To be honest, until two years ago, the idea of wellness was a foreign concept to me. Paradoxically, I was surrounded by some of the fittest people on earth, at least on paper. But as a sports journalist and an amateur-elite cyclist and triathlete, I was anything but "well"—and neither were most of the elite racers around me. We were all focused on two things: getting faster and stronger. And while that's an admirable (...sort of) trait, it can very quickly tip into overtraining, burnout, and a decidedly unwell state of living.
There were months during my worst years where I would use a cane because my DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) was so bad that I couldn't really bend my legs, and I would walk with that cane to the deck of the pool so I could still get my 3,000-yard swim for the day in. I was getting slower, gaining weight, and feeling like garbage—admittedly, I was perplexed by this.
Thankfully, a stressful job that took up 80 hours of my week "saved me," in that it forced me to pick journalism or serious competition, and I opted for journalism. Slowly, my body returned to homeostasis as my training dropped to reasonable human levels. But I could tell my hormones were out of whack after three years in this high-stress job, trading one type of burnout for another.
I shifted jobs and—despite working the same number of hours, but now on my own terms—I started to find a balance. But working from home provides little by way of routine and stability, and when I wanted to start getting fitter (dare I say, race-ready) again, it was an uphill battle of the cycle of over- and undertraining, rarely listening to my body. I'd never really learned how.
I heard about an app that would measure my heart rate variability (HRV) from the pulse in my finger, on my phone. The data the readout provided upon waking would let me know where I was in terms of recovery, not caring what I did for a workout the day before or how easy I thought I went. It would tell me objectively if I should be resting or going for it on any given day. I figured it was a training tool that might come in handy, signed up, and started taking my measurement every morning, dutifully sitting for five minutes, one finger covering the camera flash and lens on my phone.
A year and a half later, I can honestly look back and say that the five minutes changed my life, shifting me from a fitness junkie to someone who's still on the elite side of athletics but prioritizes well-being above all else. For a type-A ball of stress, those morning minutes changed my days entirely. Here are the small building blocks I put in place: