick with if you structure a set time and order to do them. Not only that, having a strong self-care routine to wake up or wind down at the end of the day can be a great way to help ground you and alleviate anxiety. It always feels good to do something for yourself with loving intentions.

I’ve been tempted to add a more structured nighttime routine into my daily habits in order to help me break away from my disordered nightly eating habits. I also think it would be nice to set aside a few extra moments of meditation and mindfulness in the evenings as I tend to get especially anxious later in the day. The only thing that’s holding me back from creating this new routine is the OCD tendencies I’ve become aware of lately.

I honestly can’t say how long this has been a problem for me. It has only become clear since the pandemic hit and I was alone in my house for days at a time. I think the reason it took me awhile to catch on to these unhealthy patterns is because I never really thought of OCD presenting in this way. Whenever I imagined OCD, I thought about people doing very simple repetitive things like turning lights on and off a certain number of times. I never really imagined that more complex, in depth (otherwise healthy) routines could become obsessive compulsive. Yet that’s what it feels like. I feel compelled to do certain activities each and every day, usually in the exact same order, or else I will feel off balance and extra anxious.

I know that OCD and anxiety are very closely related to one another and often overlap. Anxious feelings are what compel someone with OCD to perform certain behaviors. These behaviors are then rewarded by a decrease in anxiety, thereby creating a cycle of reinforcement. Plus I know that these mental health problems often have a genetic component. My mother has anxiety, but she also has ever increasing symptoms of OCD. Although her habits are more what I normally think of, such as checking the stove or the locks multiple times before being able to leave the house.

I would be interested to hear what a therapist would have to say on the subject of healthy routines and people suffering from OCD. Is there a way to integrate a routine that won’t become unhealthy for people like me? I am always very selective with any routine I begin to practice. I know that very likely it will soon cease to be a pleasant, healthy habit, and become a mandatory, anxiety producing part of my day. Instead of feeling like I am doing something kind for myself because I want to, it starts to feel like just another overwhelming obligation.

I have thought of one possible solution to this problem, but I don’t know how practical it would actually be. Perhaps if I were able to create a cycle big enough, spanning a long enough time period, like a whole month for example, I wouldn’t get so obsessed with performing identical tasks. However, I don’t know that this would really make a difference. It feels like I would be less attached to a behavior I only performed once a month, than one that I do every single day. For example, if on the 14th of every month, I take myself out on a date, it might not give me as much anxiety if that didn’t fit into my schedule one month.

Part of me thinks that is a very clever solution, but another part of me wonders if I might just be moving the goal posts. My gut tells me a therapist would prefer that I work on the problem in a different way. I know it’d be more helpful to actually start seeing a therapist and just ask about it, but we all know I’ve been trying and failing to get myself to go to therapy for years now. There just aren’t many therapists in my area that actually know what they’re doing. The good ones I do know either don’t accept my insurance, or are unable to see me as a client because we know one another through work.

For the time being I am interested to here what you all think about this issue. Do you believe routines can be healthy for some people, but unhealthy for others? Is there a way that someone with OCD can develop a healthier relationship with personal routines? Do you have any experience with this dilemma? What have you found helpful? Also, if anyone reading this happens to be a therapist, I would absolutely love to have you weigh in and give me your opinion.

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Balance

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Once again it was teacher training weekend at my yoga studio. This month they are learning about balancing postures. I think these poses have the potential to be particularly special teaching tools. We are able to learn so much about ourselves through them. They help us build strong stabilizing muscles. They allow us to connect with our center. They help us develop focus, perseverance, and grace. They help us create beautiful shapes with the body. And they also lead to profound insights about who we are and how we deal with life on and off our mats.

One of my favorite sayings in yoga is: the mat is a mirror. Our yoga practice is a little microcosm of life. When we are performing our asanas, when we allow the mind to be still, when we watch our thoughts, our reactions, we are able to learn a lot. One of the most important things balancing postures showed me is how I deal with frustration. I can still remember following along with challenging advanced yoga videos online and getting absolutely infuriated when I wasn’t able to keep up or move through the poses in time with the video. I was literally almost in tears I was so angry. One day I was able to pause long enough and find enough space to see this. Then I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. Why on earth was I getting so mad? Why was I acting so vicious and serious? Why was I being so hard on myself? It all seemed so absurd.

This lesson has stayed with me ever since. I still catch myself becoming upset sometimes when I keep falling out of a balancing pose, but now it just makes me smile. It’s just a reminder to be gentle with myself, to come back to my breath, to remember why I’m here. Falling out of a handstand is just as important as holding one. Maybe even more important. What does doing a pose perfectly teach you? “Failing” to reach your goal is much more helpful for our internal and external growth. When we fall, we learn to fall safely. We learn where are limits are, when to honor and when to challenge those limits. We learn how to keep trying. We learn new things to focus on. We learn how to forgive ourselves. Aren’t these the reasons we keep coming back to our practice? Isn’t that why it’s called a practice? All of these things are so much more valuable to our lives than being able to balance on our hands upside down.

Yoga is a constant reminder that this life is truly about the journey, not the destination. It reminds me of something I saw recently online. It was commenting about how messed up those posters are in schools that say things like: Failure is not an option! How silly that sounds. Failure is always an option. Failure is just another part of the journey, not the end. Failure is full of lessons. It’s an opportunity for growth. It’s not something we should fear or try to avoid. It is necessary. And it’s a perfectly acceptable part of life, no matter what stage of it you find yourself in. We shouldn’t be teaching our children to fear failure but how to embrace it and learn from it. There are so many poses I am able to do now with ease that I never would have imagined I’d be capable of a few years ago. If I wouldn’t have allowed myself to try and fail dozens if not hundreds of times, I would never have found out what amazing things my body could learn to do.

It makes me wonder how many opportunities for growth I’ve already passed up in this life simply because I was too afraid of failure to try. It is these types of thoughts that make me believe that yoga is the best gift I have ever been given in this life. Yoga allows you to realize that you are holding your life in your own hands. It is a soft lump of clay that you can form anything you want out of. Hardships, suffering, failure. Things that once seemed so impossible to face, I now see as lessons, puzzles, mysteries, or riddles. What can I learn from this? Can I find the glimmer of light on the horizon of the darkest night? Can I learn to accept and fully experience whatever this life presents to me? Can I find joy and ease even when it’s hard? If you’re someone who loves to learn like me, you’ll be happy to know that there is a lesson in everything if you look for one. Better still, when you are looking for your own lessons, you will find exactly what you need most.

There is still so much left for me to learn and discover in my yoga practice as well as my life. I’m sure there are even more things like what I’ve discussed today that I will encounter along this strange and beautiful journey. Things that will change me forever. Things that will challenge me, surprise me, test me, and remold me in ways I am unable to imagine as I am now. I can’t wait to keep practicing, to keep searching, learning, finding balance, falling, failing, laughing, and getting back up.

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Finding Balance

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I’ve always struggled with an all or nothing mentality. No matter what I do I’m either pedal to the metal or not even in the car. It is hard for me to find any grey areas or middle ground. I tend to fluctuate between pushing myself way too hard and crashing and burning for awhile. It’s a very tiring and chaotic way to go through life. Not to mention it leads me to always set myself up for failure.

There are a lot of things I want to work on this holiday season and in the coming year. And thanks to Covid-19 coming back stronger than ever in the US, I have at least two more weeks of remote work coming my way. Although I wasted the summer months I had at home, I am hopeful that I’ll be able to make a plan for myself that I can stick to and be productive with my newfound free time. (I honestly don’t have much to do at work, so working from home is basically paid leave.)

Here is a brief summary of the things I’d like to accomplish so you have an idea:

  • Plan holiday food
  • Finish Christmas shopping
  • Make detailed New Year’s resolution goals/plan
  • Decorate for the holidays
  • Organize/minimize my things
  • Deep clean my house
  • Hygge-fy my home
  • Set up TVs
  • Put up wallpaper in the kitchen

It feels like every time I am feeling overwhelmed by my mental to-do list, writing it out makes it seem far less daunting. I think I will definitely be able to accomplish a good deal, if not all, of those things in the next few months. My only problem is actually allowing myself to space it out in a reasonable way.

The main reason I haven’t already gotten around to doing a lot of these things that I’ve wanted to do for a long time now is that I overwhelm myself. Normally I would look at “deep clean my house” and be paralyzed. I’d imagine every little task that larger one entails and feel forced to tackle every single one in an afternoon. I imagine that if I can’t get it all done at once, it will feel unfinished. My OCD is not pleased.

Rationally I know that even doing a tiny piece of it is better than avoiding it entirely. But I am easily immobilized by my own demands. That is why I am going to try to set aside time to break these larger goals down into MUCH smaller tasks. Then I can space these tasks out over as many days as I need to until the whole goal is achieved. For instance, organizing my things doesn’t have to be one task encompassing every nook and cranny of my two story house at once. I can first break the house up into rooms. Then sections of those rooms. Maybe on Monday I will organize my bedroom closet, the dresser on Tuesday, my desk and surfaces on Wednesday, etc.

Those seem like much more reasonable goals that I will be able to feel happy about completing each day. In this way I hope to be able to find a little more balance in my life. I don’t have to choose between reorganize my wardrobe, the kitchen cabinets, and every closet in the house on one single hellish day or avoiding the idea all together.

When I think about the smaller tasks I’ll be able to do rather easily adding up to the final goal being completed, I am even excited! I get that nostalgic feeling of when I was a kid and would happily clean and reorganize my room. I may have done that in the span of one Saturday, but I need to remind myself that it was only one room back then. I can’t expect myself to do that with an entire house in the same length of time.

It is going to feel so good to finally be gentle with myself. Not to mention actually make progress towards these things I’ve wanted for so long! This post was mostly just for myself. Spilling out all the thoughts that have been running circles inside my head and reaffirming my resolve. However, I hope that you can use this as a reminder to also be gentle with yourself. Are there any goals you would like help breaking down into smaller bits? Do you have any tips or tricks on how to reign yourself in so you don’t end up burning out? I’d love to hear you thoughts and/or advice on finding balance.