Not long before Will was born, I came across a post on The Happiness Project about finding a “comfort food” for your mind. “Know what you can do with your brain that will give yourself a comforting break from your worries, at least for a little while. By doing so, you’ll re-charge your battery, find it easier to stay calm and cheerful, find it easier to take action to remedy your situation—and you’ll sleep better.”

The article got me thinking more about how I do this, and what I do to take care of myself when I feel overwhelmed. For me, mental comfort food is knitting, watching my favorite movie, rereading a favorite book (as I did last year), baking … or literal comfort food, like making myself my favorite dinner (which right now is scrambled eggs on a biscuit. YUM). Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes working on some baby legwarmers for things to feel like they’ve calmed down some.

These won’t seem to stay on Will’s legs. I put them on him and they come right off! Maybe I need to wait for his legs to get chubbier.

Anyway, thinking about my mental comfort food brought back to me an article I had read in the May issue of Yoga Journal. It was a long piece on finding a place of refuge in your life, which I think takes the concept of mental comfort food and brings it to a deeper level. And it made me wonder —  in my own grief and healing process, where do I turn to find refuge?

The article states:

What defines a refuge? First, it should help your mind calm down. Second, it should help you feel safe, even protected. Whether you find refuge in a physical place, a person, or an inner state, a true refuge gives you a feeling of being at home.

A true space of refuge can also function as a kind of cocoon, where you retreat to do the sort of self-examination that leads to inner change. There, you can shed your masks, assimilate your failures, and savor your joys. Just as lying in Savasana can help you assimilate an hour of asana practice, consciously retreating to your place of refuge can help you digest your life experiences. It can give you both rest and the wherewithal to act from strength.

Rest and the wherewithal to act from strength … honestly, it was a bit more difficult for me to think of the places in my life where I find both these things, which was a good mental exercise at any rate. After a few minutes of navel-gazing pondering, I came up with a few sources of rest.

  • Reading Scripture. Admittedly, this doesn’t always come naturally to me — I’ve had a longstanding, unmet goal of reading through the entire Bible for a long time now — but whenever I spend time in the Word I get up feeling refreshed and restored. And as Matthew 11:28 states: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” The Psalms in particular were a refuge for me last summer.
  • Writing. Stephen King said that writing is basically “thinking through the end of a pen”, which is so true! I don’t keep a private journal anymore, and I don’t write fiction the way I did when I was younger, but unraveling my thoughts via the written word just helps everything make sense to me. Oftentimes when I write out what I’m thinking, I feel much less confused. After all, the entire reason I started this blog was to write my way through the grieving process. Maybe one day I’ll transition back to a private journal, and maybe one day I’ll write that novel, but for now, blogging is a great way for me to make sure writing stays a big part of my life. (Add to that the fact that when I write, I often find myself in a flow state that leaves me feeling deeply satisfied.)
  • My husband, family, and friends. I never really realized it before reading the article, but other people can definitely be a place of refuge for me. During really hard times, I basically never want to leave Steve’s side — and this is why.
  • Endorphins. Honestly, sometimes I wonder if I place too much importance on the healing power of endorphins — like is an exercise-induced feeling of happiness somehow fake? — but I don’t really want to overthink it. I just know that running helped me cope with my post-miscarriage anger, and yoga has helped me face the losses in my life with peace and hope. Just the act of lacing up my sneakers* or unrolling my yoga mat makes me feel better.

I think being aware both of what my mental comfort foods are, as well as where I can go to take refuge, can help me the next time I start to feel overwhelmed. Instead of mentally flailing around until I land on something that will make me feel better, I can start to respond to stress instead of just reacting to it — and that will definitely, in the long run, make me a much happier person.

(Here is your daily Will:

and a brief story about him: last night he slept for five hours. Sadly, it was the hours between 6 and 11 p.m., and even more sadly [for Mommy] he was settled into the Moby that whole time, so his parents didn’t really get to enjoy it. BUT STILL. Maybe he can do it again sometime, maybe between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. — a girl can hope, right?)

* For our daily walks! Will and I go for a long walk most mornings and it’s been so great.