In case you missed it, I spent a week doing self-care a few months ago. By the end of the week, I felt refreshed and able to cope with the various stressors in my life. That was a great week for me, and I imagined hopping back into life adding all this newfound relaxation and stress-management to my every day.
As most things in my life go (you might start seeing a pattern here if you’ve read anything I’ve ever written!), I kinda fell off the self-care wagon.
I joke with everyone I know that my bedtime on my iPhone clock app is 1:30am, and if I can get into bed by that time, it’s a good night for me. I run on about four to five hours of sleep a night, and each day is filled with activities, projects, and to-do lists that seem to never get checked off. (I can’t even count how many days I’ve had “clean out closet” in my planner.) Then, once the weekend rolls around, I jam in as much as I possibly can, from socializing with friends to actually getting to the grocery store to doing my laundry. I’ve gotten to a point where I have to schedule in time to watch my favorite shows.
Don’t get me wrong, I love busyness. I thrive in environments with short turnaround times, and I do my best work just before a deadline. (Even in life — my apartment is always the cleanest the hour before my parents come to visit.) However, I’ve gotten to a point where my long to-do lists, full schedules, and bad sleep habits don’t fulfill me anymore. I don’t enjoy the work I’m doing, I don’t feel connected with my friends or family, and I can’t be alone in my apartment without a constant running list in my head of everything that needs to get done.
Finally fed up with my constant busyness and total lack of me-time, I embarked on the same journey as I did before; however, this time, I committed to an entire month of self-care. This is what I’ve learned, and how you can do the same challenge I did!
I learned what I actually like
After I spent a week doing self-care, I started to realize what I liked and didn’t. I noticed that face masks sometimes feel like work to me while spending money on experiences like concerts or nights in with friends is restorative. Everyone finds contentment in different things, and for a long time, I pushed myself to love binge-watching Netflix and lighting a candle because that’s what the people around me enjoyed.
Indulging in self-care for a month showed me this even further. I filled these 30 days with tons of different activities ranging in length of time they would take and how intense they would be. (The end of the month got pretty emotional!) Doing all these different activities helped me realize what I actually want to fill my time with versus engaging in activities I constantly see on Instagram that don’t really do it for me.
I learned to redirect my thoughts
I struggle with my mental health a lot. I live alone, so it’s easy to get in my own head and overthink everything whenever I’m by myself. Recently, I’ve resorted to lots of nights out with friends to get my mind off of everything, which hasn’t been great for my wallet, my health, or especially my skin. (Wine breakouts are a thing, people.)
Taking the time out of my busy schedule for self-care meant I needed to be strategic about my time. If I worked all day and went out at night, there was no time to fit this into my schedule, and I was determined to complete this challenge. (I’m an ENTJ, what can I say, I love winning.) Not only did I become quite self-aware that I was drinking and going out with friends so often to deflect from my emotions, but I learned that self-care is a genius way to do the same thing in a way that is natural and healthy for your mind (and body).
This month of self-care basically distracted me from all those negative thoughts I felt consumed by. Instead of focusing on that thing I said to my friends four months ago, I would do a self-care activity. I stopped myself from putting an emphasis on things I had no control over.
I learned to celebrate myself
For anyone else who has issues with imposter syndrome, it can be difficult to allow yourself to accept praises or compliments. On the other hand, I’m also known to order Domino’s whenever I have a bad day just because I “deserve it.” I’ve stopped calling my pizza habit self-care and instead started understanding what exactly it means to celebrate myself. From the small victories to the big stuff, I don’t have to spend money to “treat myself.”
Instead, I can love who I am by caring for myself in ways that impact me emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually. “Celebrate” was my word of the year for 2019, and I’ve somewhat revived that goal through this challenge. Celebration doesn’t have to be a party or a big event; you don’t need a reason to celebrate something! Choosing to view self-care and my self-worth as an act of celebration has helped me gain an immense amount of confidence.
It set me up for good habits
As the days went on, I started noticing that when I set aside time in my day to read a book or call my mom, I set myself up to engage in positive habits throughout the rest of the day.
For example, if I started my morning with positive affirmations, I found myself engaging in negative self-talk much less. When I put away my to-do list and actually got eight hours of sleep, I was more motivated, inspired, and overall in a better mood the next day. Self-care can seem like a one-time fix for stress management, but when you do it daily, it begins to influence other areas of your life.
It gave me clarity
At any given time, my computer has about four different windows open, all with at least eight tabs. My brain also looks like this. I’m constantly juggling new ideas, projects that are only half-finished, and goals I don’t even know where to start to achieve.
Creating a consistent self-care practice sometimes acts like a massive brain dump. Many people understand mindfulness simply as meditation; however, it also is the act of clearing the clutter in your head and focusing on what’s happening in the present moment. Sitting down with an adult coloring book (they’re the best), going for a walk, or even taking a nap all accomplish this task. Instead of sitting there thinking about the past and the future (something we all struggle with), we’re forced to pay attention to what is happening in front of us at that moment.
This mental clarity helped me better understand my anxiety and what causes it, in turn allowing me to explore new coping mechanisms. I can focus on what is fact versus what I make up, as well as when I’m focusing too heavily on my logical mind (thinking very black and white) or with merely my emotions. Finding new ways to cope with day-to-day stressors and issues I struggle with on a deeper basis was a positive outcome to this challenge.
It changed my mind on what self-care is
Truth be told, I haven’t stopped yet. Doing this for a month has made me realize that I should be doing the things that bring me joy and relaxation every single day. I always thought indulging in self-care every day would need to involve a face mask or a massage or an hour-long meditation or yoga class. I’ve learned that sometimes work — whether it’s my actual career, housework, or getting those monotonous things we all dread finally checked off the to-do list — can bring you as much, if not more, happiness than all the other things we do to spend time with ourselves.
One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from the amazing Audre Lorde on the importance of self-care. “I have to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is self-survival.” Changing my mindset on how and why I take the time to care for myself changed my perceptions of self-care from a fun way to “treat myself” to a way to make sure I am the best person I can be. Just like people view various diet changes, self-care can also be a lifestyle change rather than a 30-day challenge.