By Leota Harriman

Those of you who know me know that the youngest of my four children went off to college this weekend, marking one of the biggest life changes I’ve gone through, right up there with getting married, having children and getting divorced. I am now officially an empty nester, living alone with my cats.

That change brought with it not only the latest destruction of my routine, but also an avalanche of stress. It’s a good kind of stress to see my son move into adulthood, but that doesn’t make the enormity of the change any less for me.

And those things taken together meant a disaster for my “take care of myself” plan: a roller coaster of emotions that left me feeling like eating donuts breakfast, lunch and dinner; feeling off-track with working out and frankly a whole lot of slacking; and a lot of time eaten up by last-minute preparations as we got ready to see him off. For the record, I did not eat donuts three meals a day. On the day my son left, I did eat a pint of double fudge ice cream when I got home. I gave myself permission to wallow for a day.

losing it 20150814_173701But last week I got back on track. And it feels so good.

I went to the gym twice last week with both my daughter and my son, and that was lovely. This week I’ve already been once with my daughter, with a plan for another visit.

What I loved most about it (aside from the fact that I basically wanted to spend every waking hour with my son, and treasured the time he carved out for his mama) was that both of my kids were in the gym for their own health, not just to support me. That means I successfully modeled good behavior for them on physical fitness, something I wouldn’t have believed possible a few years ago.

In addition to going to the gym, I got in a good bout of crazy dancing and walked a few miles near my house on the one night I didn’t make it out to the high school track as I had planned.

All of that reminded me of something I’m thinking I should have tattooed on my forehead so I never forget: Exercise. Feels. Good.

It feels good emotionally to keep that promise to myself and follow through.

It feels good physically, even that sore, holy-crap-I-can’t-believe-I-did-that feeling. It really does help relieve stress to push myself physically as hard as I can.

My old pattern was to use self-destructive behaviors like overeating and smoking to numb myself and not deal with overwhelming emotions.

The pattern I am working hard to establish is using exercise and taking care of myself to, well, take care of myself. That seems like it should be a no-brainer, but it never has been for me. I was so busy taking care of a brood of kids and everyone else that I gave very little attention to taking care of myself.

Last week I wrote about planning my exercise and meals ahead of time. This week I set up a standing date with my daughter to hit the gym twice a week. We both think it’s fun, and this old lady also gets a big kick out of it when my 24-year-old offspring has to lower the weight after me. (Apologies to my daughter for ratting her out, but what a thrill!) I love the feeling of getting stronger and doing things I couldn’t do before.

Now that I’m an empty nester, the only person around left to take care of is myself. And it feels good.