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5 Ways I Made Self-Care a Priority in 2019


This year has been a roller coaster. While there have been highs — watching my daughter become more independent, returning to graduate school, traveling — there have also been some gut-wrenching lows: the unexpected death of my mother, the inevitable “firsts” without her and the self-doubt centered around wondering if I have taken on too much.

There were times this year I felt I had no fight left in me and I wanted to give up. I felt so overwhelmed by things I needed to do that I became frozen in place. It was in those moments I realized I had let the needs and expectations of others trump my own needs and expectations for myself. In not wanting to let others down, I let myself down immensely.

So, I made some changes. Some were easy, some were difficult, but all were worth it. Like all good relationships, maintaining a loving, healthy relationship with yourself requires patience, understanding and prioritizing. It requires valuing yourself enough to protect your time, energy and sanity, and a willingness to create your own safe space free from the clutter of others.

I identified the big areas I felt I needed to work on to allow me to grow the most. These were the areas that would foster change and help me gain strength in myself. The areas I chose to work on are all works-in-progress, and some have developed further along than others. But they keep me focused on my goals, and that is the important thing. The road to self-discovery is filled with twists and turns, just have faith in your roadmap and you will get there.

What does my roadmap look like? It looks like this:

1. Boundaries.

I’m putting this first because it is something I still have difficulty with, but drawing even the thinnest line in the sand is a start. There are people in my life who I have a long history with and I am not ready to shut out completely, but they are also the same people who distract me from my current goals and push back my personal growth. They have custom ringtones on my phone now: silence. And you know what? I’m happier and feel more secure in who I am becoming without their influence. I still talk with these people, but now it is on my terms and I don’t feel the need for their approval.

2. Spark.

Figure out what excites you and go for it. For me, this included doing volunteer work, going back to grad school and writing. Has it all been easy? Absolutely not. Have I been as consistent as I’d like? Also no. But I’ve started doing things simply for me. While I certainly haven’t created more hours in my day, I have nearly eliminated the stress and resentment that came from sacrificing what challenges me, soothes me and fuels my passion in order to prioritize someone else’s agenda.

3. Unplug.

This one was also difficult for me, but I managed to change my relationship with my phone. I challenged myself to Twitter-free weekends to help me become more present with my family. Instead of leaving my phone on vibrate, I turned my sound off completely and would only see what I missed if I walked across the room and looked at my phone. Finally, I disabled the majority of my notifications. I no longer feel pressured to spend my free time playing “Words With Friends” because I see a string of notifications. Instead, I take that time to do something to relax, help myself grow or simply rest. When I make a move now, it is when I open the app because that is what I want to do, not because a notification pressured me to open it.

4. Grieve.

I needed to allow myself to grieve. Losing a parent is a different kind of loss in many ways. Often, they are the person you would turn to for comfort, to keep you grounded, and to help you with whatever needed to be done. When my mother passed away, I was in uncharted territory. At first, I just focused on what I needed to do in those weeks that followed without properly grieving. But after I allowed myself time to grieve, my thoughts became clearer and I could see that my world was still there, it was just different. Does it still hurt? Unbelievably so, but I am able to work with that hurt, rather than finding myself blocked by it.

5. Vent.

I’ve written before that I am a huge fan of online counseling. Being able to leave a stressful situation and write it out in a message to my counselor has been life-changing. I am able to get it out and move on quicker. Life isn’t always sunny skies, but having someone who can pass me an umbrella and pull me out of the storm has been invaluable.

These were the big areas I needed to focus on in order to make myself a priority. Your list may look a lot different from mine, and that’s OK; the important thing is just to have a list so you know what areas of your life you need to protect and build up. If you are unsure what to put on your list, start with mine, see what works and change it if you need to. My focus areas are constantly evolving and I feel myself becoming stronger and more secure in who I am as they do.

Making yourself a priority takes work because you have to jump from what you’ve always done to something unknown. In the end, putting yourself first is the best thing you can do for your mental health.

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