How I Thrive takes an inside look at founders, entrepreneurs and leaders and the behind-the-scenes self-care work they do to in order to live balanced, happy lives. Today's edition is with Modern Health Founder Alyson Watson, who is all about ice cream and chocolate as self-care and is a firm believer in getting outside.
City: San Francisco, CA
Company: Modern Health, a mental wellness platform.
Every morning as soon as I wake up I check my emails to see if anything urgent has come in overnight and take a look at my calendar to see what meetings I have lined up for the day. I then head out with my dog, Baloo, for a walk whatever the weather. I love starting my day with some fresh air and quiet time to think about the day ahead—I try to incorporate some mindfulness techniques when I’m out.
Anytime we are paying attention to the present moment without being judgmental, we are being mindful! I try to meditate in the morning for 20 minutes — it’s long, but once you get in the habit, it goes by quickly and allows me to start the day feeling grounded and more present. I then grab a vegan smoothie for breakfast along with a cold brew or Kombucha. To be honest, I’m not much of a breakfast person so I tend to ease into my day with liquids!
By 8:30 a.m. I would normally head into the office but these days due to quarantine I take a leisurely stroll across my living room to my laptop. The first thing I do is plan out my day making sure I’m prepared for what’s ahead of me. I try to schedule in time for a walk outside or to chat with a friend or family member — being in lockdown, days can potentially start blending together and we can go all day from 9 in the morning to 8 at night staring at a screen and then wonder why our brain is mush and we’re feeling burnt out. I have to make sure I put a level of structure in place to support myself. My husband is a huge help with this — he’ll come in and shut my laptop and make me go for a walk outside with Baloo. I always whine when he does it, but I am so glad he does.
At the start of every week I pick three things that are my top priorities for that week. Whatever I do, I focus on those three things and make sure I get them done. There’s always going to be more to do (especially when we’re always two feet from our laptop right now) so it’s important to set realistic goals that will give you a sense of accomplishment and achievement when you get them done. If I don’t get to the laundry list of the thousand other things on my list, it’s going to be okay!
The first thing I do after work:
I try to take a break around 6 p.m. and get offline to get a workout in and cook a healthy dinner for me and my husband, Matt. I used to love going to Barry’s classes, but since quarantine I’ve gotten into indoor spinning or HIIT workouts.
Pre-pandemic I used to teach hot yoga classes — I love being able to connect with people in such a positive environment where there is no technology and we can be fully present. It’s awesome when my friends and colleagues come to take my class — it’s a great way to get to spend time with the community during the work week and unwind together while getting a great workout in. I also try to spend quality time with my husband, Matt, although he also runs his own business so we are both fairly hectic!
We try to align our schedules for an hour to take Baloo out for a walk or catch up on our day over dinner. One of the benefits of being in quarantine is that we are getting to spend much more time together. But we’re definitely having to be careful to make sure we don’t completely blur the lines between our work and personal lives. After dinner, we catch up on emails and then try to unwind for 30 minutes watching a show or reading a book. We went through a serious obsession with the Netflix Series Money Heist. Before bed, we try to leave our phones out of the room so we can take a break from technology. It’s hard, but really does improve our sleep. I’m reading Good to Great at the moment and I would definitely recommend it!
On a typical evening, we eat around 8:30 p.m. I know, it's pretty late! I love to cook, I see it as an opportunity to be creative and let go of thinking about work. Whenever I’m cooking at home, it’s always plant-based. I love trying new recipes, but my go-to recipes are coconut curry, impossible bolognese, and pesto pasta.
Pre-pandemic, most weekends we would try to go out to dinner or meet up with some friends. One of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco is Wildseed. It’s an amazing plant-based restaurant, and I love taking people who are visiting town to try it. Even my friends and family who are skeptical of the vegan menu love it!
I can get a second wind at night and start cranking away at work, so I have to resist the temptation otherwise I might be cranking away well past midnight. I try to put my laptop away by 11 p.m., and take an hour to unwind by watching a show and decompressing on the couch with Baloo. When I go to bed, I really try to leave my cell phone outside of the bedroom to create some separation from technology. It has made a huge difference in the quality of my sleep and feeling more relaxed when I go to bed.
Self-care guilty pleasure:
Ice cream ... chocolate ... and more ice cream.
Workday self-care hack:
Get outside! Seriously, it lifts your mood, lowers your anxiety and can even give you better cognitive function. It’s so important, especially at the moment when we are tethered to technology and cooped up indoors. Go for a run or walk the dog or even just take a socially distanced walk with a friend or family member. I spend time outdoors every day without fail!
Start practicing transcendental meditation. It’s a very simple, natural and effortless way of letting your mind settle down into an extremely calm state of rest. I have been practicing this form of meditation for a few years now and it has made a huge impact in my life. It has a well-proven effect of letting your nervous system settle into a state of deep rest which automatically turns the notch down on your level of stress. And as a bonus it has a positive impact on your blood pressure, immune system and sleep! What’s not to like! There really isn’t a “hack” to self-care — eat healthy, exercise and take care of your mind. Mostly it comes down to prioritizing yourself and making time for yourself. That’s something which I’ve learned over the years and I now make sure I schedule in time for self-care every day just as I would a dentist appointment or a work meeting. Don’t leave yourself to last, make time to take care of yourself.
How do you define self-care?
Favorite childhood toy or hobby:
I have loved playing sports ever since I was a little kid. I loved the feeling of being on a team and feeling like I was part of something, and that we were all working together toward some shared goal. I learned that every person is crucial to any team being successful — whether you are scoring all the goals or cheering from the bench. This has played a huge role in how I operate as a leader — it’s always about putting the team first. Every person matters and contributes to the team’s success.
State of your (email) inbox:
I try to stay on top of emails and my inbox. I’ve gotten over the dream of inbox zero, but do my best to read everything and respond when I can or route to someone else on my team in a good position to answer. I’ll keep things unread until I can respond or route.
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