What This 3-Week Self-Care Challenge Taught Me About Living More Mindfully

Photographed by Patricia Lopez.
Growing up, I was awarded the title “most likely to speak her mind” because that pretty much summed me up for the majority of my life. I had absolutely no problem sharing bold, strong opinions and never put much weight into what others thought of me. Confidence? I had plenty — until, well, puberty hit and my forehead, cheeks, and chin decided it would be a good idea to develop cystic acne (bummer, I know). For years, nothing quite worked to clear my skin — from the drugstore products my friends claimed were “miracle workers” to the higher-end, prescription stuff — and the acne in my teens eventually turned into regular, full-blown breakouts with some scarring.
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While my complexion did take a major toll on my confidence, the older I got, the more I realized that stress — exams, societal pressures, life, you name it — was hitting me just as hard. Then, I graduated college and moved to New York City (aka the stress capital of the world). I struggled for nearly a year to find a job that felt like the right fit, and even now as an editor at Refinery29, I still battle with self-esteem issues both during and after working hours. Sure, social media is partially to thank — after all, what we scroll through and Like is hardly real life — but regardless, I knew something needed to change. So after taking a long, hard look at myself (and my daily routine), I decided it was time to go rogue and take action. For the next three weeks, I’ll embark on the ultimate self-care challenge: cleaning up my entire beauty routine, indulging in things I never considered (like infrared saunas and acupuncture), and, overall, attempting to live more mindfully. Here goes nothing.
Photographed by Patricia Lopez.

Week 1

To kick things off, I decide to tackle a part of my routine that, frankly, I’m the most attached to — my beauty routine. On most days, I spend practically forever getting ready. 30 to 45 minutes? Nah, try upwards of three hours — especially if we’re talking head-to-toe glam complete with a full face of foundation, perfectly drawn on brows, and a punchy red lip. So in an effort to minimize my time at my vanity, reduce my use of the toxic ingredients that are normally found in makeup, and give my acne-prone skin some much-needed breathing room, I (gasp!) toss my beloved full-coverage liquid foundation — and the 12 other products I use on the daily — in favor of a cleaner no-makeup makeup approach. To achieve it, I decide to give bareMinerals’ Anti-Redness Mattifying Primer and Skin-Clearing Loose Powder Foundation a try. Ever since the brand launched its signature mineral powder foundation in 1995, its formulas have featured natural ingredients, so I'm curious to see if making the switch will help heal my acne. After a few days, it’s clear that the green tint of the primer does a great job at concealing signs of irritation on my skin tone, and the loose powder (which features acne-fighting, salicylic-acid-infused pigment, BTW) is the perfect amount of coverage: just enough to conceal my acne scars but not so much that it looks cakey or heavy.
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By midweek, I’m ready to take on my next set of challenges. If you’re a follower of wellness gurus on Insta (we all know the type), then you’re probably very familiar with the health-focused, vegan-friendly brand Sakara. Intrigued, I get my hands on their now famous Beauty Water — a rose-infused, mineral-based elixir. When added to your water, the brand touts that it’ll “calm the system” and reduce puffiness, too. I’m skeptical, but TBH it tastes pretty damn good and gives my H20 a much-needed zhuzh, so I’ll try drinking it every day from now on and see if it gives me any long-term benefits. (Don’t worry, I’ll report back later.) The next day, and after hours of research, I learn that meditation can reduce stress, ease anxiety, and enhance self-awareness — all of which I so desperately need. So I download the Headspace app to help guide me and proceed to try a visualization-based meditation that helps me slow down and focus on something other than my job. Success.
Photographed by Patricia Lopez.

Week 2

By the time week two rolls around, my shortened beauty routine has freed up my mornings so I can meditate longer, my skin is (surprisingly) feeling more hydrated, and I'm more than ready to take things up a notch. As a former high school athlete, I know firsthand that regular exercise does the body and mind a whole lot of good, but as of late, my sweat sessions mostly consist of sprints to catch the subway during rush hour. So Shadowbox — a cardio-based boxing class that’s, wait for it, in the dark, so you don’t have to worry about comparing yourself to your neighbor — makes it onto my calendar for the very next day. The instructor I train with is so, so good at helping everyone get in their groove — especially first-timers who know nothing of the sport (cough, cough…me). After class, to my surprise, my skin doesn't feel clogged or gritty and I feel more confident than I have in quite a while.
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Next up? Quite literally the hottest wellness trend right now: an infrared sauna. Made famous for its (supposed) stress-relieving, immune-boosting, and “detoxifying” benefits, I can’t wait to hop in one of HigherDOSE’s buzzy saunas and melt away some stress. My first visit, a 30-minute session, has me boxed in with multiple heat lamps, which get the room to a whopping 157 (!) degrees. Not going to lie, the heat is tough to handle, but I close my eyes, focus on my breath (hello, meditation), and get through it. Do I feel significantly less stressed? Probably not, but I have high hopes that my next few “doses” will deliver.
Photographed by Patricia Lopez.

Week 3

Come week three, boxing has definitely started to take a toll on my body, and while, yes, chilling in the sauna every few days does ease my sore muscles, I figure why stop there? So per a colleague's recommendation, I make an appointment at REST Acupuncture. The ancient form of Eastern medicine — which involves being stuck by teeny, tiny needles — is recognized by many as an alternative way to alleviate pain, reduce stress, and, for some, feel an instant mood boost. As a major skeptic (and someone who isn't particularly fond of needles), I'm wary, but I close my eyes and hope for the best as more than a dozen needles are applied everywhere from my forehead, inner ears, and chest, all the way down to the tips of my toes. Leaving, I notice feeling less tense in my shoulders, but as for my overall mood? I feel less on-edge, blissfully optimistic, and worry-free — all things I honestly hadn’t felt in months.
As my final week comes to a close, I sit down, meditate, and reflect on my self-prescribed set of challenges. Each and every week was brand new territory for me, and it felt refreshing to switch things up and get out of my comfort zone. Some changes showed more promise than others: Boxing really did get my feel-good endorphins flowing, and using fewer — and cleaner — beauty products made me realize that I don't need a full face of makeup to feel beautiful and confident. But I'm not so sure the Beauty Water stood up to all the social hype, which in a way, I expected. Will I continue to live more mindfully on a day-to-day basis? Absolutely. But I can't say for certain that it'll involve $45 infrared sauna sessions.
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