Health and Wellness, Self-Care

8 Self-Care Tips for the Fall Season

Feeling a little off-balance? Learn some of my favorite self-care tips for keeping yourself healthy and well in the fall. #fall #health tips #meditation #mindfulness #selfcare
Photo by Amber Carlson

Fall is the season of deepening shadows; of longer nights and ever-shorter days. The trees turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange, red and purple as they shed their leaves and sink their roots deeper into the earth; animals gather food and seek shelter for a long winter sleep. There’s a slowing down of the summer festivities as we unpack our cool-weather clothes and shift into a quieter, more introspective season.

This time of year makes me want to cozy up with a mug of hot tea and spend whole mornings writing, sketching, or dreaming. I can just as easily spend afternoons cooking green chile or spiced apple cider while my house fills with delightful aromas. Fall seems to bring out my creativity, and yet the mood is bittersweet as the daylight begins to fade and the nights grow colder, reminding me that winter is on its way.

As a gardener, I feel a little melancholy around this time of year because fall brings the end of the growing season. My beautiful plants that thrived and bore fruit during the spring and summer months are starting to die back. In a few weeks it’ll be time to clear out the garden beds and get them ready for winter. The summer went by too fast, as it always does. And yet, I understand: the earth needs its time of rest. Things have to die and go back to the soil so that new life can come back next year.

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And just as the earth needs time to regenerate, so, too, do we need periods of quiet and stillness for rest and contemplation. Fall provides us the perfect opportunity to slow down, to take stock of our lives, and to give thanks for all that we have. Because it’s a season of change and transition, fall can also leave us feeling a little anxious and unsettled, and our bodies can become more vulnerable to illness as the weather turns cold.

I’m always an advocate of self-care no matter what time of year it is, but as the fall arrives it seems especially helpful and important for us to nourish ourselves in various ways — at least, it does for me. So in case your body, mind or soul is also feeling in need of a little TLC, here are eight of my favorite self-care tips for the fall season.

1. Cultivate gratitude for your life.

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If you don’t already have a gratitude practice of some sort, now is a great time to begin one. As the summer activities wind down, it might be easier to find a little more space in our days for quietly reflecting on everything we have to be thankful for. According to Psychology Today, practicing gratitude on a regular basis improves our physical and mental health, makes us more empathic, and increases our self-esteem. 

And the more often you take the time to be thankful, the more you’ll find you have to be thankful for. You may start noticing smaller, more subtle things that you’ve previously taken for granted as you shift towards a more positive mentality. Cultivating a sense of gratitude will open your eyes to the beauty that is already around you.

Having a gratitude practice doesn’t have to take a lot of time or energy. It can be as simple as spending five minutes before you get out of bed in the morning. If you like, you can keep a specific journal for writing lists each day of what and whom you feel grateful for. I like to give thanks before each meal because I feel lucky to have food on my table (not to mention a wonderful partner to share it with).

Another idea? Every time something positive happens in your day, write it on a slip of paper and drop it into a jar. Keep filling this jar with beautiful moments, uplifting experiences, and even inspiring words people have said. On days when you aren’t feeling so great and need a boost, you can open the jar and read these stories of sunny moments to lift your spirits and remind you of how wonderful life can be.

2. Ground yourself through meditation.

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I wrote a previous post about how beneficial meditation can be, and how little time it truly takes to have a regular meditation practice. The changing weather of fall can leave us feeling a little extra stirred-up, so I like to focus on re-grounding at this time of year. I find it helps me stay focused and centered.

There are tons of ways to do a grounding meditation, but one of the best ways involves (literally) sitting on the ground. Go outside on a nice day and sit underneath a favorite tree, perhaps with your back against the trunk. Once you’re comfortable, close your eyes and drop your attention inward. 

Take time first to notice your breath and the way your body feels, and then sense the earth beneath you. Visualize sending roots from your sit bones down into the soil, going deeper and deeper with each breath. Each time you inhale, imagine drawing nourishment from the earth into your body. Stay here for several more minutes, mindfully breathing and deepening your roots as far into the earth as you can imagine.

3. Keep a journal.

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Because fall can provide more space for stillness and reflection, it’s also an excellent time for personal journaling. I’ve been keeping a journal in some form since I was 10 years old, and I can’t imagine giving it up. For so many years now, it’s been my private space for thinking, feeling, reflecting, processing, dreaming, and making meaning of all that has happened in my life. It’s allowed me to explore my mind, heart and soul at a level of depth that I wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise. It’s helped me develop my awareness of who I am and what’s important to me.

There’s no “right” way to keep a journal. Some people use theirs for documenting what happens in their day-to-day lives, and others write more sporadically. I don’t write in my journal anywhere near every day. Usually I only feel moved to journal when something important is happening in my life and I need to sort through my thoughts and feelings about it. But every person is different, and your journal can be whatever it needs to be to support you in your journey. No matter what your personal practice looks like, journaling can be profoundly healing, impactful, and illuminating.

And one of the best parts? If you keep journaling over the years, you’ll start to accumulate collections of old journals that you can read through for years to come. You’ll be able to trace the changes that happen in your life over time and the ways you evolve as a person because of it. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can take long walks down memory lane and spend hours reminiscing about bygone days. Sometimes, reading through old journals can even provide fresh insights about life or remind you of long-forgotten dreams. These letters from your previous self are a gift unlike any other.

4. Go for a walk in nature.

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Another way to re-center yourself is to take walks outside. Being outdoors boosts your energy, reduces stress, and improves sleep, and if you live in a temperate area, you won’t want to miss the magical fall colors! They usually only last for a few weeks, so make sure to get outside and enjoy them while you can.

Leave your phone at home (or put it in airplane mode) and treat yourself to a mindful stroll through a park, open space, or along a hiking trail, savoring the sights and sounds you encounter along the way. You may want to bring a camera so you can take pictures of anything and everything that inspires you. Go as slowly as you want — you can even turn it into a walking meditation, only taking a single footstep each time you breathe. You’ll be amazed at how much more you notice and take in when you slow down the pace.

5. Take a hot bath.

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Nothing is more luxurious and soothing than a hot bath. The heat calms your mind and relaxes your muscles, and you can add other elements such as bubbles, a book, or a cup of tea for a truly indulgent experience.

Set aside 30 minutes when you won’t be interrupted, then draw a bath with water as hot as you can comfortably handle. Add scented oils, a bundle of herbs, a bath bomb, or whatever accoutrements you’d like to the water. Pour yourself something to drink, light a candle, put on some music, and let yourself soak for up to 15-20 minutes. (Just make sure to drink some water afterwards since the heat can be dehydrating.)

6. Give yourself a massage.

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Doing a little self-massage can be a lovely practice, especially just before bed or immediately after a shower or bath. Massage is famous for its stress-reducing, pain-relieving benefits, but it also increases feelings of connection and well-being. And in the fall, giving yourself (or your partner) a little love can leave you feeling comforted and nourished.

For extra grounding effects, focus on the feet and lower legs. You can use a scented massage lotion or oil, if you have one, or you can just grab an oil you already have at home (such as sunflower, olive, or coconut oil). Apply a small amount of oil or lotion to your hands, then use your thumbs and fingers to massage the soles of the feet, toes, ankles, calves, and muscles of the shins. Cover feet with warm socks when you’re done to help them soak in the moisture.

7. Sip on hot tea.

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Although I’ve become a coffee convert recently, I’ve always been a tea lover at heart. “Real” teas, made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, come in varieties such as white, green, black, oolong, and pu-erh (all coming from different ways of oxidizing and preparing the tea leaves), but if you prefer a caffeine-free variety, there are all kinds of herbal teas that are lovely for sipping on chilly days.

Teas with chamomile or lavender have relaxing effects, while peppermint or ginger brews can help with digestion. Herbal teas such as nettle, raspberry or blackberry leaf are full of nutrients and have a pleasant, earthy taste. Hibiscus or fruit blends have a delicious sweet-tart flavor that will leave you craving more. For a quiet afternoon indoors, try brewing a whole pot of tea and slowly enjoying it cup by cup.

8. Cook with warming spices.

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When fall arrives and the weather starts to cool down, I like to start eating more warming, spicy foods. Southwestern pork green chile is always a favorite of mine, but soups, stews, and spiced meats with roasted vegetables are other fall-time options.The foods don’t have to be spicy, necessarily (although I like a little heat), but spices like chile peppers, garlic, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon will heat you up and may even have some immune-boosting benefits.


What are your thoughts on these ideas? Do you have any favorite ways to take care of yourself in the fall? Please share in the comments below.

Productivity and Life Hacks, Self-improvement

The Magic of Bullet Journaling

Need a fun, unconventional way to organize your life? Here’s why you should give Bullet Journaling a try. #bulletjournal #organizeyourlife #selfimprovement #personalgoals
#bull
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I am something of an “organization junkie”. I make lists — way too many lists — of all sorts, and I am a borderline-fanatical keeper of notebooks and journals. I love to write ideas down, to track things, to have a plan. I prefer feeling like I (sort of) know what’s going on in my life and what all I’ve got on my plate at the moment. And when I’ve got my heart set on achieving some kind of long-term goal, I truly enjoy the challenge of thinking and scheming about how I am going to tackle it.

But part of what fuels my love of organizing is that I need to be organized. I’m someone who tends to be doing a lot at any given time, and I’ve found the need for some system to hold and keep track of it all. I’m always seeking, always looking for novelty and ever-curious about trying new things — I live passionately, and I could never tire of that. My weakness is that I don’t always know how to rein it in; many times in my past I’ve taken on too many things and completely overwhelmed myself in the process. For as much as I love exploring all that life has to offer, I am also easily overstimulated, and when it all becomes too much I can burn out pretty quickly.

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I have other thoughts about why being organized is so important, and I’ll save those for a later date. For now, suffice it to say that, to me, organizing isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. And it’s also always been a bit of a challenge; I’ve used plenty of calendars and day planners but I never found a way of being organized that really “clicked” or worked for me. 

Which is why I’m so thankful that, a few years ago, a good friend of mine introduced me to a new system she had started using to keep her life organized: Bullet Journaling. I’d never heard of it before, but the name intrigued me. Basically, she said, you take a blank notebook, divide it into sections and use it to keep track of your various ideas, projects and goals. I started to do research online, and as I read and thought about this unique, quirky system, I realized I needed to try it for myself. I’ve never looked back. The way I use my journal has changed and evolved over the years, but I can honestly say I have never found a better organizational system than this.

So why is it called Bullet Journaling, anyway?

The technique was created by Ryder Carroll, who had trouble focusing and getting things done in conventional ways as a kid. As he grew older, he longed for an organizational system that mirrored the way his mind worked. After a lot of experimentation, he finally arrived at something that worked for him: a hybrid between “a planner, diary, notebook, to-do list and sketchbook”. He even created his own language to describe his one-of-a-kind process. One of the key practices is “rapid logging”, the act of jotting down daily task lists in shorthand sentences known as “bullets”. And that is where the Bullet Journal — or BuJo, as many people in the community call it — gets its name.

And what makes Bullet Journaling so special?

Now you may be asking what it is that I love so much about BuJo, and why I will extol its virtues to anyone who will listen. After almost three years of keeping Bullet Journals, I still geek out about it because:

1. It’s effective. Quite simply, it works. There’s a bit of a learning curve with starting your first journal, but once you get into the flow of using it, it’s very easy and intuitive. All of your to-do lists, plans, upcoming events, ideas, and notes go in one place, and it’s all organized by an index so you can easily and quickly find any information you need, which makes life feel a lot more manageable. I’ve been significantly more productive since I started Bullet Journaling regularly, and there are tons of other BuJo fans who I believe would say the same.

2. It’s incredibly flexible and versatile. A Bullet Journal allows you the freedom and the space to not just write down the items on your task list, but also make note of ideas, muse about long-term dreams or even journal about your day. It has the power to encompass more of your life than what a conventional planner or calendar can do, and that’s the beauty of it; you get to design the book in whatever way works for you and your life. There are as many ways to BuJo as there are people on the planet — the possibilities are endless.]

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3. You can create cool trackers, lists, and other innovative ways to organize info. Sure, you can fill your BuJo with lists, if that’s your cup of tea. But if you are more of a visual thinker, you might try adding some trackers to your journal. You can use habit trackers like these to record how often you do habits like exercise, healthy eating, sleep, reading, meditation, and time with loved ones. Other types of trackers let you document how many books you’ve read, how much money you’ve saved for your next vacation, or even what mood you’re in from day to day. Regardless of how you choose to use them, though, trackers can be a great way to visualize your goals and priorities. 

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4. Bullet Journaling is all done by hand. Writing by hand, Ryder tells us, engages our minds in a different way than typing or using apps. When we hand write notes, for example, we activate more parts of the brain and store information more effectively than when we type our notes. Writing by hand takes more focus and intention than typing, but it also keeps our brains sharper by getting us to think more deeply about the information we’re taking in. It also means less time spent in front of a screen, which most of us could probably use.

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5. You can make it as creative and colorful as you want. The artist in me loves this. A BuJo can be purely functional, of course, but there are all kinds of ways to add a little personality and zazz to your journal if you feel so inclined. Personally, I keep a stock of PaperMate flair pens on hand specifically for Bullet Journaling; they come in a whole rainbow of fun, bright colors, they write well and they won’t bleed through your paper. Aside from indulging my inner kid, writing in different colors allows me to color-code different sections of my journal, which makes it easy to scan through and see what those sections are about. Functional and fun!

6. You can see evidence of your progress. The Bullet Journal format makes it easy to thumb through your notebooks and see how you are doing in different areas of your life. Once you’ve been using your trackers for a while, they can show you your patterns over time — like which habits you’ve been most consistent at — and you can see a visual record of the progress you have made. I’ve personally found this to be very motivating. 

Even simple daily to-do lists, when they’re written by hand, give you the opportunity to physically cross each item off of the list. Digital to-do lists can seem faster and more efficient, but I’ve found I get a greater sense of accomplishment from using paper lists because they show me what I’ve done. When I’ve kept digital lists in the past, the things I’ve done are simply deleted, while new items continue to pile on. At the end of the day it’s easy to look at a list like this and wonder if I really did anything at all. A paper list full of finished tasks is a record of how I spent my time and an affirmation that I am, in fact, a productive human being.

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7. You’ll have old journals to look back on. One of my favorite parts of journaling — any kind of journaling — is reading through old journals. Cracking open a notebook from years ago takes me back to another time and place in my life. Suddenly I remember who I was then, what I thought and felt, and what was important to me. Journals from the past are a record of who you have been. And who you have been is what led you to who you are now. It’s an amazing thing, to be able to look back on years’ worth of stuff you’ve written and trace how you’ve evolved and grown as a person — and the rewards only become richer the more time you spend journaling.

8. It helps you live more mindfully. At its core, BuJo is a mindful practice. It’s all about discovering what is most important to you and learning to focus your time and energy on those things. It makes you look more closely at how you spend each day and helps you structure your time. BuJo is so much more than just scheduling and planning; it’s a journey of self-inquiry and exploration. I’ve found that it gives my days structure and helps me feel like I am spending my time in meaningful, purposeful ways. And to me, that is enormously valuable.


While I don’t think there is any “perfect” way to stay organized, I am a firm believer in the power of Bullet Journaling because it has worked so well for me. And I want you to know that if I could do this, you absolutely can, too. If more people could feel the peace and contentment that comes from something as simple as being organized, or the satisfaction of making progress towards long-held dreams, I believe we’d be living in a different world.

What about you? Are you a BuJo fan like me? Or are you thinking of trying it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Health and Wellness

8 Simple Ways to Add Mindfulness to Your Day

Wondering how to live a more mindful life? Want to meditate but don’t have the time? Here are eight simple techniques you can do every day to strengthen your awareness and clarify your mind. #mindfulness #meditation #consciousliving #stressrelief
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“Mindfulness” is quite the buzzword these days. Spiritual teachers, psychologists, celebrities and health professionals are heralding the benefits of mindful practices such as yoga and meditation. And there’s a growing body of research to back up the idea that these positive, life-affirming practices can reduce stress, relieve pain and improve our health and well-being.

But what does it actually mean to live mindfully? This definition sums it up well: 

“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

— mindful.org

In theory, this sounds simple. In practice, it can be quite challenging to do. Our modern lives have become chaotic, fast-paced, and filled to the brim with responsibilities and distractions galore. Most of us have got a ton of different things competing for our time and attention to the point where it often gets overwhelming. And on top of all that, we constantly receive societal messaging telling us that we need to have more, do more and be more — that we aren’t good enough as we are. If we’re not careful, we can get wrapped up in trying to compensate by overstuffing our social calendars and working our butts off until we’re completely fried, exhausted and burnt-out.

These reasons are precisely why mindfulness is such an essential discipline for our times. I’ve read that if we want to be happy in life, and if we truly want to make the most of each day, the key is not doing more; it’s doing less. Not speeding up, but slowing down. It may sound counterintuitive at first, but the truth is that just as we need to recharge our bodies with sleep, we must rejuvenate our minds and souls with moments of stillness and quiet. We need time and space to re-center, to gain clarity and perspective on our lives and to make intentional choices that align with our deepest values.

But what are we to do when time feels like it’s in such short supply? That’s where we may need to get a little creative. The good news is that you don’t have to have tons of free time to start practicing mindfulness. You can practice in the small spaces and gaps between the various activities of your day — even if it’s just a few minutes here and there. Even those little snippets of time count. According to Verywell Mind, practicing meditation for just five minutes a day can be beneficial. Meditating in short bursts is certainly better than not practicing at all because, like a muscle, the ability to be mindful becomes stronger through regular use. And the length of time you spend practicing matters less than how consistent you are at it. Spending just a few short minutes each day on mindfulness techniques will help put you on the path towards a more mindful life. 

With all that in mind, here are eight of my favorite ideas for you to try:

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1. Stop and breathe. Bringing awareness to your breath is one of the simplest and most effective techniques for coming back into the present moment. Feeling the physical sensations of your chest and abdomen rising and falling, and the air flowing in and out of your body, redirects your focus to your immediate experience. Ancient yogis believed that pranayama, or breathing exercises, were ways to regulate physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy, which is why breathwork is still such a central part of yoga practice today. And even if yoga doesn’t happen to be your jam, you can still benefit from incorporating a little mindful breathing into your day. 

Try this exercise for starters: close your eyes, inhale slowly for four seconds, then slowly exhale for four seconds. For a relaxing effect, you can gradually increase the length of the exhale to six, then eight seconds (while keeping the inhale at four seconds). Lengthening your exhalation will actually stimulate your vagus nerve and deactivate the “fight-or-flight” stress response. If you’re having a stressful day, there aren’t many quicker ways to take the edge off than to take a pause, turn your attention inward and just breathe.

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2. Play the 5-4-3-2-1 game to tune into your senses. This is a tool I learned from my former therapist to manage my anxiety. It’s especially useful for moments when you feel overwhelmed and a little out-of-control, but you can use it at any time when you’re starting to feel stressed. The game uses your five senses to immediately draw you back into the present. Here’s how to play:

  • First, find five things that you can see around you.These things can be anything–a notebook, a photo hanging on the wall, or a cloud in the sky, perhaps. 
  • Now, notice four things that you can feel with your touch. Maybe it’s the feeling of your shirt against your skin, the soles of your feet against the floor, or a breeze moving through your hair.
  • Take note of three things that you hear. Is it the sound of cars in the distance? The hum of a refrigerator? The ticking of a clock?
  • Identify two things that you can smell–perhaps the smell of food cooking for breakfast, or the aroma of the earth just after a rainstorm.
  • Pay attention to one thing you taste–most likely lingering notes of whatever you last ate.

The purpose of this exercise is to focus your attention on the myriad of sensations that are all around you–things we often don’t notice because we’re preoccupied with something else. Some of these sensations might be immediately obvious, while others can be quite subtle. Either way, paying attention to these small details helps you become more present in the moment and more aware of how rich and multilayered our consciousness can be.

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3. Set alerts on your phone to remind you to take a break. I have a good friend who does this. My favorite alert of hers is the one that tells her to go outside at twilight so she can watch the sunset. You can time your alerts around events like sunsets, but even if the alerts are just set at regular intervals throughout the day, they are a good reminder to take a few minutes to rest and decompress.

4. Practice single-tasking. Some of us take pride in our ability to focus on many different things at once, but the truth is, our human brains don’t actually do multitasking all that well. We can pay attention to multiple tasks simultaneously, but we can only give each of them a fraction of our focus and effort.

“Single-tasking” results in less residual mental clutter — it’s more efficient (and less stressful) to do only one task at a time and complete it before moving onto something else. So, when doing an item on your to-do list, see how it feels to set aside everything else for a few minutes and focus all your attention on that one thing. There is a Zen proverb that says, “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” No matter how mundane the task is, give it your full, undivided attention. If it’s something you’ve done a thousand times before — and especially if it’s something you don’t really enjoy — try using your senses to pick up on a new dimension of the experience that you’ve never noticed before. Experiment with different ways of doing it, if you like. But regardless, do nothing else until you’re finished with that task. When you focus only on one thing at a time, you greatly enhance the quality of effort, attention and intention that go into everything you do.

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5. Get out of your head and into your body. If you’re prone to overthinking — and so many of us are — you can use physical movement to pull yourself back into present-moment awareness. Our minds are great tools when used properly, but sometimes, they’re a little too powerful and they get the better of us. If that sounds like you, a few minutes of activity could be just what you need to pull yourself out of “thinking” mode and into a more clear, centered space. You don’t have to do a full workout; you can go for a short walk or do a few jumping jacks and you’ll still get some of the positive effects of exercise. You could even try a short Qigong routine like this one. Whatever you decide to do, when you take the opportunity to bring awareness into your body, your mind will naturally slow down.

6. Do a mini-meditation. A regular meditation practice can have a profound impact on your mental clarity, ability to regulate your emotions, and your day-to-day stress levels. And there are plenty of meditations that can be done in just a few minutes. There are so many different ways to meditate, but if you’re new to it or could use some guidance, you might want to try a meditation app such as Headspace. These apps have a huge assortment of short, guided meditations to choose from, and some of them can be completed in as little as three minutes.

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7. Go outside. I can’t stress enough how beneficial it is just to get outdoors for some fresh air. As I mentioned earlier, going for a walk is a great way to center yourself, but even sitting outside for a few minutes can do wonders for your state of mind. According to Mental Floss, being outside can boost your energy, improve mood and increase focus and creativity. The natural aromas of flowers, grass and trees are a treat for the senses and can give you a lift when you need one.

8. Spend a few minutes being bored. We spend most of our lives running from boredom, don’t we? Honestly, even though it makes us miserable to be crazy-busy, constantly overwhelmed and scrambling around the clock to get things done — I have a theory that a lot of us would rather live that way than be bored. But what’s so wrong with boredom, really? Is it that bad? Or have we simply been so conditioned to need the never-ending excitement of stuff happening all the time?

The more we train ourselves to need constant stimulation, the more lost we are without it. But the more we learn to sit with and even embrace boredom, the more adaptable and resilient we become. So, I challenge you to try this: remove all outside noise and stimulation for just a few minutes and do nothing. This may be surprisingly hard to do at first. But, with practice, you’ll become more comfortable being in this quiet space. It might even start to feel peaceful.


What about you? I’d love to hear about your experiences with these and other mindfulness techniques, and where the journey has led you. Feel free to share in the comments below!