Prioritize Yourself

As a society, we tend not to prioritize self-care and mental wellness. We are a career-focused people, and we typically let work take precedence over wellness. With all that has happened in the past year, though, that mentality is starting to change.

I’ve noticed the change in my own life, especially over the past few weeks as my work has slowed down a bit. I’ve noticed myself taking solid steps toward taking better care of myself and my mental wellness.

Before COVID, which feels like a different lifetime, I felt like I was sort of running on autopilot. I felt like I had to constantly be in motion, and I would feel like a failure if I took a day to just relax. I never really had a regular schedule (hello, part-time work and working full-time in the service industry!) Even now, my schedule fluctuates a little bit, but I have set days and times that I work at each job. Having a more structured schedule lets me plan my week better, and it allows me to feel more in control of my life rather than just feeling like I’m constantly running from one place to the next. For the first time in a long time, I feel comfortable slowing down.

It’s been a gradual process, but as I’ve started to allow myself to take breaks and be more mindful about my actions, I’ve also started to notice how things I used to dread or think I didn’t have time for have become more effortlessly incorporated into my routine. I used to put off doing laundry, washing dishes, or deep cleaning anything because I felt like I didn’t have the time. In reality, though, I was just living my life in a way that didn’t allow for more than what was in my basic routine to get me through the day. I would constantly be so worried about getting things done for other people that I wouldn’t take the time to care for myself, and once the day was over and my external responsibilities were filled, I was so physically and mentally exhausted that I couldn’t do anything to make my life better or easier.

As I’ve been spending more and more time at home by myself, though, I’ve realized how important it is to take care of this space. I’ve also realized how important it is to care about myself. If I’m not taking care of myself, I get overwhelmed very easily. I worry about all the things I’m supposed to do while I’m doing something else, and nothing gets my full attention. When I’m living in an unhealthy way like that, of course, I feel unfulfilled.

For a long time, I blamed other people, or work, or financial stress, or whatever else I could think of outside of myself for feeling that way. It took me years of repeating this cycle to realize that I need to work on myself first. Of course, if I’m not happy at home or with myself, I can’t be happy with my work, my relationships, or anything else.

Lately, I’ve been working on taking care of me. I say working because it is work. It’s not easy to change the way you live and focus on your needs if you’ve never really done that before. I want to improve my mental health, though, and that starts with recognizing what needs to change and making those changes.

I know that the way I’ve lived my life, until very recently, is not sustainable. In the past, I’ve tried band-aid solutions to bigger issues, and of course, they haven’t worked. That doesn’t mean I should just give up, though. Over the past few weeks, I’ve started to see glimpses of the person I can be and the person I want to be. I’ve started to truly prioritize myself, and it’s helped me cut through the clutter to see what I really want and need out of life. I’ve started to realize that I deserve to give myself the time and energy that I give to everything and everyone else.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: as difficult as this past year has been, it has also shown us what really matters. We’ve all had to make changes and adapt to this new way of living. We’ve all had to spend more time with ourselves. Hopefully, we’ll all learn from this year and take these lessons with us as we move forward.

Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Kayla W.