Mental Fitness

Physical fitness means nothing without the mental health to match. If you saw my body at the 2016 Miss USA competition, there's no doubt that my body was at its peak. But, allow me to be candid about my mental states in the months leading up to stepping foot on the Miss USA stage.

If you've read my unabridged farewell, then you've probably already deduced I had a poor relationship with my pageant director. On top of that, I was recovering from an emotional break-up. But professionally, I was working a full-time job, being Miss Virginia USA on my nights and weekends, and during those hours when the rest of the world slept, I was preparing to win the title of Miss USA. Relaxation was a foreign concept; there was no time to "hang out with friends"; and, taking time for me was not on my list of priorities. So while I stepped on stage in excellent aesthetic condition, I must admit that I--a healthcare professional--was not well.

When I consider the concept of wellness, it encompasses seven dimensions: intellectual wellness, spiritual wellness, emotional wellness, environmental wellness, social wellness, occupational wellness, and physical wellness. While my physical wellness was through the roof, I had neglected all other areas of my state of wellness.

This is me BEING Beyonce

Sound emotional and spiritual wellness form the base upon which all other areas of wellness are built. So, as I returned to "regular life," I knew it was important that I take time to nurture and rebuild a positive and healthy mental state. When I posed the questions, "What are some ways you all deal with stress? on my Facebook page, the response was overwhelming. From praying, to dancing like/being Beyonce, to some illegal substances (you know who you are), to doing yoga (folks after my own heart), to eating and drinking (I love a fine wine and bourbon myself), you all seem to have stress management figured out.  I look forward to trying some of your (legal) recommendations. In the meantime, here are some of the ways I've been able to rebuild my personal sense of wellness:

Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose

1. Meditation- Meditation is a simple, foolproof method for taking time for yourself each day.  While I no longer meditate daily (as I did for the ten days I chronicled), I do still meditate most days each week.  After my morning workout, I take 5-10 minutes to assume viparita katana (or legs up the wall pose), which is a great, relaxing yoga inversion.  These 5-10 minutes allow me to not only focus on my intention for the day, but also calm my heart rate (and alleviate my sweating) prior to continuing the remainder of my day.

2. Journaling- Honestly, this blog is often a great way for me to write down my innermost feelings and emotions; however, not everything is internet appropriate.  So on those days when I have feelings to share and my mother doesn't pick up the phone (her social calendar has become very robust since she retired), I take good old fashioned pen to paper, and write it down.  To some it may seem silly or childish, but the release I feel after writing down my frustrations, fears, and real.  Don't knock it until you try it.


3. Unschedule moments of my life- People often praise me for how I am willing to juggle multiple commitments, and I often share that scheduling is key; I live and die by my calendar/agenda, but almost to a fault.  I had gotten so busy planning out my life that I had neglected to make time to live.  Enjoying time spent alone, reflecting over a warm cup of tea, and having an unexpected two hour conversation with a friend are moments that cannot always be planned nor scheduled.  However, it's in those moments of unplanned bliss that we invest in our spiritual, emotional, and social wellness.

4. Exercise for enjoyment- I enjoy working out:  I always have, and I always will.  However, in the months leading up to Miss USA (and every other pageant competition), my two-a-day workouts become less enjoyable and begin to resemble a chore. Because preparing my pageant body is less about functional fitness and more about aesthetic attractiveness, I'm urged to be very intentional with my exercise selection.  I avoid running because it bulks my thighs; too many yoga chaturangas may overdevelop my chest and triceps. So instead of running and practicing yoga, I stuck to my meticulously-developed workout routines.  While the aesthetic results are great, doing countless donkey kicks just doesn't offer the same stress relief as running three miles or practicing yoga for an hour. Now free from the pressure to have a swimsuit body that lack too many curves or muscle bulges, I have allowed myself to love my daily physical activity.  Whether running a few miles, dancing with friends, or challenging myself with plyometric drills, I am able to do workouts that I enjoy.  Boy, does it feel good!

Just about the only time I slept all year in 2016

5. Sleep!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I could probably write an entire blog post about the way that sleep has transformed my life.  Since beginning graduate school in 2011 (also the year I began competing in pageants), there has just never been any time for adequate sleep.  Instead of fueling my body with rest, I had a never-ending supply of caffeine:  coffee and crystal light with caffeine kept me going.  But ever since I freed some time in my schedule (and became reacquainted with my sanity), I have become addicted to the much-needed rest my body has been craving so long.  Admittedly, I once drank (at minimum) four cups of coffee a day, and now I can proudly say I've only had one cup over the course of the past month! I feel like a new woman!

I'm not saying the way I lived before was ineffective. I've been successful--both professionally and in the world of pageants--by being a little crazy and neglecting to nurture myself. Sometimes achieving a goal requires laser focus. However, I now know that we toe a dangerous line when we allow our goals to overshadow our health--physically, mentally, spiritually, etc...

So as you set your intentions for 2017 (more commonly referred to as resolutions), don't lose sight of the people, practices, and experiences that keep you happy, sane, and ultimately, the healthiest version of yourself.