I’ll be the first one to admit:
This winter has been stressful.
As in, immensely so. A beloved family member has been in and out of the ICU and ICU long term care facility since January and won’t leave completely for another few months. There were dreadful occasions when I received the “prepare yourself” call and my heart shattered every time, leaving me in an unending state of anxiety. Gradually this dismal period wore me down, both mentally and physically, until one weekend I simply broke down. I didn’t leave my apartment, I didn’t speak to my friends, I didn’t do anything except cry, eat, and mindlessly binge watch Netflix. That weekend was a breakthrough moment; it was like a light went off in my head that told me to take care of myself. I had lost the access card to my happiness and I needed to find it in order to enter the wondrous world of happiness. So started my arduous journey.
1. The first thing I did the following day was spend as much time outside of my apartment as possible.
We all know the little things that improve our mood, and yet we don’t always utilize them. This winter, I ignored the things that made me feel good thus leading to my unhappiness. The moment I went outside after my incident, it felt like the warm sun started to shyly peek its head out from the clouds. Being outdoors, with nature, breathing in the fresh scents that come with each unique season brings a smile to my face and a certain calm to my heart and I had failed to use that tool to improve my mood. I also knew from past experiences that social isolation causes my mood to darken but I did it anyways. The first step towards rediscovering my happiness, in a way, was thinking introspectively and recognizing the sources that were tainting my mental state. There was nothing that I could’ve done for my family member but there were things I could change.
2. Another thing I did was to go to the gym.
One of my New Years resolutions was to pick up exercise again, with all of its health benefits as well as improving my own body image. Before I came to Korea, I worked at a physically intensive job and worked out about four times a week. When I came here, my schedule limited how often I could work out and I slowly fell out of the habit of going entirely. I lost the ability to climb stairs effortlessly and gained weight where I didn’t need it. I’ve battled weight issues in the past and worked diligently to get my weight to a point that I was at least content with. My body confidence plummeted when I lost that progress. My lack of confidence intensified the negative emotions I felt. I had trapped myself in a vicious cycle, feeding it all by myself.
That first time that I exercised again was an amazing experience. The endorphins rushed in and I felt like I could take on the world! I was finally starting to feel right again, like myself again. Even my body felt a little more toned and my mindless eating lessened, despite only exercising once. There are so many benefits to exercise, such as reducing the risk of different cancers and diabetes (all of which I have a deep family history, on both sides); you can check out more here and here! Personally, the way it made me feel gave me hope and the motivation to start anew. I even bought a few pieces of workout gear to help me out – a new sports bra to support the girls and a top that fits within Korean social norms (no cleavage). Thankfully my small city has a Nike store.
A friend had signed up for a half marathon in Seoul recently and kindly provided me with the website, which has a hundred different races throughout Korea.
3. Subsequently I signed up for a 10 km race in Seoul, like an idiot, but it’s small goals like this that push us to change and work harder.
I have procrastinated for the last two weeks and now have two weeks remaining to prepare for a 6.214 mile run after not running for months. I reiterate, sometimes I’m an idiot but sometimes that’s okay! This has given me a goal to work towards, preventing me from focusing on the negatives in my life. Now I am filling my time with thoughts on how to improve my run time, mastering breathing technique, and actually being outside running. I can’t think about anything else but my rhythm and not tossing my lunch. Now I also have my * new running compression pants; I can’t run and fix an old ragged pair at the same time. The process of setting this goal and implementing it has triggered my ability to focus again and I have found that I am completing more tasks on a daily basis.
4. As a public English teacher, I get a lot of vacation time, at least in comparison to an average non-teaching job in the US. This month I’ve taken plenty of time to travel.
I went to Seoul over my vacation period, per usual, but just recently I traveled with friends all the way down to Jindo for the Miracle Sea Road Festival and dog show. From the moment we arrived, before dawn even broke, we were swept up into a crowd full of shadowy figures carrying torches towards the sea. There were drums beating intensely in the distance and we came upon a stage with a man leading the crowd in a chant, with thundering music from the Pirates movies series in the background. Sounds a bit silly but everything worked together to create a sense of gravity to the situation, leading up to a sudden burst of fireworks in the sky. The rest of the day consisted of international food, music, and dancing with old friends that I haven’t seen since we arrived in Korea. The next day we all played with Jindo puppies and watched their parents perform tricks and (electronic) hare race. Our trip to Jindo only lasted two days but those few days were filled with amazing memories.
The key to finding my happiness laid with implementing small steps. You won’t achieve happiness in one go, but you can work towards it.
“I had trapped myself in a vicious cycle, feeding it all by myself.”
I removed my self from my self imposed isolation and became an active participant in my life. I soaked up the sun, worked out, and experienced new things.
Remove yourself from isolation
– You don’t have to talk to others but just don’t be alone.
– You might hate exercise but it does wonders for your body and mental state.
Set a goal
– Goals give us something to look forward to and motivate us. I set goals earlier this year that were waylaid by unfortunate events. Now, after a long hiatus, I am back on track to complete them!
– It doesn’t have to be far; it could as a mini vacation to your local park or spend the day relaxing in quiet cafe with a book or Netflix on your computer. Your local public library is always free. Just leave social media at home.
I know I’m not the only one who has had a rough time this year, so feel free to share with your friends and family! You never know who in you life might need this the most.
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Leave a comment and share any tips or experiences that have helped you or others!
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