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    16 Small Things That Helped Me Feel Normal Again After An Incredibly Stressful Year

    Some may seem silly or unexpected, but they were all genuinely important to my growth.

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    We all know 2020 was a pretty wild year. Some of it was really bad, but I also believe that some of it was pretty good. Despite dealing with so much anxiety, stress, and overall discontent, I found a number of small things that improved my year last year — and I've already taken many of them into 2021.

    1. I started doing virtual running videos on YouTube with my treadmill.

    A treadmill with a TV above it
    Stephanie Hope / BuzzFeed

    Because I've been dealing with so much anxiety, it's been incredibly difficult for me to even go for a walk around the block for some fresh air. So when I found the Berkshire Trails YouTube channel — that has virtual running videos OF MY TOWN — I got so excited! It makes me feel like I have a bit of normalcy again while I run the beautiful trails of the Berkshires. I like to run to these, but I have also just walked and pretended that I was hiking.

    2. I bought a light therapy lamp to give me a sense of daylight when I can't go outside.

    A person holding a light therapy lamp
    Stephanie Hope / BuzzFeed

    After reading a lot about the benefits of light therapy lamps ($49.99; Amazon), and after my therapist recommended one, I bought one. I swear, every time I use it, I feel 20% better than I did before I turned it on. It immediately lifts my mood and makes me feel more alert and ready to do things. It's been really helpful during the winter months, when I get little to no sunlight and crave the bright days of summer. It also came in unexpectedly handy when I tried a bunch of morning wake-up hacks.

    3. I started listening to a really good podcast that (thankfully, for me) keeps episodes on the shorter side.

    NBC

    So, I have *tried* to get into podcasts; I really have. But I have a very short attention span and find it difficult to listen to what everyone is saying for long periods of time. I can't even listen to audiobooks! I discovered a podcast called Optimal Living Daily, which reads content from the internet on personal development, minimalism, productivity, and much more.

    Each episode is typically only about 5–10 minutes long and is so easy to digest. I'm able to listen to it while I do my skincare routine and actually focus on what they're saying. Plus, it's a daily podcast that gives me something to look forward to every day! Some of my recent favorites are "It's Winter, Get Out and Enjoy It" and "Fear Is Not the Enemy."

    4. I got a PERM and didn't look like a clown or a grandma.

    Stephanie Hope / BuzzFeed

    I have had wavy hair my entire life, and for the longest time, I had a super-short pixie cut. When my pixie started to grow out, I decided that it would be fun to try curls for once in my life just to say I did it. Literally, right before the pandemic, I got my perm, and it's been a major improvement in my personal style. I immediately fell in love, and every stage of my hair growth has made the curls look even cuter. I plan to grow my hair out, but I keep perming it just so see what I'd look like with long(er) curly hair!

    5. I bought some really adorable handmade earrings from a small Etsy shop.

    Stephanie Hope / BuzzFeed

    This year, for some reason, I have become really fascinated with quirky earrings. I found this Etsy Shop with handmade earrings that are just so adorable. I already have four pairs and one more on the way. I love supporting small businesses that make their own little creations, and wearing these earrings every so often makes me feel so cute and happy. The shop is called Luna's Made With Love.

    6. After having them for a year, I finally started using my blue light–blocking glasses — and they actually helped.

    The glasses
    Stephanie Hope / BuzzFeed

    There are definitely mixed opinions on whether blue light–blocking ($16.98 for three; Amazon) glasses *really* work, but I personally have had great experiences with mine. Since I've been staying home more than ever, I spent a lot of time in front of screens. I was actually developing way more headaches, and my eyes got tired way more often. Once I started wearing these, I felt improvement after the first day! I can see the difference when I put them on, and I can almost physically feel my eyes strain less to see a screen.

    7. I started practicing more yoga, courtesy of YouTube.

    Stephanie Hope / BuzzFeed

    YouTube has honestly been a godsend for me during this entire year. From fun content to workout videos, it's got just about everything. I have been actively doing yoga sculpt videos from the channel Kaylie Daniels, and the classes are KILLER. Like, if you want to do yoga but also lift weights and just have an absolutely amazing workout, I highly recommend her videos. They're intense, and the video quality is so crisp, it's almost ethereal. It's as if she's this magical yoga goddess ready to destroy your shoulders and abs with planks.

    8. And I paired that yoga with a stunning vegan-suede yoga mat.

    A cat on a yoga mat
    Stephanie Hope / BuzzFeed

    Just look at this mat! I got it from Popflex Active, which is owned by the YouTuber Blogilates. I have been watching her videos for over 10 years, and when she released these stunning mats, I knew I had to get one...or two...or three. Okay, definitely three at this point, but that's okay. They're beautiful and very high quality, and they feel so amazing when I'm working out!

    9. I signed up for a weekly meal prep subscription — but not the kind you're (probably) thinking of.

    CBC

    This isn't what you think it is, like those Blue Apron meal boxes. This is actually called PlantYou, and it's a weekly PDF sent to your email with recipes for the week to make. It's $7.99 a month, and you get the recipes as well as nutritional information and a grocery list to make the whole process so easy. I don't use it every week, but this subscription has seriously improved my day-to-day life during the week. I meal-prep all of our meals on Sunday and don't have to worry about cooking anything during the week. It has also saved my household a ton of money because I'm not ordering out every two days anymore. Yippie!

    10. I tried recipes I found on TikTok — and some of them were really, really good.

    A person holding a dish of hashbrowns
    Stephanie Hope / BuzzFeed

    I save recipes all the time to my phone but never actually did any of them. Well, I finally found some that were easy enough for my lazy self to do, and I'm so happy I did. I found myself eating waaay more vegetables than ever before, and that alone made me feel pretty amazing. Also, I found this delicious cheesy hash browns recipe that has changed my breakfast game tenfold.

    Read more: I Followed a Bunch of Tabitha Brown's TikTok Recipes, and Some Were Low-Key Life Changing

    11. I made an appointment to see a psychiatrist to help with my severe anxiety.

    HBO

    This is obviously just a "one-time thing" that I did, but taking a step so brave as seeking help for your mental health should absolutely be celebrated. It's hard admitting that you need help that a regular therapist can't handle, but it's something that could drastically change your life. The appointment isn't until later this month, but when I was finally able to find a psychiatrist and book the appointment last year, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders and I immediately started crying. It was a really emotional day for me, and I won't ever forget it.

    12. I bought a reversible plushy to show my fiancé my true emotions.

    Stephanie Hope / BuzzFeed

    This is a really silly one, but it did (and still does!) bring a lot of giggles into my life and our relationship. This reversible plushy has two different emotions: happiness and anger. When I'm in a bad mood, I'll make it angry and comically put it in a place where James will see it. When I'm happy, I'll switch it over.

    One time I got my period, and my cramps were awful. I hid under blankets and put the angry side up next to me. James left and got me some treats, which I snatched into my blanket and switched the plush to happy. It was just a silly, funny moment, so I truly love this plush. There is also a really cute octopus ($15; Amazon) one that everyone seems to love.

    13. Speaking of my fiancé...I got engaged!

    A person proposing to another person
    Stephanie Hope / BuzzFeed

    Oh yeah! This was a major improvement to my life! I feel like we leveled up as a couple. Nothing really has changed about our relationship, but we've been excitedly planning our wedding (for 2022, so we have so much time to plan!), and it's been keeping me busy during my bouts of anxiousness.

    14. I basically lived in my weighted blanket for the majority of 2020.

    NBC

    When I say I lived in it...I'm not exaggerating. At one point my anxiety was so severe, I was taking my 20-pound blanket ($55.99; Amazon) with me everywhere I went. I would curl it up in a ball and carry it to the bathroom, the kitchen, and the bedroom, and even on car rides. I don't think I would have been able to survive 2020 as well as I did if it weren't for my blanket.

    15. I found vegan donuts nearby to devour as if my life depended on it.

    Donuts
    Stephanie Hope / BuzzFeed

    Sometimes all you need is one good thing to happen, and for me...it could easily have been these vegan donuts. I swear, the second Dunkin' Donuts sells vegan donuts, I will buy them all out in every location near me. Gotta keep up the demand, ya know?

    16. I signed up for a Book of the Month club.

    Two books
    Stephanie Hope / BuzzFeed

    Book of the Month honestly might be one of my favorite subscriptions ever. Getting a book sent to me for $15 each month is just amazing. I now own way more books than ever before, and they've all been amazing! I love seeing my collection grow. The best part? Every month, you can add another book for $10 extra, ~and~ it's always free shipping. If you like to read, or even just collect books, this is a really fun subscription to be part of!

    What are some of the small things — habits, hacks, products — that have improved *your* life in some way over the past year? Tell me in the comments below.