Welcome to Refinery29’s Feel Good Diaries, where we chronicle the physical and mental wellness routines of women today, their costs, and whether or not these self-care rituals actually make you feel good.
Today: A doctor in Florida listens to her favorite podcast, hikes with her husband, and deals with chronic migraines.
Location: Tampa, FL
Location: Tampa, FL
Editor’s Note: This diary was written in December 2021.
4:30 a.m. — I am usually too tired to work out when I get home at night, so I always plan my workouts for first thing in the morning. It helps that my two Corgis are early risers and nudge me out of bed at 4 a.m. for their breakfast anyway. I have a Peloton bike that was a Christmas gift from my brother and I pay the monthly subscription fee ($44.25). This means all I have to do at this ungodly hour is go to my living room and cue up a class. My favorite coach is Robin — her attitude and playlists are perfect to get me pumped for the day. One of the phrases she repeats often in her classes is, “What you did today is enough,” and as a recovering perfectionist, this mantra helps me accept where I am in my fitness journey and feel proud of the effort I’m making. ($44.25)
6:35 a.m. — On my drive to work, I listen to my favorite podcast, Crime Junkie. I’m an internal medicine doctor, and I’m blessed that my commute to the hospital is only an 11-minute drive, so it will take me a few days to finish the episode. I’ve been a fan of true crime since I was a kid. My parents were very strict about what I was allowed to watch on TV, but somehow Unsolved Mysteries was on the okay list and I’ve been hooked since the third grade.
7:45 p.m. — I teach medicine to medical students. The frequency varies, but I do it at least once a month. One of my students shares an article with me that they wrote last week for our student publication reflecting on Thanksgiving through her gratitude journal. I’ve kept a gratitude journal on and off for the past few years since reading about the benefits of a gratitude practice, and this is a nudge for me to pick the habit back up. I use a lined notebook with an inspirational quote on the cover that I purchased from Home Goods as my gratitude journal. I have a tendency to focus on the negative and allow myself to get into thought spirals about the things that aren’t going right. My gratitude journal is a simple way to regain perspective by writing down one thing I am grateful for each day. It’s telling to look back over old entries and see rough days where I was grateful to simply have had time to eat lunch.
Daily Total: $44.25
4:15 a.m. — I spend about 10 minutes writing while I drink my morning coffee — I call it my brain dump, it’s a technique I learned in writing seminars. Sometimes I write about a dream I had the night before, other times I write about a problem at work. Writing out my thoughts rather than ruminating on them helps me to clear my mind before starting a new day. I also sometimes use these brain dumps for inspiration for longer pieces of writing.
6 a.m. — One of my dogs is a bit overweight, so I’ve been trying to extend the length of our walks to increase his exercise. My dog walks are typically about half of a block, but I've been increasing walks with my younger dog to two blocks. This has the added benefit of increasing my amount of daily movement, and since it’s for him, I find it easier to make it a priority. I had always thought of walking the dog as a chore that needed to be done, but after the pandemic hit, it became such an important part of my routine. In 2020, our daily walks were sometimes all I had to do for the day, and it felt good to get outside. I moved to a new apartment building just as stay-at-home orders were going into effect so the only way I met other people who lived in the building was when our paths crossed while walking our dogs.
7:30 p.m. — Most nights I read before bed. I’m a total book nerd and read over 50 books per year. I’m currently reading Crying in H Mart, a beautiful memoir about the author dealing with grief over the loss of her mother. I bought this one on my Kindle ($13.59). Having to witness so much death and grief as a healthcare worker over the last two years has made me feel a sense of connection to stories like this one. There is something so relieving about knowing that you are not the only one feeling this way. ($13.59)
Daily Total: $13.59
7:30 a.m. — I am taking a day off the bike today. Instead, I do some gentle yoga using a Yoga with Adrienne video from YouTube. I’ve dabbled in yoga on and off for several years but would still consider myself a beginner. I’ve never been able to keep up a consistent practice. These days I use it on my rest days from cycling to get a deep stretch. For me, stress often manifests itself as muscle tension, so taking at least one day a week to focus on releasing that tension feels heavenly.
12 p.m. — Today is my day off, so I have a midday therapy session. I use Sesh, which is a very accessible option for group therapy. It all takes place virtually on Zoom and each session focuses on a specific theme. The topic this week is mindfulness. There are four people plus the facilitator. Users can participate in as many sessions as they want each month for a $60 membership fee. I typically do two sessions a month so it comes out to $30 each, which is way more affordable than other therapy options. ($30)
3:30 p.m. — I go to the pharmacy to pick up my birth control. I’ve been using NuvaRing for years, and thanks to the legacy of Obamacare I have no copay for birth control. My pharmacy is inside Target so whenever I pick up my prescription I can’t help but look around. Today I picked up a seasonal candle — I love the balsam fir scent for winter. It may be 75 degrees in December here, but I still want it to smell like Christmas. ($10)
Daily Total: $40
5:45 a.m. — I never used to be a breakfast person, but since I started cycling in the morning, I am starving by lunchtime if I don’t eat something after my workout. I like to keep things as easy as possible in my morning routine, so my go-to breakfast is overnight oats. I make it with Greek yogurt, which adds an extra creaminess, and top it with a banana.
7:30 p.m. — Another Sesh member recommended I get The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook. I’ve been working through the section on distress tolerance and am finding that to be a really effective approach to the stress and anxiety I’ve been feeling since the pandemic started. There has been so much about the last two years that is outside my control, and as a healthcare worker, I’ve been unable to eliminate the source of the anxiety. This approach of learning techniques to manage the distress has led to noticeable improvement in my mental health.
One of the techniques I've been practicing is cue-controlled relaxation. This involves choosing a cue word — mine is "breathe" — and reciting that word while focusing on relaxing each set of muscles in your body. After a period of time the association becomes so strong that simply saying or thinking your cue word is enough to trigger a release of tension from your muscles.
8 p.m. — I go to bed early because getting eight hours of sleep is one of the most important things for keeping my migraines under control. I started getting migraines my second year of medical school when I was 23. Ideally when I start to feel one coming on, I will take Excedrin as well as a prescription anti-nausea medication and then lay down with an ice pack over my eyes and forehead for at least an hour.
Before bed, I do a short meditation with the Headspace app. I’m currently doing a series called Headspace 365. They made the app free for healthcare providers after the COVID pandemic started, so for now it costs me nothing. No matter how keyed up I am when I get into bed, going through these guided meditations gets me settled down and sleeping soundly in under 30 minutes.
Daily Total: $0
4:20 a.m. — I’ve been trying out the Noom app for the last few weeks. I’ve always seen them advertised as a weight loss program, but I came across a social media ad for their Mood Program — even the algorithm could tell I’ve been struggling lately. It’s $149 for the year ($2.86 per week) and consists of daily psychology-based lessons to help manage stress. This program is separate from their weight loss program. There’s a lot of overlap with my DBT workbook, so it’s a great way to reinforce the techniques. I’m a fan of the mood tracking feature where you score your mood on a scale zero to 100 each day. Reviewing these trends has been illuminating for me about some of the things in my life that are major sources of stress. ($2.86)
5:30 p.m. — I get home a little early today and use the extra time to do some baking. I’ve been baking since I was a kid. I think of the kitchen as my sacred space — it’s a place where I can be alone and create. I always bake with the intention of sharing what I’ve made with other people. Feeding people in this way is how I show people I care. Today, I make a chocolate chip almond cookie cake. The recipe is from the New York Times, they call it Parisian Cookie Cake, and I modify the recipe a bit based on the ingredients in my pantry already, so I don’t have to make a special trip to the store.
8:15 p.m. — Another part of my bedtime routine is taking melatonin. Insomnia is something I’ve been struggling with since the pandemic started, and this has helped me get my sleep back on track. My favorite are Olly Sleep gummies. I take one per night as I found taking two caused me to have really vivid dreams.
Daily Total: $2.86
2 a.m. — I wake up in the middle of the night with a migraine and roll out of bed to take some Excedrin before it gets out of control. I’ve had migraines for over a decade and the frequency of my headaches has really improved since I started using Cove. It’s a great option for anyone without health insurance, without a headache specialist in their area, or if you just want the convenience of messaging your doctor anytime and having medications delivered straight to your home. There’s a $4 monthly medical consultation fee plus the cost of the medications, which for me is $28. ($32)
9:30 a.m. — This migraine hasn’t let up. Ice packs are one of the things I keep in my migraine toolkit. The Headache Hat is a godsend when my migraines hit. The cover makes it tolerable to lay directly on the skin when it’s frozen, and it is slow to defrost so I can lay for well over an hour with it on before I need to refreeze it.
11:00 a.m. — Another part of my migraine kit is my acupressure mat. In the past, I’ve tried getting massages during migraines, but it isn’t always easy to get a last-minute appointment when a headache strikes, and then once COVID hit, I stopped getting massages altogether. The acupressure mat is about the size of a yoga mat and covered in small plastic spikes. My migraines are associated with a lot of muscle tension and pain in my neck and shoulders, so laying on this sometimes helps to release that.
Daily Total: $32
8:30 a.m. – My husband and I opt to spend the morning hiking at one of the local state parks, which is about a 40-minute drive away from our place. We love getting to spend some time outdoors, it’s so quiet and rejuvenating. Entrance to the park is $5 per vehicle. We’ve been doing this often enough that I think we might get an annual pass. We hike 2.3 miles with our dogs, which takes about an hour. ($5)
2 p.m. — After getting home from our hike, my husband and I shower and then get into bed. Our schedules don’t give us many days off together, so we take advantage of the opportunity for afternoon sex. We’re big fans of Woo More Play Coconut Love Oil — it has a great texture and smells amazing.
4 p.m. — We continue our afternoon by walking to the coffee shop at the end of the block for a couple of lattes. Most of the time I make simple drip coffee at home and drink it quickly while going through my morning routine. Once in a while, I like to pick up a coffee and really enjoy it. ($11)
Daily Total: $16
Weekly Total: $148.70
Reflection: Spending so much time in the hospital and confined in PPE has really made me value the times I get to enjoy the fresh air and open spaces of nature. The last two years have been incredibly hard as a healthcare worker, and taking time to develop a routine that prioritizes my wellbeing has been key to making it through the pandemic and allowing me to continue to work helping others.