This past Wednesday, October 10th, was World Mental Health Day. It happened to coincide nicely (so much sarcasm here) with the worst anxiety I’ve had in months, and so I’ve been thinking a lot about my mental health this week.
Some people may remember, but my freshman year of college was a really, really difficult transition period for me. I know that sounds dramatic on the surface, and that not everyone can relate, but the displacement and anxiety I felt about everything (e v e r y t h i n g) was new and seemed extreme. I learned what panic attacks felt like for me and how to recognize when my body is responding anxiously and what habits or patterns of thinking contributed to it. I am not here to say it was magically cured because I figured out how to pay attention to it or that it has just resurfaced suddenly; I’m constantly learning more about what makes me anxious and, lately, constantly feeling anxious.
But that’s not what I’ve wanted to share all week. What I want to share is something I realized after a particularly bad day of panic earlier this week:
I have to stick with decisions that I’ve already made with my best interests in mind.
For example, if I’ve decided that I’m going to do an assignment for a class a certain way because it’s my best stab at meeting the requirements in respect to what I can physically and mentally handle, even if it means ignoring a certain guideline, that’s just how that assignment is going to get done. Second-guessing myself and trying to change everything at the last minute to avoid a lesser grade or an annoyed professor cannot be my gut reaction before I turn things in—it’s just not that big of a deal.
I wrestle with that concept a lot because I am a rule follower. Unless I think a rule is really ridiculous, I’ll comply. Even then, I’ll sometimes follow it because that’s just the ideology I’ve been ingrained with. Following rules has gotten me good grades which led to being high school Valedictorian and receiving an academic scholarship to the college I really wanted to go to and all sorts of praise from teachers along the way. It’s obviously rewarded me, and sometimes even pushed me to do my best work. And so, old habits and all that.
Regardless, there are instances—like in your senior year of college where you’re feeling tremendous stress to figure out the next steps of your life and you have a job you love that demands a lot of time, and so much homework, the thought of your to-do list physically knots your stomach—when you have to prioritize.
Put yourself first. You are most important.
Ironically, I’m doing that now as I type this, taking a break from that stupid to-do list because this is what I feel like I need to be doing. Also ironically, I found myself sharing this advice with one of my closest friends just this morning. And I will keep telling myself:
Stick with decisions you’ve already made with your best interests in mind because folding to the expectations of others is not worth your wellbeing.
This doesn’t mean I’m just gonna b.s. my homework for the next semester and a half; frankly, I care too much for that. But it’s about knowing when I’m caring more about an A than how many hours of sleep I’m getting or whether or not I’ve done yoga in the last two weeks or any self-care that helps me manage my anxiety. Because so much more harm is done when I ignore it and pretend that everything is fine because I feel like it has to be, like I don’t have time to acknowledge the actual state of my mental health.
I have to make time. I hope you make time, too.