Two nights ago, I was feeling icky and sad and jumpy. And the worst part was, I had no idea why.
Nothing in my life is wrong, I thought to myself (and complained to those around me). Why do I feel so bad?
And truthfully, nothing was wrong. Nothing had substantially changed from earlier that day, and yet, I felt icky.
I write to you a lot about introspection, about understanding the deeper causes behind our behaviors, but I haven’t been talking enough about a question that’s just as important:
Are you taking care of the basics?
When I looked back on my day, I realized that I hadn’t taken care of my own “basics”: I hadn’t taken my daily walk, and I had eaten more sugar than I usually do.
There are basic needs that we, as human beings have. For sleep, for movement, for play, for love, for good food.
You can do all kinds of deep introspection about what you should do with your life and the deep subconscious reasons behind you actions, but if you haven’t met your basic needs, it’s just going to be hard for you to feel as good as you could.
And that affects your eating and your entire life.
Here’s my personal list of seven “basics” I need to feel good, and it’s what I try to understand about my clients as well, in our initial conversations. I think that these categories are especially important, as we head into the often hectic + food-filled holiday season :
You need to sleep – at least 7-9 hours per night, the National Sleep Foundation says.
According to WebMD, research consistently shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep – whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months, have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.
If you feel not so great or sad or stagnant in your life, sleep is one of the first places to troubleshoot.
The point here isn’t for you to burn 800 calories or get rippling muscles or even to “work out” – the point is that when you physically move your body on a regular basis, you feel better. So you don’t need to go to CrossFit or do crazy circuit training or run 10 miles (unless you love to do that).
Personally, I take a walk outside every day for 45 minutes or so – I love being outside, and it clears my head.
I do think that you have to find something that works for you – something that you like! – and try to make it a routine. Even a daily 15 minutes of yoga to Kelly Clarkson, or a 10-minute walk around the block while you listen to a podcast counts. Even 5 minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety affects.
Look, it’s just the truth: if we eat nothing but sugar and potato chips for a whole day or for several days, we aren’t going to feel our best.
I’m not saying you must eat healthfully or you are a bad person and will be fat.
I’m simply pointing out that yes, what you eat plays a role in how you feel. So notice that, and choose what to eat in a way that works for you.
It’s the same as with exercise: some people might need to run 5 miles every day to feel good, while others might just need a 10 minute walk. Similarly, some people might need to eat nothing but kale and lentils, while others just need to eat some fruits and vegetables for a snack occasionally. Find the balance that works for you, but remember that nutrition is something that you should keep in mind.
We need to connect with others and feel understood, appreciated, and loved. That is a very basic human need. Of course, we’re all going to need different amounts. I have friends who could socialize all day, while my introverted self is going to need a lot of alone time.
Do you spend time regularly with people who you connect with? Spending time with anyone is useful, but we all know that there are people who really “get” us, and people who don’t. Sometimes we look up and realize that while we may be surrounded by people, we don’t necessarily feel connected.
We also all need to be touched (even baby monkeys). It sounds weird, but I notice that if I’m not being touched at least occasionally, I just don’t feel as good.
So if you have a significant other, don’t forget to cuddle up and get affectionate after a long work day. And if you’re single, try dance classes, massages, or volunteering in the “kitten room” of an animal shelter. I did a lot of swing dancing for years, which was a great way to touch other people and feel connected in a non-creepy way.
5. Growth, learning, and creativity.
Often, as we age, we forget about this category. Particularly if you are a parent or caretaker, all of your previously “free” time may be consumed with taking care of others – who has time to do be doing all of this creative learning stuff?
If you are feeling stagnant or “stuck” or just weird and lost in your life, I can’t urge you strongly enough to think about taking on learning a new skill or a creative project. You might not even “feel” like it – sometimes when we don’t feel great, all we want to do is watch Netflix in our free time.
But if you force yourself to devote a bit of time each day or each week to growing and learning and creating (20 minutes each night to practicing the guitar, an hour a week to an art project), you will be amazed at how this seemingly random thing energizes your life.
6. Unstructured time.
We all need time when we’re not on the clock or not taking care of anyone, whatever that means to you. It might look like aimless Internet wandering, gathering photos on Pinterest for your dream living room, or reading a novel on your bed.
Again, if you are a care-giver, this can be a huge challenge. It might mean asking your partner to take care of the kids for a half hour each night so you can just lie on your bed alone and decompress. Or making sure that you have a few hours each weekend that are just for you. There are no right answers here – it just depends on what you need to feel good.
Some people who love to work or adore “being active” may struggle with this one. What if I don’t need unstructured time? Again, it’s just a question of what works for you. If you are feeling great about your life, then maybe you don’t need a lot of unstructured time right now. Sometimes these categories apply in “seasons” in our lives – you might not need a lot of unstructured time right now, but you might want some in the future.
7. Your environment.
How do you feel about your home, your office, or your car? If you are feeling icky or “off,” it is often that we don’t feel good in our spaces. Does your environment feel clean and relaxing? I am so often guilty of this one – I put off cleaning my home or putting things away, and then wonder why I don’t feel good. As soon as really thoroughly clean my home, I feel so much better.
Another huge one that we don’t often think about is taking care of ourselves and our own bodies. When we are feeling down, just taking exquisite care of our bodies has the potential to make a big difference – when I am feeling down, sometimes just taking a shower, doing my hair, putting on some face lotion and a bit of make-up (and I don’t usually wear make-up!), and putting on an outfit I really like and feel gorgeous in can turn around my whole day.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list.
You might still not feel good or happy or fulfilled, even after you try all of these. But this is a place to start when you aren’t feeling good.
Here’s my challenge for you for this week:
- Go through the list above and give yourself a “score” of 1-10 based on how you’re doing right now, today. Let “10” mean “I’m taking awesome care of myself in this category!” and 1 mean “I didn’t even know this was a thing."
- Pick one category to target this week, and set yourself a goal that can be completed in 15 minutes or less, like “go to bed 15 minutes earlier” or “take a 15 minute walk around the block.”
- Focus on that area for the next 7 days. Track the goal: create a pretty calendar for the week that you can cross off each day and put it next to your bed, or write one sentence about how the activity went each night on your iPhone notes app.
I’d love to hear from you! Which of these categories do you struggle with the most? What is one 15-minute practice that you could do to target it?
One more thing: it may be that you know you should take care of these things, but it just seems impossible or overwhelming.
At that point, getting support can be really helpful. Talking to someone close to you, or to a coach or therapist, can help you understand the deeper factors that are stopping you from taking care of the basics. If you’re interested in working with me, please reach out and we can talk about what it might look like.