How do you start and end your day? Do you have morning or evening rituals? Sometimes, it may feel like many things are going on in your life, and you need to pause and restart. Join your host Whitney Lauritsen as she shares a meaningful conversation with Roberta Hughes about understanding the seeds of self-care so you can say yes to yourself instead of trying to impress everyone else. Roberta shares insights on motherhood, spiritual investments, and addressing anxiety triggers. She emphasizes the importance of knowing who you are to find a sense of joy in your heart to help you build better relationships with others. It’s time to cultivate a life of peace and prioritize yourself. She shares the best practices you can try to redefine your life. Some things won’t work for you, and some can work for others because everyone has different needs but to move forward, you have to understand the key concepts for a better life.
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Seeds Of Self-Care: How To Say Yes To Yourself With Roberta Hughes
Before I started the interview with Roberta, we were talking about the comfort that nature gives both of us. Roberta, you mentioned golden hour as being your favorite time of day, or perhaps the most comforting time of day for you. That word golden hour gave me this sense of peace. I would love to know why that time of day feels so good to you and where you like to spend it, or where do you most enjoy spending your time during golden hour?
I’m almost always out on a walk with my dogs. As we discussed before the interview, I live in Denver, Colorado. In the summertime, that means 8:00 at night that we’re out during golden hour, but in the winter, it could be 3:30 in the afternoon. That time of day for me is almost like closing time. Things are starting to shift from activity to coming more inward, drawing into your home, meal time, nurturing, and nourishing. In the summer, obviously, I’ve already eaten, but then when I come in, it’s preparing for bedtime. I have a whole evening ritual that I do at the end of each day before going to bed.
I usually start that. What I love the most about golden hour is how the light is consistently changing. Any direction that you look, it will be coming through the trees a little differently. It will be putting this hue of gold color across the fields of grass. If you look up into the sky, the sunset has so many different colors. From golden hour to the time the sun has gone, it’s a new experience over and over again.
As you’re sharing that, I feel like many people focus on morning rituals, their morning routines preparing for the day. I wonder how many people focus a lot on the evening, wrapping things up and reflecting on the day. Do you find that to be true with the work that you do that evening is maybe not as focused on, maybe perhaps people are almost in recovery mode at the end of the day?
I like that you said that word, recovery mode. For most people, the end of the day is this, “Thank goodness it’s over.” For me, it’s this whole winding down process. It’s a delightful time of day because it’s almost like you get to be who you are and not who you need to be in the world. For a lot of people, there’s not that knowing of who they are and what makes them truly joyful, happy, and peaceful. The evening hours tend to be more about distraction until they have to go to bed.
That’s interesting because I’m a night person, a night owl, as some people would say. I love the evening so much. Also, when you are talking about golden hour and how that time changes depending on the seasons, I love it when it’s laid out at 8:00 PM. That brings me so much joy. When it gets dark early, usually in Los Angeles, it’ll be 4:30 PM or 5:00 PM.
I feel sad because I tend to stay up late. Having that laid out makes me feel like I’m full of abundance. I’ve often reflected on why I feel so alive at night. Generally, I feel like that’s because I feel the space to be myself. I feel a sense of peace, especially if it’s late, there are few people awake. I get to recover and truly be myself.Evenings are a delightful time of day because you can be who you are and not who you need to be in the world. Click To Tweet
It makes so much sense as you share that why I feel so compelled to stay up. A lot of people love that when they get up at sunrise or before sunrise, they feel that sense of peace. I noticed that as well, but I don’t feel called to that as much. I’m curious about you. What’s your preference? Do you prefer the evenings or mornings? Do you like a mix of the two?
I definitely prefer evenings. I have always wanted to be a person that gets up before sunrise. I’ve made peace with the fact that it’s not who I am. It doesn’t resonate with me. There will be times that I will make myself get up early to go do a workout if I know I’m not going to be able to get it in during the day. I’ve been intentional about that because I was noticing that for a client, I would always say, “I can do that early appointment,” but then I wouldn’t wake up for myself to get my workout in. I had to look at that and say, “Why am I saying yes to someone else but no to myself?” That’s been a new practice.
That is a beautiful question. I imagine many of us are used to saying yes to others. Although, I have gone into this practice of setting more boundaries and time and sleep. My specific schedule has been one of them. Like you, I spent a lot of my life feeling like I should, and I don’t want to put the words in your mouth, but for me, it was, “I should wake up early. I want to wake up early.” I felt a lot of pressure from that. It also brought up shame within me because I felt like something was wrong with me. A lot of people perceive it as being lazy if you wake up later. Over time, I realized, “It’s not that I’m doing less than other people. I’m just doing it on a different schedule.”
Even if I am relatively doing less than others, that’s okay because I’m doing what I need to do. I’m meeting my own needs. If I have a day where I only get a few things done, that’s okay because those things may be what’s most important that day. Many of us feel all this pressure to live in alignment with other people’s expectations. If that doesn’t bring us joy, then it doesn’t feel like it’s serving much of a purpose.
For me, it’s seasonal. The way that you mentioned the longer evening hours bring you joy and abundance in the winter. For me, that’s hibernation time. If I wake up at 6:00 AM and it’s still pitch black, my body wants to be at rest. Sometimes I will put on a lighted candle and sit and meditate at that hour, but I’m probably not going to get in my car and go pound out or workout at 6:00 AM in the winter hours. In the summer hours, I’ve been getting up at 5:30 AM and going for a 6:00 AM workout, but it’s bright and sunny. It’s like, “The day has started. I can, too.”
I’m glad that you brought up the word shame. Especially in the fitness industry, people will say, “If your health matters to you, you need to get up at 4:00 AM. You need to get your workout in.” There is a lot of shame around that. If you’re not a morning person and you continue to fail, there’s not a lot of room of empowerment, confidence, or courage to start changing your habits in a way that they fit your life.
It is interesting how we do get a lot of that messaging. I had some guests on the show who talked about how detrimental some of these sayings can be in the fitness industry and how important it is for fitness instructors to be mindful of their words. It gets passed down through training, all these ways of encouraging people.
They think that maybe by shaming somebody or telling them how they should live, how they should move their body, what time they should do things, our society starts to think that’s the best way to do it. If we don’t tune in to our internal rhythm, then we’re not fully in sync. Like you, there are times where I feel great getting up early in the morning. For example, for travel. That is worth it.
I will get up anytime, literally. If I need to catch a 7:00 AM flight, I will be up at 4:00 AM, ready to get to the airport. I feel this different side of myself comes out because I feel motivated. It has a purpose for me. If I need to get up at 4:00 AM for a work meeting, I’m going to feel awful. It doesn’t serve that same purpose. It doesn’t light me up.
In workouts, I have mixed feelings because I used to take a 6:00 AM workout class, and I had to get up around 5:00 AM for that. I felt purposeful of it because I loved that class so much. Even though I didn’t enjoy waking up that early, it was always worth it for me. Yet now that I no longer take that class, it’s hard for me to think back to those days. I used to do that because the purpose or my priorities had shifted for me.
Maybe the community also. What I hear you say is purpose and meaning are what connect us to something. Sometimes that something is a temporary moment in our life. It’s there for a reason and a purpose, but we evolve and we grow, and something new comes in. It doesn’t mean you’re not a good person anymore because you’re not still doing that thing. In order to change and grow, we need to keep looking for the newness that has a purpose for us, or we can keep doing the same thing for the rest of our lives and not evolve and grow.
That reminds me of something I saw in the summary of your work when I was looking over at everything that you do. There was a question in there that followed a bunch of statements and some facts about how people do and do not take care of themselves. One that stood out was among Americans 25 years of age and older, 6.6% are engaged in health-related self-care each day. I found that stat shocking.
On the flip side of that, 87% have the intention to practice self-care.
The question following both of those statistics was, why do we wait to take care of ourselves? I’m curious, in your work, what are you coming across as the reasons why people might have an intention for something but don’t do it?Why am I saying yes to someone else but not myself? Click To Tweet
It’s going back to what I said about me waking up to go for a workout. People will say yes to everybody else and they’ll say no to themselves at the drop of a hat. I see many people put things on their calendar, “I’m going to start this class and do this for myself.” The second opportunity arises to take something that’s work-related, a friend needs them, or a family member needs them, they can’t sell out themselves first, but they won’t cancel any of the other appointments on their calendar.
It’s interesting you bring that up too because it reminds me of something I heard during a retreat that I was at in Costa Rica. Towards the end of the retreat, the participants were having a discussion around how do we continue some of these self-care practices we engaged in for that week? That answer came up there where you had to prioritize yourself in your schedule.
It was this moment with the group where I could feel this collective sense of reflection and pause, “Maybe I don’t prioritize myself as much as I prioritize a work meeting.” To your point, it’s easy for a lot of us to say yes to anything centered around income or our jobs. It was like, “If I hold myself accountable to this person that is getting me where I want to go financially, that is helping me get closer to my version of success.”
It’s easy to stay on track or to be on time with that. It’s also easy for us to cancel things for ourselves. To delay sleep, for example. I hear this all the time, people struggling with sleep. This was something you posted on social media about mothers. It was around female parents or the role of a mother who was struggling. What is it that mothers tend to go through when it comes to self-care and things getting in the way of taking care of themselves?
I want to answer that, but before we skip over it, go back to your reference to the retreat setting because I, too, have done retreats in my life. A lot of people are drawn to that retreat setting because they need to take a break, regroup, and reset. It is important that at the end of the retreat to think about, “Now what? How am I going to bring a little bit of this back into my life?” You get so immersed in it on retreats, but then it fades away quickly once you get back into your life. Even if you have the intention but beginning to say, “I’m going to prioritize myself.” What does that mean? What are you willing to do to make yourself a priority?
It’s like creating a savings account. How are you going to create your spiritual investments accounts and make sure that you’re feeding it and nourishing it every single day, even if it’s just for a few minutes? That’s what I love to teach people how to do and hold them accountable. As you know, time is our most precious resource. It’s easy to slip back into natural patterns of giving our time to everybody else when we come back into real life from a retreat.
That segues into motherhood. The whole motherhood journey, to me, is an opportunity to be curious about how well you can stay in a place where you keep yourself a priority when you’re a mother or a parent. Stay-at-home dads probably experienced the same thing. Most of my experiences with women, but children require so much energy.
Your day begins when your first child is up and your last child goes to bed. You have no control over what those times will look like, especially if you have multiple children at different ages and stages of life. I spoke with a woman who has her youngest is 4 and oldest is 16. My children are four and a half years apart. That’s pretty close together. People who have children who span the ages, young children are not good sleepers. They’re probably visiting you at night. You’re not sleeping consistently.
Maybe they’re in your bed with you sleeping, kicking you, pushing you. You’re getting tumbled and turned all night long and not rested. Your sixteen-year-old is now driving, so you’re not going to bed until you know that they’re home safely, which on a weekend night could be 12:00, depending on what time their curfew is. Parenting and motherhood is like the bootcamp of life. It teaches you how to take care of yourself and be available to take care of your children or you’re wired and tired and hoping to get through each day.
I’m fascinated by motherhood. I don’t have children and don’t know if I will have them. I’m interested in that experience, even from an outsider’s perspective. Seeing my friends as mothers specifically, I certainly know I have male friends that are fathers, but it has seemed to me that my female friends who have children have shifted so much. I sensed so much weight on them when I spent a lot of time with them. For example, if I visit a friend and I’m there for several days to see their lives and how they are in the morning. When a friend came in particular, I visited for 4 or 5 days.
Every morning we would get up at the same time. I would see her first thing and what she was like before the children woke up. When the children wake up, I would see the energy shift and then the movement towards getting them to school and then what she was like when they were at school and she had time and what she was like when they came home in the evenings.
The fluctuations in her personality and noticing how quickly the time went by and how it seemed like there was not a lot of time for self-care. That seems to be the general description that I hear from mothers. Is that the way that it just is? Does it have to be that way? Is there a way that you can find more time in that day for self-care, or is it truly that you’re in this role for however many years your children need you to be in that role and you’re putting yourself mostly on pause? Is there a way to find a balance in which a mother or a father gets a deeper sense of self-care that maybe they feel like they can achieve?
It is a choice that you get to make. Most people don’t realize that there’s a choice. Most people are running on automatic pilot, getting through the day, hoping that their kids get through the day safely and healthy. They’re in bed, sleeping, and then you finally get to sleep. Early stages of parenthood especially, that’s how it goes, but you can choose to be intentional.
I did this by accident as a young parent. My ex-husband was in the military and he was gone most of the time. I felt mostly like a single mom 80% of the time. I realized early on that in order to have the stamina and the energy to get through a day, I needed to find ways to support myself a little bit at a time. It’s similar to what we were talking about with the retreat.The day has started, so I can too. Click To Tweet
It’s like planting little seeds of quiet moments and time. Our culture tends to be an all-or-nothing culture. With self-care, all or nothing will only last so long, and most people will get sick. They’ll have a nervous breakdown and start to have anxiety attacks. It will take its toll. Little seeds adding up over time will start to blossom and grow and become bigger as your children get older.
If you’ve already created these little time pockets, it will be easier to expand on them. As a young parent, that’s the time to begin, even if you can only find five minutes. I was super creative when I was nursing my children. That would be my little cat nap time. When my children were napping, I had a good napper and a terrible napper. The terrible napper could be five minutes.
I would get on the floor into one yoga pose to nourish and restore. If he was up, I was back up with him. Similar to a marathon runner, every so often, they have to refuel. They can’t run the whole marathon without any water or food along the way. If they were to stop and have a giant meal, that would end their race. For me, self-care is like that. It’s like those little energy stations where you get a little bit of nourishment. Over time, maybe those little bits can be a little bit longer and bigger.
It’s interesting because I wonder if that ties into what we were talking about in the beginning about should, shame, what you need to do, and all these messages. Perhaps mothers or parents, in general, are taught that they need to put themselves aside. It’s all about somebody else. It’s the opposite of that cliche statement of putting the oxygen mask on first. It’s like, “No, I’m going to put the oxygen mask on my child or my partner before myself.” We’re taught that being selfless is a virtue. If you take care of other people before yourself, that means you’re a good person.
Maybe a lot of us are afraid to feel or be perceived as selfish. Is that why we struggle to take these little steps? Even on a literal level, people will struggle to take sips of water throughout the day. Staying hydrated, literally sipping on water is a struggle. The two experiences are connected where it’s tough to stay on track of simple things for our self-care. I’m curious, with your work, why do you feel like that’s the struggle like something as basic as drinking water seems to be a huge challenge for the average person?
I come across many people that tell me they don’t like water. I don’t understand that. How can you not like water? Most self-care things are habits that we have created throughout our life by role modeling. When I grew up, we didn’t talk about self-care, but my parents were nurturing and nourishing in different ways. We always had water everywhere we went. To me, it’s not even a thought. I have it with me. For other people who grew up drinking sodas, ice tea, and beverages, drinking something should be a party. It’s not to quench your thirst or to hydrate your body. It’s something to bring joy or pleasure. It’s shifting the lens from things that you choose out of joy and pleasure versus things that you choose to nourish and nurture.
Unfortunately, we now have all of these different additives you can put water flavoring. People seem to enjoy that. It’s interesting when you said that you know a lot of people that don’t enjoy water. First of all, that immediately triggered me to drink some of my own water. When I hear that word water, it’s a signal to me. I’m a big fan of visual cues. Putting my water bottle next to me, I’ll see it out of the corner of my eye, and I take a sip. It’s become a habit. I even have a water bottle that is connected to my phone and will alert me to drink water frequently. It’s an amazing invention. It’s changed my life. I’m somebody who loves meeting goals or hitting streaks.
That water bottle will give me alerts, “You haven’t had your minimum amount of water today.” If I see that I missed a day of not drinking that minimum amount of water, I feel a little frustrated. If every day I can hit that mark, I feel accomplished. It’s also interesting to me when you mentioned that people are not enjoying the taste.
It gave me pause and I thought, “I don’t even think of water as having the taste.” It’s something that I do. I’m not thinking about pleasure. I’m thinking about taking care of myself. At the same time, I’m also avoiding pain because I don’t like feeling dehydrated. I don’t like that physical sensation of needing water. Since I’ve been traveling a lot, I was thinking about how I went on a long walk on one of my trips and didn’t bring any water with me.
I felt a sense of panic. Even though I knew I would survive, that sensation of not having access to water was one of those little lessons. The next time I took a walk, I made sure to bring the water. It was a little inconvenient because carrying a bottle around with you is heavy, but I prefer the heaviness of that bottle on my body versus the physical sensation of discomfort of not having it with me.
It’s interesting how our body can give us these signals, but also interesting on that same notice how some people aren’t even aware of those physical signals. The average person is not drinking enough water. Their body must be telling them that they need more, but they do not even hear those signals. That’s probably true with a lot of self-care.
I would almost disagree that they’re not getting the signals because if you ask the average person, they’ll say, “My back hurts. My knees hurt. I get headaches all the time. I’m not sleeping well.” Those are all signs of dehydration that your body is crying out for a need that needs to be nourished and nurtured. They’re getting the signals, but maybe they’re going to take some Tylenol because they have a headache or to make that pain go away in their body.
They keep going into their work and doing what they need to do, moving forward, doing the things, and not stopping until something bigger happens. It makes them slow down and stop. You’re bringing up the whole concept of mindfulness and self-awareness. Our bodies give us signals all of the time. It’s our choice whether we listen or we medicate and keep going on.
It’s interesting that you say that because you’re right. Maybe I didn’t phrase it properly. I do think that our body is telling us things. We might misinterpret it. It’s funny, at this moment, I think I had a headache and my body was achy. I thought I was experiencing jet lag from my trip. It did not even occur to me that I was probably dehydrated because I’m used to being hydrated and I’m on track with it. As you mentioned that, I started thinking, “I did not drink a lot of water on my flight.” For me, I was concerned about getting COVID. I was wearing my mask on the plane. I tried to drink as much water as possible before I got on the plane so that I didn’t have to keep taking my mask off to drink more water.Purpose and meaning are what connect us. Click To Tweet
I bet you that I didn’t get enough water because I was trying to protect myself. When you get out of a rhythm, it’s easy to overlook things because you’re used to them working out normally and attribute them to something else. I’m going to reprioritize hydration now that I’m back on my normal routine. That ties into what you were saying about retreats. It’s wonderful to do something that’s different and snaps you out of the way that you’re used to doing things.
Even when you might be benefiting from something, you might not be prioritizing or as focused on things that are important to you because everything is out of alignment. Yes, I had many benefits to traveling, but there might be some consequences as well because I felt a bit all over the place discombobulated. It’s funny how our brain overlooks the most obvious or common things that we do.
Some people are tuned into the rhythms of their bodies. Others are learning and others have no idea how their bodies and brains are affected by conditions, environments, sound, or activity. All of these things have an effect on our sense of well-being, but we may or may not be aware of it.
To that point, travel is interesting because I haven’t traveled on a plane for many years now because of COVID. I found myself experiencing more anxiety and tension around that than I did in the past and more in survival mode. Part of that was I didn’t want to get sick. I’m going to do all these things to protect myself. Meanwhile, I might be ignoring some of my basic needs and putting them aside. The idea of survival mode goes back to some of the things you were sharing about parenthood and how you might be doing the bare minimum for yourself because you feel like you don’t have enough energy to do any more of that.
I feel like many people express that anxiety or stress, or there’s not enough time, the burnout that comes up so much. I wonder how many people feel like all they can do is survive and they can’t do anymore beyond that. I’m curious, Roberta, how do you shift that? If you are in survival mode and you don’t feel like you have any more bandwidth, how do you find that balance in those times when you don’t feel like there’s any room to create that balance?
Something has to disrupt the cycle. Whether it’s you saying, “I know I need to do something different, but I may not know what it is,” have conversations with people. Let them know how you’re feeling. I can almost imagine there’s a person that would be able to say, “I know someone who can help with that.” Going back to what you were talking about early on with having that sense of community, having a support system, most of us, when we start to feel like we’re not managing things well, bury it in shame, like, “I need to be managing it better.”
The energy goes into trying to manage it better until things snap. I would say start having conversations and be honest with, “Things aren’t quite feeling right to me. I don’t know what it is, but all of a sudden, I’m not sleeping well. I feel jittery. My heart is racing. It’s hard for me to settle down. I feel like I’m on all of the time. I don’t know how to regulate that.”
Those are common symptoms of stress and anxiety. Most people will see a doctor and oftentimes get a prescription, so then the prescription starts to regulate. If conditions continue as they are, over time, that prescription is not going to be as effective, and then you might need more medicine. This is not to say that medicine and medication do not have a place in mental health. I am a strong advocate for a person getting what they need to support their mental, emotional, and physical health. If you’re only having one conversation, you’ll only get one pathway. Having a lot of conversations, doing your research, and being curious, like, “This is how I’m feeling.”
If you get a cut and it starts to look a little funny, people will Google that. If they’re feeling anxious, they’re not looking deeper into it. They’re thinking, “What’s wrong with me?” We need to normalize the conversation around these mental health symptoms that almost every single person has. There isn’t shame about it, but when you’re feeling them, there is a lot of shame for you. I started having anxiety attacks shortly after my divorce.
I wrote a blog about this. It happened in Paris of all places. I’m in the most beautiful city in the world with the people that I love, but here I am. I was embarrassed. I felt a lot of shame. I didn’t know it was happening. I felt like I should be able to control this. When anxiety takes over your body, you do not have control. You have to find ways to ground yourself and regulate yourself, or you need to surround yourself with people who know how to help you out with that.
I’m glad that you brought that up because I saw that in one of your social media posts. I wanted to ask more about what that experience was like for you. You wrote that you were unaware of it at that time. You started having anxiety attacks in 2017. What is it that made you aware? What was it like to feel unaware previously? How did you move from unawareness to awareness of your anxiety?
Throughout my motherhood journey, for example, even though I was doing the best that I could to take care of myself, I was still holding the lid on tight. I’m trying to hold it all together, be there for my kids, and show up for everybody else, even with these little seeds that I had planted and these moments where I could regulate.
Until I was out of the marriage and out of feeling like I was always the one on alert and managing, my system was given the opportunity to settle. It got confused. I’ve done a lot of work to be able to talk about this now. At that time, it felt like a freight train that was running through me. I didn’t know where all of this energy was coming from and how to manage it.
I felt uncapable. There was a lot of sadness, anger, and frustration, and then I would be okay. We would go back into traveling and life, and everything was fine, but then these anxiety attacks were a surprise. They would take over in impromptu moments where you weren’t expecting them. Because they were such a surprise, I wasn’t able to manage because you weren’t expecting it.What are you willing to do to make yourself a priority? Click To Tweet
It’s not like you could be prepared for when it might strike. The thing about anxiety is it does strike at the most inconsistent time. You never know what the little trigger is going to be that sets your whole system afire. Once you start to notice these are happening, it’s not just the one time, but it has happened many different ways and times.
I started talking about it to my therapist and my doctor. I explored all of the options and looked at medication. I’ve always been a person that’s determined to do things as naturally as possible. I even had my children naturally without medication. I lost my thyroid when I was 40. I went as long as I could without any medication to see. I only had to take out one side.
I waited as long as possible, which was eighteen months. I probably needed medicine a lot sooner because it was hard to live that way. I wanted to see, “This other side’s going to kick in.” When I finally realized it was as good as it was going to get, I knew that I couldn’t function at that level, so I started medication. With anxiety, it was the same thing.
I didn’t want medication to be my first choice. I knew all of the tools, yoga, meditation, Pilates, and walks in nature. All of those things made me feel better by talking to therapists and learning that there’s a trigger or a sequence. You have your trigger, it sets it off, and then the first thing to do is to reground yourself. Now I know thinking about my feet, looking around, and orienting myself because you lose orientation when you’re having an anxiety attack.
You’re completely unaware of anything other than this energy that’s consuming your whole system. It’s scary. The people around you don’t know what’s happening. You’re not yourself. You’re agitated and frustrated. It’s learning those tools. One thing that I learned in my exploration of this was interesting because meditation had always been something that brought me such peace.
Oftentimes, I would feel that racing heart in meditation. I learned that once you have a trigger for anxiety or stress, sometimes meditating with your eyes closed can trigger those symptoms more quickly. I then started meditating with my eyes open or doing guided meditations where someone was continuously talking to me, and then that helped regulate my system.
There’s never one way to do something to get the results that you need. When people are looking for help and support, it’s not like, “Here are these five things. Go do them and you’ll feel better,” because it may make it worse if it’s not the right thing for you. With movement practice, the same movements aren’t right for everybody at every particular moment in their life. It depends on the full picture and well-being of who you are, where you are, and what you need.
You said something that resonated with me, which is this idea of experiencing something. Maybe feeling shame around it and not expressing it to people around you who don’t know what’s going on. I started thinking it feels so common for human beings to experience anxiety, but we’re generally not taught what signs show that we have anxiety.
Not only do we not know that about ourselves in general, but we don’t even know the signs when other people are experiencing it. Also, each person probably expresses their anxiety in different ways. Some people are good at hiding it, pretending it’s not there. Even going back to this idea of not taking care of ourselves, maybe we put on a front in order to convince other people that everything is okay, whether we’re embarrassed or we don’t want to inconvenience them.
I felt that so much in my life. It’s interesting to notice the ways in which I’ve learned to be more grounded to pick up on my triggers, figure out how to manage them at that moment, and try not to hide them from others. Finding the confidence to share with somebody else and be more verbal about that has been helpful. Certainly, people can be judgmental.
There’s still a surprising amount of stigma around mental health, even though it is probably a universal experience, but it reminds me of the water reference. It’s how many people are experiencing anxiety just like they’re experiencing dehydration, but they don’t recognize the signs that your body is sharing with you that, “Something is not quite right. You need to pause and address it.”
Hydration is pretty clear. If we know that we’re dehydrated or learn to listen to signals, the answer is to drink more water. If you learn to pick up on the anxiety signals, then there’s a whole other level of learning about how to deal with it. It’s not always that simple. It could be that pill. There are certain medications that you can take. Some people turn to other forms of self-medication, whether that’s drugs, alcohol, or whatever else that they go to.
What are some tools that you’ve found have worked well for managing anxiety? I’d love to hear maybe something quick. Let’s say you’re in an urgent situation. You need maybe temporary relief. What’s something that you can do to feel better quickly and then something deeper you could do later on to address it in a bigger way?
The first thing to get you out of that flight or fight moment is to orient yourself or let your system somehow know. When anxiety shows up, you’re no longer present in your current place. You’re with whatever triggered that anxiety. It’s usually something from your past. You’re in that moment and stuck there. The first thing to do is to reorient yourself, looking around the room, sometimes even sitting down, rubbing your legs, and getting grounded. Your legs and feet are connected to the Earth. If you’re with somebody who you think might be having an anxiety attack, the best thing to do is to ask, “Are you having an anxiety attack?”Parenting is the bootcamp of life. Click To Tweet
They probably do know it and might be able to nod their head yes, but that might be all they can manage at the moment. If you’re trying to help that person, say, “Think about your feet. Look at the things around you. What objects do you see?” Ask them to name those objects. If you’re by yourself, you can say, “Lamp. Lights.” You’re bringing yourself back to where you are. That will sometimes help your system settle down.
I did this with somebody. Someone called me unexpectedly, hysterically crying and couldn’t breathe. Here was another trick. I call it the birthday candle breath. When you’re almost hyperventilating and you ask someone to take a deep breath, there’s no way they can take a deep breath. If you ask them to exhale all their air out, there’s no choice but to inhale again. Exhale all that air out. It might be short, but then the next one’s a little bit longer, and so on. Your body will start to regulate by forcing out your exhale. Sometimes you might even yawn. It’ll disrupt the cycle.
The breath is powerful in that way. I’m glad that you brought that up because that’s another thing that I’ve been taught so many times through yoga and meditation. I have had countless classes and teachers who have guided me through all the different ways you can breathe. Yet sometimes I forget about that. Hearing you share that, I’m like, “She’s right.” In fact, during the retreat that I went to in Costa Rica, the common theme in all of the classes we had as a group with our teacher was reminding us to tune into the breath.
It seemed to be one of the greatest takeaways from the participants. Most of which hadn’t ever done much breathwork at all. They seem to be into fitness. In the average fitness class, they might teach you breathwork in terms of endurance, like how to breathe so that you can run farther or lift weights. Yoga or a meditation class centered around breathing is a whole another level of it.
There was one in particular that we did where it was a transformational experience of using your breath, laying down, finding a certain rhythm, breathing at a certain pace and depth, and the way you breathe into your stomach and your lungs. There is a circular movement of it, and how that has been scientifically shown to create an altered state. It was an amazing reminder of you have your breath at any moment. You can always go back to that. If you’re taught some of these practices, it can shift your entire state being.
When your mind is with your breath, thoughts subside. It’s almost impossible to be thinking and following the breath simultaneously. You can be aware that you’re breathing, but if you’re truly following your breath with your attention into the body and out of the body. It’s hard for me to speak that and do it at the same time. I can do it thoughtfully, but I don’t experience the same as if I’m truly following the breath with my attention.
That ties into your passion for ritual and taking Zen breaks during your work day, which is something I know that you’re interested in and helping people redefine their relationship with stress. What are some other moments of Zen people can find beyond hydration, breathing, visual cues looking around at things, and centering yourself in that way? What else do you recommend for Zen?
Unplugging purposely for a few minutes at a time each day. In the summer, I’ve been going out on my frontline every day for lunch. I unplug and I take my two dogs out. They play in the grass and I eat my lunch. My son, I said, “Would you like to come?” He said, “Yes.” I was so excited. I’m like, “You’re going to join us?” He came. I put down a little blanket on the grass. It’s like taking a little picnic moment during the middle of my day and then coming back in to do the things that I need to do. In the winter time, I have a chair that I love to sit in and drink a cup of tea. Having something that you look forward to doing in the middle of your day is what I would recommend.
We were talking about busy moms. I remember so often being in the carpool line waiting to pick up children. I purposely started arriving earlier in that carpool line. I would take a book with me and I would read the book or listen to something that brought me joy. Podcasts weren’t a thing back then. No more carpool lines or soccer sideline waiting time. Even for my son’s soccer practices, I would bring my dog.
I would do loops around the soccer field with my dog and take walks while he was practicing. You can be creative about fitting time in for yourself if your priority is fitting in time for yourself. You don’t have to remove yourself from your life. There are lots of within things you’re already doing to plant these little seeds and take this time for you.
That is a lovely way to summarize not only this episode but the work that you do. That is something most of us are seeking. It feels simple. You describe it this way, even listening to you, Roberta. I said before we started that your voice, the way you speak, and the words you use are soothing. When you mentioned the golden hour, I can reflect on it. It’s far from golden hour for me right now at the time we’re doing this, but I’m looking out my window and thinking, “It’s wonderful out now,” but thinking about golden hour in the future brings me joy. I look forward to it. I think about other times that I’ve experienced that in the past.
It’s visualizing something that might not be right in front of us and your little reminders of taking a book with you, enjoying time outside, or sitting in your favorite chair. All of those things feel good to hear. They feel even better when we do them. They’re available to us. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or any money at all to experience some of these things. You can do them every single day and find joy in them. It’s such a beautiful reminder.
I want to add one thing. One of my favorite yoga teachers is Erich Schiffmann. You may know him from California. He’s over 6 feet tall, long, curly hair, surfer guy. He doesn’t look like a Yogi, but I did my 50-hour teacher training with him. He was in Santa Fe several years ago, and I went for a weekend workshop. At that time, yoga was probably at its height, very gymnastical.
How many things can you do with your body? The first thing that he said on a Friday night was, “The yoga is going to be so simple, but it’s going to be super advanced.” We have to look at self-care that way because it is so simple, but it feels super advanced to be able to put these things into real practice each and every day.If you're only having one conversation, you're only going to get one pathway. Click To Tweet
That’s true. That’s such an important reminder, too, because it’s not necessarily easy. Even though it’s simple, we still need to be intentional. We need to prioritize it and create habits for it. Even drinking water, I’m amazed at how something so simple can feel like a big challenge throughout life. Even for me, I feel like I have a great relationship with water, but I probably wasn’t drinking enough.
It didn’t even occur to me until you brought up some of these symptoms that I was experiencing and how something that you’re so used to doing, you can fall out of flow with it. You have to get back into that flow. That might not always feel so easy. Oftentimes, we believe that if we figure out how to do something, it’ll feel easy for the rest of our lives. It’s this constant rhythm of ups and downs.
Immersion in the practices where the practices become rituals is part of who you are. It’s not something that you have to remind yourself to do. You begin with the habit and the intention. The more you practice it, the more it becomes habitual. Over time, it’s who you are and how you do things. For you, you said you hadn’t traveled in a long time, but being on an airplane sucks all of the moisture out of your body. Your skin is probably dryer. You’re probably feeling it in many different ways, but you don’t realize, “I was on lots of airplanes. It was sucking all that hydration right out of my body. Now it’s time to replenish it.”
I’ve gotten to where when I’m traveling, I went and had IV hydration because I’m getting ready to travel to Phoenix. I’m pumping my system with lots of hydration. This has been since COVID. Adding in the vitamin C, B vitamins, and zinc truly supports my system. When I return, because I’m now coming to altitude, I’ll go get IV hydration again. I know that that helps my body bounce back quicker, but if I’ve learned that through practice and play, I never would have done that years ago.
It’s funny. I didn’t even think to do that. The other fun thing about self-care is there are many things that you can try and so many little tweaks. It’s all a big experiment. It’s important to remind and give ourselves a lot of grace. I could easily sit here and go, “I should’ve done this. I should’ve done it that way.” I feel like travel is humbling because it strips away a lot.
I do get into a little bit of survival mode typically when I travel because it can feel overwhelming to me, but in a way, I learned so much from that because I figure out what’s most important to me. I’m shown the things that my body needs because I become self-aware, not always at the moment but afterward. I can reflect a lot and say, “This is what was missing and felt good.”
Also, when I’m out of that routine, other things are added to my life that I don’t normally have, whether it’s a location that I don’t visit or things that I don’t do but experience during the travel. That filled in the gaps of the rest of my life, where I might have been easily hydrating or drinking lots of water. It was replaced by me doing a lot of activities and maybe forgetting to drink the water, but that’s okay because I was nourishing myself in other ways. It’s that interesting pulsation throughout our days and how it’s constantly in flux. Not being too hard on ourselves when we don’t do things perfectly is an important lesson that I get.When your mind is with your breath, thoughts subside. Click To Tweet
True reflection helps us have more grace. It’s a tool that we can use to explore with curiosity. What could I learn from that? Let me investigate it and look deeper. These are the things that added up to this scenario. Next time I’m educated, I can anticipate that it could happen again. These are the things that I can do to support it or maybe even prevent it from happening. It is life as an experiment. If you’re trying to create a self-care ritual, some things are going to stick and work well, and other things won’t work for you at all.
It’s not like you can compare your self-care practices to mine because you’re a different human being, doing different things in the world. Your needs are different than mine, but there may be similar things that we’ll do for similar reasons that have that wonderful effect. There is a lot of play, trial and error, and curiosity in the process.
Thank you for all these beautiful reminders you’ve shared and for blessing us with your calming energy. It’s wonderful. I feel nourished listening to you. I’m grateful that you share what you do with the world because many of us experience different levels of stress, anxiety, and burnout. Having these simple reminders about how to find more Zen in our lives, taking those breaks, and prioritizing ourselves is incredibly important. You use the term seeds at one point, the seeds of self-care. I loved that because it can be these tiny little things that create a huge impact in our lives for years to come.
Plant one seed a day. Start with that and let it bring you joy. You don’t have to get up at 5:00 AM, have a meditation practice, workout, journaling, and then all of the things that people say you have to do to take care of yourself. That would stress me out. I’ve tried it because there are a lot of people out there that say, “You have to get up and do all of these things before you start your day to make sure that you’re a priority.” I was miserable. It didn’t work for me. Plant one seed and let it be a joyful one.
You have many great little nuggets here. I feel rejuvenated speaking with you. Thank you for planting that seed within the reader and me and bringing a big smile to my face and my heart, filling that with some extra joy. I feel like I can move through the rest of my day with a little more pep in my stomach. I can’t wait for golden hour. I’ll be thinking about you when that happens, probably for days to come.
Thank you for your kindness and thoughtfulness. You did pave the way for this to be a beautiful conversation. You put so much care and work into the process of getting here together. I acknowledge you for that and appreciate it. It’s been a wonderful time together, so thank you.
You’re welcome. Until next time, I wish you all the best, Roberta, as well as the reader. Thanks again for being here.
- Roberta Whitney Hughes
About Roberta Hughes
Roberta Hughes is the Founder and lead instructor at PeaceFull Living, a boutique hybrid studio that conveys a delicate and personalized Peaceful Living instruction through customized Pilates, Meditation, and Yoga classes. Peaceful Living grants clients a way to filter out life’s pressures through a delicate and highly personalized approach through its livestreams and on-demand classes. Its nurturing and customized approach guides clients who desire to change their relationship with stress.
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