Let me introduce you to a younger, more stable and innocent version of me: 2019 Josie (has 2020 felt like it’s already been a decade to anyone else?). 2019 was the year I moved to Los Angeles (my lifelong dream, AKA ever since I first saw The Hills), started studying for my health coaching certification (I’ve always been a nerd who loves to learn), and felt like I had “perfected” the balance of healthy eating I enjoyed and exercise I looked forward to. And then 2020 hit harder than Jenna Dewan and Channing Tatum’s breakup (still in mourning), and a stay-at-home order totally disrupted the habits and routine I had so consciously built.
It feels wildly insensitive to say there’s a “bright side” to a time like this, but if we can hang onto any amount of hope, I do believe this time has been transformative to my own wellness journey and has changed what “healthy” means to me. My goals stopped focusing on numbers and started becoming more about how I felt than how a tracking app or fitness instructor told me I should feel. Here are eight ways that staying at home transformed how I, a self-titled health nut and plant enthusiast, think about wellness (for the better):
1. I’m more intuitive about exercise
Pre-global crisis, my workout routine went like this: sign up in advance for trendy studio classes with expensive cancellation fees, so I have to think about whether or not $20 to cancel is worth laying in bed instead of making the class (it never was). Don’t get me wrong; this method was good for a while. It helped me turn exercise into a daily habit and removed the decision-making factor (decision fatigue is real!). But as soon as my trendy studios closed down, I had to rely on pure motivation to get my butt to move after a long workday. I could no longer depend on $20 cancellations and the promise of lavender towels to entice myself to workout.
Even just a few weeks into my new workout norm, I realized something. For the first time in forever, I was actually listening to my body–not only about when to workout, but how (does my body need to burn some energy and dance around the living room, or does it need a relaxing yoga session?). While I’m still counting down the days until my trendy LA studios can open again (what can I say, I’m a sucker for dim lighting and lavender towels), I will never forget the lesson learned to listen to my body and what it needs, instead of mindlessly signing up for a class to check another thing off my to-do list.
2. Mental health is my #1 priority (actually)
Sure, I always tell other people to prioritize mental health, but I didn’t even realize the ways I was not prioritizing my own mental health (read: spending time with people who didn’t make me feel happy, not staying consistent with therapy appointments, skipping my meditation practice because I was too lazy, etc.). It wasn’t until staying at home all day every day for months on end that I realized, well sh*t–I’ve got to get it together (the anxiety was Real, with a capital R).
Without distractions like social plans, a full schedule, or even an office commute, our true mental health status becomes clearer. Should it really be that difficult to spend time alone? Why is it so hard to find something to do that is not work and socializing? The struggle of staying at home illuminated how “at-peace” I am with myself and with my life. This time has been difficult for us all, but at least it’s a chance to truly prioritize our mental health (and mean it).
3. “Not doing anything” is good for you
I’m one of those people who feel like I always have to be doing something productive and am ridden with guilt if I’m wasting time (like even watching The Bachelor makes me feel guilty for wasting time. How, dear self, is television that quality considered wasted time!?). But now, for the first time in my life (OK, like the last few years), I have free time.
For a while, this felt like I didn’t know what to do with myself, but I started enjoying having nothing to do. After all, meditation isn’t supposed to be another thing on the daily to-do list. Wolverine, AKA Hugh Jackman, so wisely stated, “Meditation is all about the pursuit of nothingness. It’s like the ultimate rest.” In other words, “not having anything to do” isn’t boring, meaningless, or sad. It’s good for you. Quiet time is as important to wellness as exercise or healthy eating, even though it doesn’t get the same emphasis in our society. For me, this time at home is about rest, rejuvenation, and finding joy in the nothingness.
4. Routine is important, but it isn’t everything
I’m a creature of habit: I like to have the same thing for breakfast every morning (fruit, tahini, and coconut shreds, please!), sign up for the same workout class every day (see: #1), and do not like trying new things (just ask my mom how I refused to go to sleepaway camp every summer through my childhood). Routine is important for your health because it helps you build healthy habits that can make you feel your best. Because of routine, I crave fruit in the morning instead of sugary cereal, and I don’t even have to think about regularly exercising because it’s already a part of my daily schedule.
But here’s another important factor of my wellness that I’ve learned from having nothing to do but rewatch Outer Banks for the fourth time in a row: while routine is important for building habits, breaking out of routine is also important for enjoying your healthy habits. Trying new things can not only introduce you to new practices to add to your routine, but breaking out of the norm can also build confidence and feel exciting (instead of feeling bored or complacent). Take a different route on your walk, cook with a vegetable you’ve never tried before, and take an online Zumba class if you’ve always sworn you have no rhythm.
5. Nutrition should be about balance, not restriction
Listen, I’m the first one to preach the benefits of whole foods and the dangers of processed, nutrient-lacking foods. However, in a culture that’s obsessed with the latest diet trend, we often associate nutrition and health with rules about what not to eat, just as much (if not more) than what we should eat. I believe that true health is actually about being so in touch with your body that you can feed it what it needs, whether that’s leafy greens to nourish you or indulging in a croissant that you’ll enjoy every bite of. It’s not really about limiting, restricting, or removing; it’s about finding balance in your body.
I’ve said this for years, but since staying at home has required me to cook more often, I’ve been able to look into my relationship with food. Being almost 100 percent in control of what I eat (instead of eating apps at happy hours and drunk-ordering Dominos after a Saturday night out) has been empowering and allows me to be more in touch with what my body wants. For example, this week, I’ve had a plethora of plant-based and delicious meals that make me feel my best, while simultaneously eating the entire cinnamon bread I baked last weekend (oh yeah, and totally guilt-free).
6. Wellness is simply a practice of nourishing yourself
Recently, I’ve had an “aha! moment” (Oprah would be so proud) that while I think of nourishment in terms of food, other parts of me need to be nourished besides my stomach. It’s human instinct to feed yourself when you need to be fed (duh!). However, we’ve quieted the instinct to nourish ourselves when we feel other emotions too. If you’re sad, bored, unmotivated, stressed, or tired, think of what will nourish you. The emotions you feel are your body’s response to lack, much like a food craving is your body telling you what it needs more of. Ask yourself what will nourish the negative emotion, and then feed it to yourself as you would eat when you’re hungry.
7. Get outdoors whenever you can
Although I live in Southern California, I am not a beach bunny. In fact, I notoriously avoid going outside at all costs (I burn instead of tan, and there’s nothing I despise more than feeling hot and sweaty); an air-conditioned indoor space has always felt much more enticing. However, I humbly acknowledge what an idiot I was not to take advantage of the outside world while I had full access to it. There’s nothing like being stuck inside 24/7 to make you appreciate being outdoors, and it has become one of the most important parts of my wellness routine. Drink your morning cup of coffee on the patio, take a walk instead of running on the treadmill, and never forget to appreciate the feeling of fresh air and sunshine (or your SPF!).
8. Being socially connected is the most important wellness factor
2019 Josie thought she had her shit together. I wouldn’t stay out too late on Friday nights because I wanted to wake up well-rested for my Saturday morning workouts, and I could not be tempted by even the most persuasive friend to come to Taco Tuesday if I felt like I had a lot to get done that day. You know what I’m thinking now that I have an abundance of time to get everything done and nothing to do on Saturday mornings except workout? Man, I wish I had more late nights and Taco Tuesdays.
Perhaps the biggest lesson we can all take from the past couple of months is that humans don’t just want to be social; we need it. Even with all the bad headlines lately, the good headlines have taught me a lot. You can work out every day and eat only the healthiest foods on the planet, but you can’t truly be healthy if you’re not laughing with loved ones every day and surrounding yourself with a strong support system of people who make you happy. After all, what’s the point of achieving wellness? Being healthy is not the end goal; it’s simply the tool that gives us more time (and better time) with the people we love.