There was a point in my life when I was overwhelmed.
I was a full-time high school teacher, part-time nanny and English language tutor, part-time graduate student…while also trying to function as a dog owner, sister, daughter, friend, mentor…not to mention keeping up with social media, finding time to grocery shop, or doing anything outside of my apartment. I thought I was happy because I was always so busy, but in reality, I was exhausted and lonely and overwhelmed.
It wasn’t until I agreed to talk with a therapist for a while that I realized how much my life had fallen out of a healthy alignment. We began to have weekly discussions about what I was doing for myself, what time I had taken to actually breathe and refresh throughout the day.
Maybe you’re not an extrovert like me, and maybe you don’t have a problem with saying no to people. But it took me almost 25 years before I learned that I had to take care of myself before I could actually be energized and excited enough to be around other people.
So here’s a little “self-care” list for you this week, some tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way that have helped me remember to breathe in and out repeatedly through even the hardest of days.
Keep a gratefulness journal – This comes in many forms for me, but I know it can be easy to fall into the language of negativity when you are just tired at the end of a long day. Studies have shown that happiness is practiced, not a natural feeling. So write yourself a post-it with a list of at least three things you didn’t hate during your day. Leave it on your mirror so it’s the first thing you see when you get up in the morning. That way, you begin the work of beginning and ending your day with a reason to smile.
Schedule friend chats – The older I get, the more I realize that the friends worth keeping around are the ones who make time for you. Even when schedules get crazy, the internet can now help you have a wine date with a friend who is miles away. Grab a cup of coffee before work with someone who helps give you perspective. Or set a calendar reminder to pick up the phone and call one of your favorite people. Don’t do anything else while you’re catching up. Just give yourself that time to unwind.
Go for a walk – I learned this lesson from my dog, Rory. She is a three-year-old Australian Shepherd, which means she has high levels of cute and energy. When I started to go for a walk every morning and evening with Rory, I began to notice I had better posture throughout the day. I was calmer walking into my apartment to make dinner. I had managed to walk off a lot of the anxieties and frustrations I’d been carrying around on my shoulders all day. It doesn’t have to be a long way, but year round, a few steps and fresh air can do anyone a lot of good.
Make something – I am a firm believer that working with one’s hands is the best kind of therapy. Bake some cookies to take in to your coworkers (here’s one of my favorite recipes). Buy some Play-dough (or make your own), and build yourself a clay garden. Take some time to paint something you can put on your walls (here’s an idea). The act of creation gives you power and control over something you can manage, and it gives your brain a break from trying to figure out world hunger for a while.
YouTube workouts – They’re judgment free. They don’t cost a dime. And you can do them from the comfort of your own living room. My personal favorites are any of the workouts on DoYouYoga’s channel, but take some time to explore and find something you can enjoy doing for yourself.
Life balance is not found overnight. But I can promise you that self-care made a huge difference in the way my world fit together. It took me a while to realize that it doesn’t make you selfish to take time for yourself.
It actually just might make you a better person.