Hey, Dragons! I’ve spent a lot of time in this column talking about things I’m doing to improve my physical and dietary health. While these things are definitely important, it’s vital to make sure we take care of our mental and emotional health as well.
A couple years ago, I reached a level of stress I’d never experienced before. There were multiple deaths in my family, I was working with a particularly challenging group of students, and social and family obligations were pulling me in many different directions. I finally admitted to my husband that I needed to seek some professional help. I found a therapist that I clicked with and I cannot tell you how much I have learned in the past year and a half. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I deal with the world around me. More importantly, I’ve learn strategies for dealing with stress so that it doesn’t prevent me from functioning in my day to day life. I highly recommend finding a professional to check in with occasionally. My therapists often says, “Everyone can use a tune-up once in a while.”
The most important thing I’ve learned from my therapist is the idea of self-care. We often tend to put others first, and doing things for ourselves feels selfish. The fact is, if we’re not taking care of ourselves, then we won’t be in a place to take care of others. When I worry about doing something that feels selfish, I try and remind myself that taking care of myself is a “for me” thing, it’s not an “against you” thing. I’m a people pleaser, so it’s a hard thing for me to do, but it’s so important that I give myself permission to take care of myself so that I can be there for others when they need me.
I often talk about dieting in moderation or working out in moderation, but sometimes we have to “adult” in moderation. October tends to be a rough month for me. It’s the worst time of the year for my commute. What usually takes me 90 minutes or so can take me as long as 2 ½ hours. Last week alone, I put in about 20 to 25 hours of commute time. There aren’t any holidays to look forward to. (Yes, we have Halloween, but that usually isn’t a day off.) And it’s right in the middle of the semester, so I’m often neck deep in grading and tests. Finding time to do everything that I need to and still fitting in time to prepare meals and work out adds more stress.
I am a big proponent of mental health days. I realize that not everyone has the luxury of being able to take a day off whenever they need to, but allowing yourself to take a day off when you’re starting to hit your limits is a great way to reduce stress. At the very least, it allows you to catch up on other aspects of your life like housework or getting the car washed. We don’t realize how much little things like dirty cars and laundry add to our daily stress. Sometime, though, it’s nice to just take a day for yourself. If you can take a day and do something you love, that’s important! Remember, it’s not “against others” it’s “for you” and that’s okay.
Sometimes, taking a day for yourself isn’t possible. That’s when it’s important to ask for help from friends and family. Asking for help is a really hard thing for us to do. It feels like we are failing or aren’t strong enough to do something on our own. The fact is, it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. And it doesn’t have to be big things. Last night, after a particularly hard day and long commute, I told my husband that I needed 30 minutes to disconnect from the world and relax. So, he got dinner started without me. When my 30 minutes were up, I joined him and helped him finish cooking. It was important that I took that bit of time for myself because it gave me enough of a recharge to hop back into the evening so I could help out. If he needed some time, I’d be more than happy to do the same for him.
Another thing that’s often hard for us to do is say, “No.” A lot of stress can come from over extending ourselves and stretching our time and workload to the limits of what we can reasonably do. It’s SO important to learn how to say, “No.” Again, this isn’t an “against them” thing, it’s a “for you” thing. If you aren’t ready to start saying, “No.” Try starting with, “Let me get back to you.” That gives you a chance to step away from the request long enough to decide if you are in a place to help the person or not. If you should say know, but you’re not comfortable doing so, try negotiating. There’s no reason why you can’t meet a person’s request part-way. Again, it’s important to make sure we take care of ourselves. It’s not selfishness, it’s self-care. In the end, decisions like these will help everyone in the long run.
What are your goals for this week? Let me know! If you want to follow me on a more regular basis, if you need someone to be accountable to, or if you want to share your own journey, you can reply to this post or you can follow me on twitter @EpicGrays. Until next time, remember to #WorkOutNerdOut!