One of the things I’ve heard a ton about throughout different circles the last few years is a “toolbox”. I didn’t really understand what people were talking about at first and mentally I envisioned an actual toolbox – which didn’t help me to grasp the metaphorical “toolbox of practices” that was being referred to.
Now that I’ve cultivated my own little toolbox I see the importance of us all having our own metaphorical toolbox to visit when we’re feeling down or something particularly negative is happening in our lives.
I like to think of my toolbox as the one thing I can always control. After all, I won’t always be able to control the various situations around me but I can control how I react to them.
My toolbox is something I choose to visit when life throws a particularly negative or chaotic situation at me and the practices I choose to pull out of my toolbox vary depending on what I’m dealing with. In addition to that, some of the practices in my toolbox help me maintain a certain level of introspection. I’m going to describe some of my favorite practices from my toolbox as well as when I decide to use them.
One of the strongest tools in my toolbox is daily gratitude. Daily gratitude has changed my life. I know that may sound silly but I truly mean it. Ocassionally, when thinking about how grateful I am for my life, the ups and the downs, all I can do is cry (grateful tears).
Daily gratitude is a practie that I’ve been participating in for over two years now. When I go back through my gratitude journals and see blocks of a few days, or even whole weeks, where I didn’t check in with my gratitude – I can see a direct correlation with times where I was particularly off the rails.
Gratitude is one of the most powerful tools for creating and maintaining a positive mindset.
Like gratitude, I practice affirmations daily. However, I always like to visit affirmations if I find myself with particularly negative self talk or starting to take on negative stories.
We have so many things thrown at us each day from societal stereotypes to pressure from family or friends to be a certain way, look a certain way or do certain things. It’s unfrotuantely very easy to slip into a negative mindest and begin to tell ourselves things that don’t help us. My favorite way to combat the negativity is by fighting it with positivity – and an affirmation practice.
Sometimes I conjure up affirmations on my own but other times I search them on Pinterest based off of what I feel I need in that moment. I’ve completed hundreds of affrimation practices from affirmations for self confidence and self love to success and abundance affirmations, and never regretted a single moment of them.
Getting Some Sun Time
I try to get at least 20-30 minutes of sun everyday, especially in the winter, using the sun as a “maintenance tool”. However, when I’m feeling particularly down and out or sad for no reason – I schedule some extra sun time into my day.
Being sunkissed feels like a warm hug for me and it’s likely because the sun has actual health benefits! This article breaks down all the benefits of getting some sun and is why I keep “the sun” in my toolbox of practices that help me maintain a positive mindset.
Sometimes I find myself with nervous or anxious energy that I can’t place a source or reason for. I refer to it as, “fear of impending doom” because it’s an irrational feeling so, I gave it an irrational name.
In these instances – I don’t feel like moving my body with an asana practice or trying to meditate but I also don’t feel like doing much of anything. Instead of binge watching tv or mindlessly scrolling social media – I sit down in my favorite hammock chair and read.
Some times I find myself reading a self-help type of book and other times I get lost in a fiction novel. The purpose, for me, is to not attach to the anxious feeling and instead do something to pass the time while the energy and feelings dissipate.
My hammock chair paired with a good book is something that always makes me feel better.
There are two aspects to yoga: the philosophical aspect and the physical practice (that many are already familiar with) which is referred to as “asana”.
Yoga as a philosophy is one of the strongest tools in my toolbox. As a philosophy yoga is meant to help master the mind and when you’ve mastered your mind – it’s easy to maintain a positive mindset. It’s not necessarily a “go-to item” to help cool me down when life gets a little hot but rather an ongoing practice that helps me maintain a positive outlook.
Yoga (asana) as a practice is something I started sporadically over the last seven or so years but really picked up when gyms were closed during Covid and I felt I needed some form of movement. As the last couple of years developed, asana has become not only good for my body but great for my mind, soul and spirit. I find that asana makes it particularly easy to drop into a meditative state and let go of anything that is bothering me – just focusing on myself and releasing any tension that has been caught up in my body.
I like to try to practice asana daily and consider it one of the tools in my toolbox that is always working in the background but is also a great tool to turn to when I’m feeling particularly down and out.
When turning to asana for a quick pick me up I like to pull up a YouTube video that targets exactly what I’m feeling or what I feel I need. Some of my favorites are this one for ‘change and drain’ (when I’m feeling drained or having a hard time adjusting to change) this one for ‘detox and reset’ (when I’m feeling I started the day on the wrong foot and want to start over) this one to ‘fill your cup’ (when I’m feeling like I need to give back to myself and pour into myself) or this one for a ‘feel good flow’ (because who doesn’t want to flow into ‘feeling good’?).
I do try to practice asana everyday – even if it’s not to help pick me out of a tough spot. But, I can’t always physically make it into my gym for an hour long asana practice during the day so at the very least – I always tune into on an evening restorative practice, like this one for deep relaxation or this one for tension relief before bed. As I mentioned before – physical asana yoga makes it really easy to find a meditative state so practicing before bed is especially helpful for lulling me into a deep sleep.
Meditation + Breathing
I know the idea of meditation can really turn some people off which is why I also noted “breathing” here. While they’re two different practices – the goal is very similar, to turn off the mind clutter and send a signal to your body and brain that you’re safe and can relax.
If you’re new to meditation (like I was a few years ago) I’m going to tell you a little secret: meditation isn’t about turning your mind off but rather noticing where your mind is moving and sending those thoughts away.
The easiest way to do this? Focus on your breathing.
I had a really difficult time learning how to meditate but counting my breath was something that was super easy (anyone can do it!). The way I began “practicing breathing” was to repeat “in” and “out” to myself, as well as count along with the inhales and exhales. For example, as I’d inhale in I would say, “IN.. two.. three.. four” and then I’d exhale out and say, “OUT.. two.. three.. four” and repeat.
“IN.. two.. three.. four.. OUT.. two.. three.. four.. IN.. two.. three.. four.. OUT.. two.. three.. four..”
And that’s how simple meditation can be! As you hone in your focus on your breath and counting it becomes very difficult to let any other thoughts creep in and distract you.
Like yoga, I use meditation as one of the practices in my toolbox that help me maintain a positive mindset. I try to do a 5-10 minute daily meditation in the morning and at least one longer, 30-40 minute, meditation weekly.
With a breathing practice I like to use it as one of my go-to tools to tune into when I’m feeling particularly angry, stressed or out of control. When things aren’t going my way or if a situation is thrown at me that I’m having a hard time handling is when my breahting practice comes in especially handy.
No Social Media
I feel like this is self explanatory. There are heaps of articles like this one from Forbes or studies like this one from the NIH that showcase how harmful social media can be for our mental health. As such, one of the practices in my toolbox is to spend at least one day a week completely off of social media. In addition to taking a few days off of social media every month – I also went into my phone settings and set time limits on each social media application.
Screen Time >2 Hours
Piggybacking off of setting time limits for social media – I also try to keep my screen time to less than 2 hours a day. I find that when I spend a lot of time on the phone, I start to feel not so great.
Keeping myself mindful of my screen time and phone use is overall a great practice to keep in my toolbox as it helps to make it easier to handle everything else.
If you know me, you know I love to paint! I picked up painting in 2013, put it back down in 2014, and picked it back up during Covid and haven’t stopped since. I like to turn to painting when I’m feeling like I have emotions, good or bad, that just need to get out.
I don’t go into a painting practice with the intention to create something specific and I definitely don’t paint with the intetnion to monetize my creations. I start painting as a release for my emotions. This is one of my go-to practices in the mornings, especially, when I wake up with feelings or emotions that didn’t release during my sleep.
I turned to this particular practice to pull me out of a really low depression in early 2021. I spent hours in the ocean each day – both swimming against and going with the flow of the currents.
Something about the salt water washing me clean and rolling with the currents feels like a giant metaphor for life – flowing and floating with whatever was thrown at me. Occassionally fighting the currents and ‘bending the ocean to my will’ gave me a sense of confidence, as well.
I’m not the biggest fan of swimming in the ocean in New York (something about swimming in water where you can’t see the bottom doesn’t sit well with me) so instead, I like to use the lap pool at my gym. While I don’t get the same experience in a pool that I get from the ocean – I still find a huge release in being submerged in the element of water and moving my body around, releasing energy.
Going For a Drive
Bonus points if you do it during a sunset!
When all else fails – I get in my car and go for a drive, especially in the winter when I can’t find myself turning to the outdoors or swimming in the ocean to release some of my less than ideal feelings and emotions.
Going for a drive, windows down, music on almost never fails to pick up my mood and mind. I try to make it out for a drive when the sun is setting – for a particularly pretty way to calm my mind.
These practives are all great to keep in your toolbox – whether you’re looking to maintain a positive mindest or hoping to cultivate a positive mindset.