In March, when schools and businesses started to shut down in my city, and trips I was looking forward to (like Literary London) got canceled, I naively thought to myself, I’ve been through harder things, I have so much practice with resilience, I’ll be fine.

But, now it’s October in the strangest year of my life and I am beyond surge capacity. All my previously reliable habits and strategies for dealing with stress, grief, overwhelm, and exhaustion are either not available to me this year or are simply not as effective as they used to be. For example, our local YMCA no longer offers childcare, which means swimming laps was no longer an easy exercise option for me.

I went two months without watching a movie or any streaming video content this summer, not on purpose with intention, but simply because after the kids were in bed the thought of sitting in front of a screen had no appeal, even though previously snuggling up with my husband and a show in the evening often felt relaxing.

2020 has forced me to explore new ways to exercise, to rest, to create, to engage in spiritual practices, and to connect with others. Here’s my fall 2020 Good List with a thing, habit, art, and an idea that have been helpful and nourishing lately.

1. Thing: A new pillow

I have not been sleeping well for the last 7 months, waking up achy and stiff, struggling to fall back to sleep in the middle of the night. I decided to invest in better sleep and purchased my first real, quality adult pillow that wasn’t just the cheapest option at Target. And whoa. This simple upgrade to improve sleep and reduce neck pain was very worthwhile.

2. Habit: Nightly wiggles

Earlier this year I read Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle and it was very timely for me (and this was pre-pandemic!). I tried to enact some of the concrete suggestions to “complete the stress cycle” daily but then during the heat of summer with the unhealthy, ashy air from wildfires, I lost my exercise routines that involved being outdoors.

Listening to this recent interview between Brené Brown and the authors of that book reminded me of the importance of having physical ways to release stress from your body on a daily basis. That evening getting ready for bed, I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed to the point where I could feel the stress tingling in my body. I remembered the suggestions from the book about how any type of physical movement can help you “complete the stress cycle” so I put on some music and decided to do some silly dancing.

It ended up being a sort of combination of stretching, boring dance moves, and yoga poses combined with slow, deep breathing and repeating out loud, “Stress, it’s time for you to leave my body. Goodbye stress, go away stress,” and so on. It felt like just the right combination of ridiculous and deeply spiritual. Once I’d been doing it for a week or so, it seemed like this evening ritual needed a good name full of whimsy, so I dubbed it the “nightly wiggles.”

3. Art: A book about prayer

The book Prayer: Forty Days of Practice by Scott Erickson and Justin McRoberts. This book combines simple words and beautiful art to nudge you towards contemplative prayer and meditation.

4. Idea: Schedule time for creativity

Prior to 2020, prioritizing time for creativity was easy and natural for me. But, as I mentioned, this is the year where everything feels off so making time for writing or doodling has been challenging. Now I have a weekly Zoom call with a small handful of friends that has been so helpful in putting creativity on the calendar. We have a simple check-in, then everyone mutes themselves and turns off their video and we each spend about 30 minutes writing or making art, then have another quick check-in in the middle where there’s some sharing about what each person is working on. Then we have another writing session. It’s simple, low-pressure, but has been so valuable to have this little window of connection and creativity scheduled on the calendar.