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Courtney Thornton
by on October 16, 2019
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As we work hard to develop our professional lives, it is important not to let our own wellness fall to the wayside. Self awareness is key to the overall success of our businesses and communities. This kind of self sustainment is how we close the racial wealth gap. 

 

Responsibility is the bane of adulthood.  ‌ Without it, we’d all seemingly be filled with joy, full breath of life and pure euphoria over the lack of stress and commitment.  However, that is not the dream life many of us experience.  Most of us will work ourselves to the bone with everything we have in us to keep our lives going smoothly.  

 

Our days don’t end when we get off work.  They don’t even begin when we clock in.  For many of us, our moment of stress about our next 24 hours begins when we wake up.  It’s usually pretty subtle if you’ve been dealing with it long enough.  It can feel like a weight is on you, or like someone holding you down.  Other times, it can feel like numbness, as though nothing can make you sad nor smile.   You may not even want to get out of bed, but you do.   You push on.  You keep pushing on because you see your baby in the next room.  You push on because you have to make it to class, knowing that the final will be here before you know it.  You push on because you know you’re all your family has to keep the lights on.  You’re all that you have.  You don’t have the time to have a breakdown.  You don’t have the time to meditate for 30 minutes.  You don’t have the time to sit down and let life idly pass you by.  You do it because you must.  

 

As noble as this sounds, extending yourself so thin can have a huge, negative impact on your mental and physical health.  An overload of stress can manifest itself as lack of sleep, irritability, weight gain or loss, forgetfulness, mood swings, the list goes on.  Being exposed to high levels of stress consistently over time have also been linked to anxiety and depression, conditions common within the Black community. 

 

To take care of everything else in your life efficiently, you must make sure you’re taking care of yourself first.  It’s very easy to let life swallow you up and spit you out.  When you work 40 hours a week or attend college full-time on top of whatever responsibilities or stresses you already deal with, it can be too much to think about anything else.  The last thing on your mind is your own wellbeing.  I feel you.  Your exhaustion is real.  But, I am here to challenge your mindset and behaviors in the hope of lifting some of that weight.  I find the best way to do that is by giving practical tools.  

 

After seeking therapy on numerous occasions, a few lessons and practices have stuck with me. One of them being prioritizing my self-care regardless of what’s going on, but especially when I‌ can tell I’m going into a dark place.  As someone living with a mental illness, it’s imperative to my wellbeing to seek positivity and maintain balance.  Over the years, I’ve come to find that buildingstructure into my routine helps me to feel grounded and secure in my capabilities.  

 

Here are some small things I do to care for myself with things get hectic:

 

 

One:  Start with the basics

 

As a living, breathing human being, all your basic needs must be met.  For someone living with a chronic illness or a demanding lifestyle, finding time in the day for oneself is nearly impossible. Small things, such as showering or eating a balanced meal, seems like a marathon.  Getting 8 hours of sleep is like a fairytale. What can you do?

Start by becoming conscious of your patterns and habits throughout the day— particularly your busiest days.  Create a mental checklist: 

• Have I eaten? ‌ Was it recent?  

• How much water did I‌ drink? 

• Did I shower today? ‌ 

• Did I brush my teeth?  

• Am I well-groomed?

• Did I make my bed?  

• Did I engage in meaningful conversation? 

• Did I take any steps towards accomplishing my goals and dreams? 

• Did I smile and laugh?  

• Did I engage in an activity simply for relations or personal pleasure? 

 

If you find something on your list isn’t done, figure out the most efficient way to check it off the list.  Incorporating these things intoyour daily routine will give you peace of mind knowing you set yourself as a priority.  

 

I’ve developed a small system. If I know I’m going to have a busy day, I try to plan out how I’ll care for myself the next day (i.e., what I’ll eat, wear, if I shower the night before, what I will and will not do).

 

Caring for yourself in these simple ways is the first step to making a difference in your mental, emotional, and even physical health.  Sometimes, it can be as simple as planning.  If your schedule is relatively consistent, consider building self-care into your routine.  A schedule can allow your body and mind to act on autopilot.  Before you know it, self-care will become a part of your normal routine, and you may find that stressful days become easier to manage. Part of my routine is making sure my bed is made every day before I leave for work.  No matter how my day goes, there’s just something about coming home to a made bed that is instantly soothing.

 

Life Hack: Making your bed can make you feel more relaxed after coming home from a long day. 
 

Two:  It’s not just bubble-baths and candles

 

The best thing about self-care is that it’s all about you!  Just because a magazine depicts self-care as bubble baths and scented candles, doesn’t mean that’s the only way to indulge. ‌Maybe self-care for you is going through your expenses and budgeting to alleviate some financial worries.  Self-care could be time with a friend to help you study or vent about work, family, or relationships. How you decide to help yourself is entirely up to you. 

Here is a list of 14 suggested acts of self-care:

 

- Making a budget

- Preparing a homecooked meal

- Creating boundaries with a toxic friend/family member

- Hiring an assistant or domestic help

- Joining a study group or tutoring session

- Meditating or deep breathing exercises

- Taking a break from social media

- Not answering the phone after a particular hour

- Saying “No”

- Discovering emotional “triggers”

- Scheduling a manicure, pedicure, or spa treatment

- Trying a new hairstyle

- Exercising

- A night out with friends

 

You can even combine self-care with your everyday tasks. For instance, instead of listening to music on during your daily commute, listen to an audiobook.  I use a few different apps that connect to my local library (Digital library cards are free y’all!). 

 

Self-care is what you make it, no one else. 

 

Three: Self-awareness and Grounding

 

Even though lifestyle changes and utilizing your support network do help combat stress, they don’t completely negate the problem.  Stress is a natural and fundamental part of life, and you won’t always have someone around when you feel overworked or overwhelmed. Often, all you have is you.  Being able to look inside yourself and your emotions in moments like these is a form of self-awareness.  When we are self-aware, we are more able to look after our emotional needs.  This is when a technique I learned in therapy comes into play, called grounding. 

 

Grounding is meant to keep you present; in the here and now.  It gives you a way to look and feel what’s going on in a realistic light.  The technique is viewed as a helpful way to manage overwhelming feelings or intense anxiety.  It consists of engaging with your senses and thoughts.  

 

Grounding helped me manage my panic attacks in the past and is a technique that I practice on my more stressful days.  On the days where I feel like I'm scatterbrained,  losing focus or disassociating, grounding helps me regain mental focus.  

 

Here is a simple grounding technique I do if things get too intense and I need a break:

 

1. I find a comfortable or at least a sturdy place to sit, even if it's on the floor.

2. (For this example, I’ll be using a chair.)  Place both feet flat on the floor. 

3. Sit firmly in the chair or couch (Make a note of the feeling of whatever you're sitting on).

4. Place your hands on your thighs. (Make a note of how your posture feels, how your skin feels, etc.)

5. Deep breathe.  Pick a number between 4 and 7.  I like the number 4.  I inhale deeply for four seconds, then hold that breath for four seconds.  I then release that air slowly for four seconds.  

 

I do a cycle of this breathing exercise about 4-6 times or until I feel my nerves or worries have settled. 

 

 

If you’re not into deep breathing, there are plenty of other ways you can find to ground yourself.  

- Listening to calming music

- Getting a cold glass of water or a cool object for the sensation of relaxation

- Stepping outside for some fresh air

- Listening to the sounds of your environment

 

Another way to ground yourself is by mentally checking in.  I usually do this by asking myself a series of questions:

• Where am I?

• What day/time/month it is today?

• How old am I?

• What is the weather like?

• What season is it?

• What's genuinely going on with me?

• Is this situation as big as I’m making it?

• Am I in danger? Am I safe?

 

It can seem dull and even silly to do this, but asking these basic questions helps connect me to reality and re-establish a sense of control in my life as someone that experiences anxiety on an almost daily basis; feeling out of control is a common side-effect of too much stress.  Grounding myself in the knowledge that the world isn’t collapsing and that I’m in charge of my thoughts and behaviorshelps me regain my footing and deal with reality.  

 

Self-awareness and grounding are empowering forms of self-care.

 

We may not always be able to change what responsibilities or stressors we have in our lives.  However, we can decide how we react to them.  How we choose to take care of ourselves is a vital part of our health and overall wellbeing. Self-care is not selfish.   Make your mental, emotional, and physical health a priority by taking small but necessary steps towards a lifestyle of more self-love and self-care. 


 


Courtney "Coco" Thornton is an up-and-coming writer from Richmond, Virginia.  Her primary subject matter involves self-help, mindfulness, and topics surrounding mental health. As a millennial, she values the importance of valuable conversation and information. She hopes to instill confidence, hope, and empathy into her readers and herself. When she’s not nailed to her computer, she works as a bubbly barista and dedicated, and loving daycare teacher.

If you want to see more of her writing, follow her on Instagram at @OrangeUCoco.