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This One Ritual Helped Michelle Obama De-stress in the White House

In her new book, the former First Lady opens up about the ritual that kept her sane and happy: getaway weekends with her girlfriends. Here’s how you can reap the same benefits without the price tag.

Paul Marotta / Getty Images
Paul Marotta / Getty Images

In her new book, Becoming, former First Lady Michelle Obama chronicles her past experiences —  from her upbringing in Chicago to the pressures she faced in the public eye —  and how she stayed grounded and at ease throughout the process. In the last section of the book, Obama offers a glimpse into her eight years in the White House, and admits to the one thing that got her through: Weekend trips with friends.

“I’d learned many years earlier to hold my true friends close,” Obama writes. “Friendships between women, as any woman will tell you, are born of a thousand small kindnesses, swapped back and forth over again.”

Obama says that in 2011, she decided to make the effort to reinvest in her old friendships. “Every few months, I invited twelve or so of my closest friends to join me for a weekend at Camp David, the woodsy, summer-camp-like presidential retreat that sits about sixty miles outside Washington in the mountains of northern Maryland,” she writes. “I started referring to these gatherings as ‘Boot Camp,’ in part because I did admittedly force everyone to work out with me several times a day…. But more importantly because I like the idea of being rigorous about friendship.”

She says the women would spend the entire weekend staying active, catching up, and listening to one another —  all while surrounded by the forest. “Boot Camp weekends became a way for us to take shelter, connect, and recharge,” Obama says. “We were all so used to sacrificing for our kids, our spouses, and our work. I had learned through my years of trying to find balance in my life that it was okay to flip those priorities and care only for ourselves once in a while.”

While we can’t all escape to a wood-paneled cabin in the forest, there are psychological benefits to reconnecting with friends when life gets stressful. According to Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., a professor at Northern Illinois University, spending time with friends when you’re overwhelmed can have a positive impact on your mental well-being, even if it’s only for a few hours.

“Make a date night where the two of you head out to a favorite restaurant,” Degges-White suggests. The difficult part about making plans is that other obligations get in the way, so they can often go ignored, or perpetually postponed.  By establishing a designated appointment —  whether it’s weekly, biweekly, or monthly —  ensures that you have ongoing, designated time to see each other, even when things get busy.

Degges-White also suggests including friends in your existing self-care rituals, especially if you struggle with carving out time for your mental well-being. Whether you could use a morning at the spa, an hour at the gym, or a quick walk around the block to clear your head, bringing a friend along with you can help you prioritize your self-care, all while you have a vital part of your support system nearby.

Obama says that the best part of Boot Camp was the uninterrupted focus on each other. “We pooled our thoughts and experiences, offering advice or funny stories… Often, we steadied one another just by listening. And saying good-bye at the end of each weekend, we vowed we’d do it all again soon.”

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