Over the last few years, I’ve been noticing a sort of “all-or-nothing” pattern developing in my behaviour. I’m either incredibly busy, high on stress and adrenaline, or my energy levels are completely depleted, leaving me feeling foggy, exhausted, and a little depressed.
The first part of that cycle picked up again this past fall. It was my first semester being back in school after two years of working, and it was challenging, busy, and exciting. My schedule was jam packed with school assignments and projects, group work sessions, and plans with new friends. I loved it, for sure. But gradually, the complete lack of time to care for myself or nurture my relationship started to wear me down.
It is true that I tend to take on too much. I often overcommit. I say yes to everything because I feel like I should. I want to make people happy and I don’t want to miss an opportunity. I think I can do it all.
But I end up spreading myself too thin, for too long. I can’t sustain it so I crash and burn. I hide and hibernate until I’m numb from all the Netflix and the carbs and the too-much-sleep. And by the time the winter break rolled around, I was teetering on the edge of exactly this point.
Leading up to the holidays, I had big plans to continue this crazy schedule of mine. I would spend my time off reading the paper every day, researching PR best practices, job hunting, and yes – even blogging. All of the things I really felt I needed to do. You know – being productive.
But by the time December 12 rolled around and the break began, I was so wiped that I truly could not think and so stressed that I was having heart palpitations regularly.
I decided it was time for a major change. I realized that nobody was putting me through this stress and self-neglect except myself – but that I didn’t actually have to. It occurred to me that it was, perhaps, possible to achieve balance.
So, not one of those things got crossed of my to-do list. Not a single one – not even once. What I did instead turned out to be the most caring and nourishing thing I could do for myself: I listened to what I needed.
I watched movies.
I drank wine.
I kept my computer firmly closed.
I played board games.
I spent time with family.
I visited with friends.
And it was all absolutely beautiful.
I felt more like Olivia than I have in a long time. I finally gave myself full permission to do whatever it was that my mind, body and soul really needed. I didn’t agree to do anything I didn’t really and truly want to do. I didn’t let myself feel guilty for accomplishing absolutely nothing most days.
But I also didn’t numb, I didn’t hibernate, and I didn’t close off. I just slowed down, quieted my mind, and enjoyed indulging myself in the care I finally realized I deserved.
The difference was astounding to me.
Many of us feel obligated to say yes to everything and everyone, while at the same time being constantly productive. We pack our schedules to the point where we feel stressed and resentful and exhausted before we even start the day, and we place ridiculously unrealistic expectations on ourselves.
But if we make the choice to take care of ourselves, in whatever ways make us happiest, we can have the best of both worlds. For me, this means limiting social media time, saying no to some invitations, cooking healthy food, setting aside time to call my family, doing my homework when I say I’m going to, establishing weekly standing dates with my boyfriend, drinking lots of water, shutting off all of the screens by 9:30 and being in bed by 10:30, walking and exercising, getting out in nature, and carving out quiet time for myself at least every few days.
I now realize that it is simply choices like these (or whichever ones might make you happy) that can allow us to strike a balance in our lives – one that is both grounding and sustainable. I can still engage in the busy parts of my life, like spending time with my friends and working my little butt off, but this way I have more energy and serenity to give to these activities.
Listening to what you need not only helps you feel more balanced, it also builds your self-esteem. Every time you care for yourself, you are simultaneously telling yourself that you deserve that care. The practice of self-care is certainly just that – a practice. None of us will ever be masters at it. But with so many benefits for the mind, body and soul, it is something I’m grateful to have begun practicing.