I’d been thinking of going back to yoga for a while, but the new student special is what pushed me over the edge. 30 days. Unlimited classes. $69. If I went just seven times, I’d only be paying $10 per class. A steal.
Cliché as it may sound, January seemed like the perfect time to start, because I’d be off Instagram for the entire month (which always mysteriously multiplies the hours in a week), and because I’d have plenty of New Year Energy™️ (this will be the year I move my body more!), and because endorphins allegedly help cure the winter blahs (are you even allowed to have seasonal affective disorder if you live in California?) and because—this is the real reason—I knew book launch marketing would be revving up, and I wanted to be proactive about taking care of myself.
Proactive, as in not reactive.
Proactive, as in acting in anticipation of future stress.
For so many years, my stress cycles have looked like this:
I know overwhelm is coming (ex: a big project launch, a family transition, an overcommitted season, etc). In the days, weeks, and months leading up to the chaos, I feel low-level panic and dread. I live in a perpetual state of increasing angst. Like that feeling when you’re on a roller coaster, climbing and climbing and climbing, and the whole time there’s this great sense of build-up, and with every inch you rise upward, you grow a bit more scared about the impending fall.
I physically and mentally brace myself as best I can, and then it’s here—the big launch, the event, the overwhelming season—and I surrender to my circumstances. Not like a healthy surrender. Not like a give-it-all-to-Jesus surrender. More like the kind of surrender where you simply let your body slip into an ocean wave and don’t even bother trying to swim. The current overtakes me. I survive on cereal and takeout, sometimes skipping meals altogether because I am too busy to eat. I stop exercising. I stop reading. I stop seeing friends. I lash out at my family, which immediately fills me with shame and regret. My back aches from being hunched over a laptop all day. I can’t sleep. I’m tired all the time, so I drink more coffee, which just makes my sleep even worse. I cry a lot, over everything, mostly in the car and in the shower.
All of this has become normal to me. This is who I am when I am reacting to stress. By the time I finally get to my breaking point, my come-to-Jesus moment where I finally admit I am not okay, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to swim back to shore.
For the past few years, God has been teaching me about rest. This has not been a physical lesson so much as a spiritual one, a profound untangling of sorts.
Slowly but surely, I am starting to believe—like really, really believe—my worth and my work are two different things. I am not my job. My job is not me. My identity is not in my accomplishments, my achievements, or my daily word counts.
I now take a sabbatical every August without an ounce of hesitation. On Sundays, we sabbath. From the outside looking in, these changes are noticeable. I believe I am different, and that my friends and family alike can see this change in me.
When stress is lurking around the corner, though, this is where the new version of me gets put to the test. This is where the rubber meets the road, as they say.
I have always known January-March of 2023 would be a stress season. These months have been marked with a red flag, a warning siren, a “we need all the help and childcare we can get” plea to grandparents. My book comes out March 28th, and from this point forward, until mid-April, I’ve been told to clear my calendar as much as possible. My publicist is booking me on podcast interviews left and right. I’m submitting essays and articles, each deadline scribbled on a post-it and tacked to the wall above my desk.
I am taking steps to outsource and delegate as much as possible, but running Coffee + Crumbs is still my primary job, and that job doesn’t stop for three months just because I’m launching a book. I’ve got writing deadlines there, too. Podcasts to record there, too. A dozen little and big things to oversee and watch and tend to.
If I start making a list of everything that needs to get done over the next three months, I could easily curl up in the fetal position on the floor.
Which brings me to yoga.
My 30-day trial ends today. I set out to attend seven classes, but actually made it to eight. Each class is 75 minutes long, which means I’ve spent a total of 10 hours in yoga over the past few weeks.
That is 600 minutes of sweating and moving my body. 600 minutes of intentionally being away from my desk, away from my laptop, away from the Internet. Nobody knows me at this studio. I am an anonymous blob in this class, moving alongside a diverse group of other men and women of all ages and sizes. I love it here.
For 75 minutes, several times a week, this is my escape. At yoga, I feel no pressure to perform, even when I get stuck at the front of the class (as I often do because getting stuck at the front is the punishment for being late, and I always arrive with two minutes to spare). For 75 minutes, I am simply in my body. I feel strong. I turn my brain off. I focus on my breath.
In the same way my stress habits can become a slippery slope (can’t sleep → drink more coffee → feel anxious → can’t sleep even more → too tired to exercise → no energy → order pizza for dinner → feel like garbage → can’t sleep → repeat next day)—I’m learning healthy habits can have their own domino effect.
I feel insanely good when I get home from yoga. High on endorphins, every muscle in my body aches a little, evidence I worked hard. I feel relaxed. Capable. Strong. I have energy to tidy up before bed. I drink more water because of all the sweat. I take a hot shower and do not cry. My mind is clear. I make a list of everything I need to do the following day. I don’t feel overwhelmed. Everything feels a bit more manageable.
The 30 day yoga trial seems to have been a gateway—a door I stepped through, a portal to a world where I am proactive instead of reactive.
In this proactive world, my library queue is all fiction. In this proactive world, I meet a friend I haven’t seen in three months for lunch, at a restaurant, on a day when I have childcare. That might not seem like a big deal, but it’s a big deal because Old Me would have never agreed to that. Old Me would have insisted childcare hours are for work and only work.
The day I meet my friend, I re-discover the joy and immense value of eating a real lunch, as opposed to a sad plate of crackers and salami, which is normally what I grab at home. I suddenly remember how wonderful it feels to nourish myself in the middle of the day with warm tomato soup, followed by a fresh thai noodle salad. I feel noticeably better all afternoon.
Days later, after a long morning of meetings and podcast interviews, I remember how I felt at the restaurant, and decide to make myself a real lunch at home. Cookbook in hand, I place a grocery order for pickup with the exact ingredients I need, including a pasta I had never made (bucatini) and a cheese I had never bought (manchego). I pick up my bag of groceries, come home, create a giant mess in the kitchen, sit down at the table like a proper adult, and scrape the plate clean.
Somewhere in between going to yoga and making myself a real lunch, I get an email from Southwest advertising a flight sale. I just so happen to open it. I just so happen to have five minutes to check. After applying a voucher I had been saving for a rainy day, I realized I could fly my entire family to San Diego for $300.
Every year for Christmas, my grandparents send us money. Between the Christmas check we had not yet budgeted, the hard-to-pass-up cheap flights, and the fact that our kids are off school for an entire week in February (don’t get me started), I propose we plan a spontaneous trip to the San Diego zoo.
Me: What do you think?? The kids will love it.
Brett: Are you sure? Isn’t this … “book launch season”?
Me: I’ve never been more sure.
On paper, none of this probably sounds like a big deal. So you’re going to yoga, and met a friend for lunch, and made pasta on a weekday afternoon, and booked a cheap vacation for your family. So what?
Here’s the thing. A few years ago, I would have opted out of all of this. I would have taken the advice to clear my calendar seriously, and I would have hunkered down in this house with tears and migraines and daily meltdowns. I would have crawled through book launch season on my hands and knees, crying a lot, weak and dehydrated, and I would have ended it in the fetal position on the floor.
I would have said: Work is insane, so I can’t possibly go to yoga. I can’t possibly have lunch with a friend. I can’t make pasta in the middle of the day. I can’t take a trip with my family. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.
But now I’m saying: Because work is insane, this is a good time to go to yoga, see my friends, feed myself real meals, and plan a fun adventure with my family.
This is the shift from reacting to stress to being proactive about stress.
The shift from I have to do this to I get to do this.
The shift from:
I must work myself ragged to prove my worth / earn love.
Because I am loved, I am worth caring for in this work.
Last Monday I had two podcast interviews, one of which unexpectedly ran for two hours. I had spent most of the morning feeling anxious and jittery, and when all the interviews were over, I had the weirdest impulse to take a 20-minute bubble bath.
The boys were still at school, and Presley was with my mom, and while there was no shortage of other things I could do in that moment—respond to emails, work on any of my (several) writing deadlines, prepare for the next podcast interview happening the following day—I did not do any of those things.
I grabbed a novel, took a deep breath, and sunk into a zillion bubbles, completing the stress cycle. I got out after 20 minutes, dried off, put on clean clothes, and felt like a new person.
And then I picked up my daughter, grabbed the boys from school, dropped them all off at home with their dad, and went to yoga.
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I identified with so much of this - especially the guilt of using childfree hours to do something nourishing and soul replenishing, and not work or home tasks. Thanks for your vulnerability and best of luck during this wild time!
So proud of you! 💛