my top self-care strategies

Social media allows us to cover up the ugly parts of our lives, but there remains the unspoken truth: everyone has issues.

In mid-2017, I went through a lot. A hectic (if enjoyable) Masters, immediately followed by another gruelling teaching course; the fallout from an emotionally abusive relationship; multiple rounds of job-hunting which caused months of instability. Not as bad as some have it, but this was still the messiest confluence of events I’ve experienced in my otherwise stable life.

Although I sometimes recall that quarter-life crisis with mixed feelings, I have recovered. Every new day is positive, the start of a journey. So whatever you’re dealing with, I hope you can gain something from the following tried-and-true strategies for emotional recovery and upkeep.

  • Remember that not everything is about you.

There are many reasons someone may do you wrong, but probably 99% of them have to do with that person’s individual struggles. How do I know this? Because everyone thinks about themselves much more often than they think about antagonizing you.

Happily, this means you do not have to assume so much of the mental and emotional burden. You’re allowed to take things a little less personally, and life a little less seriously.

  • Begin every interaction from a place of kindness.

We each have the power, and dare I say responsibility, to add goodness to the world. From a passing compliment to an unsolicited favour, I don’t take any acts of kindness for granted – especially after living in Japan, a society of reciprocal giving.

That said, you shouldn’t act with the sole expectation of reciprocation. Kindness is its own reward. Extra happiness lies in the fact that when you convey care through your words and actions, you will see care more clearly when it’s returned to you.

  • Treasure your friends.

The friends who were there for me immediately following the breakup made it 1000% more bearable.

I believe wholeheartedly that friends are everything. So be genuine with them. Find the people who you love listening to, and who will lovingly listen to you. Show up for the people who show up for you, and it will pay dividends.

  • Write daily gratitude lists.

I began my journaling practice after reading about “morning pages” in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I called mine “evening pages,” and they continue to help me expel the mischievous thoughts tumbling around my head before I settle into sleep.

A month later I added gratitude lists* to the ritual, and this became the most crucial part. No matter how badly I might feel, every day I force myself to fill an entire page of bullet points. For me, these include the way the sun shines through my window in the morning; coffee and dinner dates with friends; a high-five with a stranger during dance class.

Through this practice, I realized I can change the narrative: instead of focusing on larger, troublesome issues, I can appreciate the little delights life gently pushes into my path. Dwell on those moments for longer than usual. They are lines of pure poetry, waiting to be read.

* The idea is drawn from the beautifully-written One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. As it happens, I read several memoirs about tragedy during this time, and finding solidarity in literature was also a comfort.

  • Take a deep breath.

Practicing mindfulness meditation with my aunt has taught me to slow down and stay present. And beyond daily sittings, I find a lot of power in the breath alone. Just one deliberate breath can help you relax, refocus, and regain perspective.

For example, during an argument, if I feel inclined to utter something cruel which I don’t mean, I try to slowly breathe and count to 10. I remember no one is as irrational as I view them in the moment – and relatedly, there is no shame in being the first to apologize.

  • Clean up your space.

For the entirety of September 2017, I was living out of a suitcase – but it wasn’t as bad as it sounds…! I moved out of my grad school dorm and hopped between home in Canada, Airbnbs, and friends’ borrowed beds while I job-hunted and decided where to settle. Perhaps it was then I realized how few possessions I require to get by.

Mari Kondo is famous because decluttering invariably improves quality of life. Have the courage to let go of some physical remnants of your past. Ensure your belongings mirror the state of mind you wish to achieve: not simply content, but joyful.

  • Actively take care of your body.

Healthy diet, sleep, and exercise are important and oft-discussed, so I wish to highlight the benefits of superficial grooming. And you don’t have to splurge on a mani-pedi, either. Just budget an extra minute to take a long shower, shave down calluses, remove stray hairs, try a new cosmetic… whatever it is that you’ve noticed and been meaning to do for a while, just do it. I promise you’ll feel refreshed.

  • Challenge yourself to create something new.

Even – especially – if you’re not an artist. You are human, and therefore you have a unique story to share with the world. The method of conveyance is entirely up to you. I relish the special sense of fulfillment from contributing something – some thing – which very well could last beyond our lifetimes.

If there’s one thread underlying these points, it’s be good to yourself. A cliché, yes, but I really want us to take it to heart. Not for the sake of others’ feelings, upon which we so often fixate. This time, it’s for our own, hard-earned happiness. ❤️❤️❤️

(Sorry I couldn’t find an image source for this post; let me know if you do!)

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