By Ayla Riley-Horst
I always thought I was good at self-care. I did my laundry, I ate regularly, and I would get more than enough sleep. But my very first semester of graduate school, I learned that I really didn’t know how to care and love myself the way that I needed to in such a new situation. Between making friends, working, and going to school, I didn’t set aside enough time to give myself self-care. I was telling myself that staying out late to make friends was self-care – for the future. I worked long hours, convincing myself that it would benefit future Ayla. I was pushing myself to the brink of a breakdown all for an unknown future version of myself. What I didn’t think about was current me. Current me needs to stop picking up so many shifts. Current me needs to take a shower. Current me needs to find healthy outlets for my emotional stress. Current me needs to learn how to care for myself in the present. But when your current self needs have come second to everything else for so long, it becomes difficult to change that mindset.
While self-care requires taking your basic needs into account, it also comprises a depth of understanding of your own thoughts, feelings, actions, and the way you talk to yourself. The understanding of oneself and taking care of oneself is a daily action and a long-term process at a speed that can be slow or incredibly fast. It takes courage, determination, and strength to work through that process because changing one’s ingrained habits is supremely difficult. More importantly, self-care looks different for everyone, so it’s important to develop an individualized list of ways to focus on yourself. In the midst of very difficult and hectic times in life, it may help to have easy, fast self-care techniques to center you.
Even though self-care is different for everyone, I have found success through counseling and putting aside time for myself to do the things that I love. Realizing my limits has been a tough process of trial and error, but building the confidence and ability to say “no” to friends, family, and work has been freeing, and has allowed me more time to become a healthier person. Yoga and other types of exercise have helped me in releasing pent up energy, providing me with a structured time for self-reflection or to clear my mind. Most importantly, hearing how other people take time to themselves has helped me build my own list – for future Ayla.
Resources and ideas for self-care:
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a great way to start thinking about self-care.
- Another website to understand self-care through Mental Health America.
- GWU has a great counseling center that has free group and individual counseling sessions.
- This page via the Tiny Buddha forum can give some ideas for ways to begin body and mind self-care.
- If apps appeal to you, Calm and Insight Timer offer free ways to meditate and self-reflect.