For most of my life, I truly thought I was above self-care. I really did not see the need for it, and felt that I was beyond it. I thought it was for people who wanted to get to my level of organization and work ethic. I was so very wrong and it took me until my thirty-third year of life to realize how detrimental I had been to myself, by ignoring my basic need of checking in on myself. I assumed because I was getting so much done in a day, that I must have been killing it when it came to self-care, but the only things I was successful at were accomplishments and not personal betterment.
The issue is that self-care does not equate to how much you accomplish in a day, it has to do with how you feel about yourself, your life, and how you are navigating through your day to day.
I did not realize that:
- My anxiety, which kept me up numerous nights a week, was a problem — I thought it was normal.
- Working for the weekend was not good and needing a huge decompression at the end of the end of the week means that you are probably expecting too much of yourself day to day.
- If you spend your Friday night and Saturday day eating take out, watching endless television, drinking wine and sleeping way too much because you are too burnt out to actually do activities that you enjoy, maybe you need to change your Monday to Friday routine.
- Working, on average, ten hours a day is not normal and the fact that I had guilt on days when I did not work that much was a problem; a problem which could have been fixed by making self-care a daily priority.
I had a revelation a while ago, when I finally read The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, which my Mom, for years, had been telling me to read. She kept telling me to buy it and after years of me saying I would and not actually carrying out said promise, she sent me a copy and it is arguably the best gift I have ever received.
After reading it, it really made me reflect on my day to day life. I do not think that anyone would challenge me on the fact that I was a hard worker or accomplishing a lot, but I think they would heavily challenge me on my stress levels and how hard I was on myself. I know that friends and family would say that my stress levels were too high and that I had trouble relaxing and removing tasks or duties off my plate. I cannot count the number of social events I have skipped out on because of work or school requirements.
Via making self-care a priority, before I do anything else in my day, I have learnt that:
- By creating time, between fifteen minutes to an hour a day for self-care, I take control of my day by starting my day right.
- I define clear priorities for my day: academic, professional and personal, but I limit my priorities to three to five per day.
- I take time, at the beginning of the day, to ensure that my day will be positive, instead of allowing my day to dictate how I feel, which I know sounds super cheesy, but it really works!
I find that the first hour of my day is now the most important, vital part of my day. I use to pride myself on waking up and starting the day off with a bang! I use to start my day by: doing work, via reading and responding to emails right off the bat, working on school assignments or hitting the gym. It took a bit of a mental fight with myself to actually acknowledge that the first hour of my day could be better utilized by taking care of my mental health before anything else, even before hitting the gym, which I use to label as my all-inclusive self-care.
After tweaking and working on my self care for quite some time, I can now spell out what works really well for me, but please keep in mind, that this is a very individualistic process:
- I am an early riser and I truly love it, so I wake up super early on most work days because I am my best and most clear headed early in the day.
- My first fifteen to twenty minutes of my morning are spent doing a quick clean-up and organization of my house. This usually entails loading the dishwasher, organizing my living area and doing a quick list of what needs to be done before I head out the door for work. A lot of people have challenged me on doing this first thing in the morning, but I do so because I enjoy having my downtime in the evening and it is a quick fifteen minute clean up, so it does not take a lot of time and sets my house up for the day.
- After the clean up, I spend fifteen minutes or so writing in my journal and planning for the day. I know that it might not seem extremely beneficial, but the impacts are really powerful. You would be surprised at how significant it can be to spend this time to write down three things you are grateful for and three priorities for the day. The things you are grateful for really helps put your life in perspective because it forces you to stop and reflect on how much you already have and have accomplished. The three priorities for the day, and try to keep it between three to five things per day, allows you to have clear goals for the day and by writing them down, I find that I am much more susceptible to actually accomplishing them, versus when I do not write them down.
- Following journaling, I always spend at least five minutes meditating. I am currently struggling to increase my daily five minutes of meditation to ten minutes a day, but it is a goal of mine, for this month, to get it up to ten minutes a day. Meditation was something that I used to be extremely wary of. I never really disrespected it, but I always underestimated its value. I truly, truly appreciate the value of daily meditation now and understand its exponential benefits. It is such a powerful feeling to determine how your day will be, rather than diving into it, hoping for the best.
- Sweat it out. Whether it is fifteen minutes or an hour, I will hit the gym every morning before showering and getting ready for the day. I use to always think that if I did not have at least forty-five minutes to an hour for the gym, it was a waste of time; I was so wrong. Even if you have ten minutes, get a quick workout in. With YouTube, there is almost no excuse and if not an online video, a few jumping jacks and squats never hurts anyone.
I would be lying if I said this was a seamless transition for me. There are still days where a work deadline or looming assignment for school really challenges me to still keep my first hour for self-care, but I have honestly tried to do at least something. If I only have fifteen minutes, then journaling and meditation are the only things that are getting done, but because I understand their benefits, they feel just as important as an external deadline for me now.
Perhaps you are not plagued with being a high achiever, maybe your daily struggle is getting out of bed on time, so that you are not late for work, or maybe your struggle is making the time to create a healthy home cooked meal versus ordering takeout, but the goal is the same: making your daily living better.
Focus on something about your day-to-day living which you would like to improve and make that a priority. Get support from who you can. If you are a nighthawk, see if you can get a change to your work schedule and start work later, to make more time in the morning to get things done. If you live with someone, see if there are ways in which you can support each other, by relying on your individual strengths to make your household run smoother.
Do not be afraid to ask for help or adjustments to make your life easier. Usually the fear of asking prohibits us from asking, but as someone who much too often is asking for things that I want, the asking is usually the hardest part. Most people, employers, friends and family are willing to help, with the betterment of you reaching your goals, they just might not know how they can, so let them know the how.
Make yourself a goal and see how your life improves. Self-care is not meant to make your life easier, it is meant to make your life more manageable by making your mental health your top priority. What is something you can do today, to make your day better and make your tomorrow easier?