Morning Rituals: Caring Practices for Coping with Social Isolation and Working from Home
For the past couple of decades, I’ve been refining my morning routine. When I was in my 20s, I kicked off each day by slamming a cold, sugary Coke within a few minutes of waking up (I’m not proud of this), splashing my face with water, slathering on a little SPF moisturizer and makeup, getting dressed, running out the door and stopping for a hot, frothy, caramel syrup-infused coffee beverage topped with whipped cream. The only goals were to get to class or work on time and resemble a functioning human being, even if I didn’t quite feel like one. Over time, I gave up the sugar and caffeine bombs and also came to see that waking up 10 to 15 minutes before I had to leave and scrambling around my apartment like a lunatic was also probably not great for my mental health. All of the credit for stopping the latter madness goes to Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way.” Her directive to begin a “morning pages” habit forced me to start getting up a little earlier to brain dump into a notebook.
Having cultivated a morning ritual has been such a lifesaver since COVID-19 struck. The pandemic has even spurred a few tweaks that are helping me stay physically and mentally healthy (or healthier) amid isolation and uncertainty and provide a well-defined beginning to my workday, so I don’t run the risk of burning out. If you are struggling to define your days or are looking for ideas to offer yourself a little TLC before heading out into the world or to your home (or couch) office, here’s a look at my time-honed morning.
- Get up early: My eyes pop open around 6 a.m. whether I want them to or not. I like to lounge a bit with our cat Mr. Percy for a few minutes, then I do a few stretches while still lying down, so my body can wake up a little. There are countless experts out there touting the benefits of waking up early and endless articles on how to do it, so I won’t go into it, but if you don’t want to get up at 6 a.m. or you simply can’t for any other reason, don’t force it. Rather, just pick a consistent time to wake up each day, and get up a little earlier than needed so you aren’t rushing around in the morning. Twenty or 30 minutes should do the trick.
- Hydrate: Instead of heading straight for the coffee pot, I drink a big glass of water. Then while feeding the cat and waiting for the coffee to brew, I’ll make a cup of hot lemon water to sip on. Like getting up early, there are limitless theories about the miraculous side effects of warm lemon water. Most of them are hooey based on junk science. According to Medical News Today, hot lemon water does however serve to get your bowels moving because warm liquid acts as a vasodilator and the vitamin C and antioxidants work some magic as well, it’s definitely hydrating and, in my own unscientific studies, I’ve discovered that it is comforting and refreshing.
- Clean up: Next, it’s time to freshen up. I am a yogi, so this part of my morning is spent practicing yoga kriyas, which are Ayurvedic cleansing rituals designed to prepare you for yoga and meditation. Once again, there’s a lot of misinformation out there, so pick and choose wisely if you decide to follow Ayurveda. My practice includes brushing my hair, scenting it with perfume spray or essential oil, applying oil to the ends and fixing it for the day; dry brushing and washing my face and applying moisturizers and serums; gently swabbing my ears; flossing, tongue scraping and brushing my teeth; and doing eye exercises. If you aren’t into all of that, you could also just take a shower (I get mine in the evenings as part of my bedtime ritual). The point is good hygiene and freshening up for the day ahead.
- Get moving: The next 45 minutes is dedicated to yoga, pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation. I light a stick of incense as a positive exercise “trigger” and then hit the mat. If yoga isn’t your thing, pick any type of movement that works for you. Just get your body moving and your heart pumping — extra points if it’s fun! Do jumping jacks, go for a run or a walk — literally anything. You’ll see benefits even if you only do 10 or 20 minutes of movement each morning. Feel free to swap the order of numbers 3 and 4 if you do a style of movement that gets you sweaty and you want to shower afterwards, rather than prior to exercising.
- Feed your face: Food is fuel, so give your body something to burn at the beginning of the day for energy and to curb overeating or crashes. My go-to is a half a cup of granola with fruit and almond milk most mornings, but if I don’t feel much like eating, half of a banana or a slice of Dave’s bread with nut butter will do the trick. Find what works for you, your body and your personal dietary needs. I have friends who swear by a slice of cold veggie pizza in the morning — you do you, boo! But at least try to find something with nutritional value.
- Writing and reading: Finally, I like to grab a well-earned cup of coffee and settle in with my journal. Freewriting is such a great way to check in with yourself. Most of the time it’s a big thought salad that I’d be embarrassed to share with anyone. Every petty or ridiculous thought I have in the moment gets on the page. But it also is a place to work out ideas and jot down what I want to do that day. Your journal might be something else entirely. A lot of people use the bullet journal method for example — follow your bliss. Once my brain is purged, I fill it back up by reading something either spiritually uplifting, creatively inspiring or intellectually fulfilling. Pull out those devotionals, a favorite magazine or a work of fiction you are enjoying. I try to avoid reading news until later in the day however, because good lord the entire world is burning, and I don’t need that this early in the morning.
- Slay the day: By 8 a.m., my mind, body and soul are prepped and ready. Over time, I’ve trained myself to feel drawn to work after finishing up the reading portion of my morning. It takes time, but it’s worth it to want to start that part of my day instead of either feeling rushed into it or dreading it.
Adjust and experiment to come up with something that not only works for you, but also fuels your energy and spirit and maybe even feels a little bit like an indulgence. Start with just one easy thing, like hydration, and build on it. Your mind and body will thank you and I promise, your days will feel a little less like big black hole of space and time.