You are Most Important

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 init’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 instanceslike 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 stomachwhen 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.


College is a Time to Treat Yourself

I know the timing of this is a little ironic as it’s finals time – a period notorious for being difficult to get ourselves through in one piece. Regardless, I’ve been reflecting on how well I’ve taken care of myself during the last two years of college, and how good I feel right now, about myself and my life.

We all know college is supposed to be when we take responsibility for ourselves as adults, but I think it should go further than that. I think it’s the best time to start treating ourselves well. We need to treat our minds and bodies the way they deserve to be treated because it sets the stage for the rest of our adult lives. It’s like that famous Tolle quote, “If not now, when?” I think that if we don’t treat ourselves well now, we probably never will, or, at the very least, it will be even harder to do so down the road.

I didn’t come to this conclusion on purpose. I realized that in the last two years that I’ve been responsible for myself, I’ve naturally been drawn to doing the things that I want to do. I’ve done a lot of stupid things like stay up late for no reason when I have class the next morning that I’ve realized aren’t good for me. On the flip-side, I’ve also done some really healthy stuff for myself purely because it made me feel better, be it physically, mentally, or emotionally. 

Here are 4 really simple ways to treat yourself (or continue to treat yourself) right next semester:

#1 – Exercise

You’re thinking, “Duh,” right? I get it, everyone knows that to be healthy you should be physically active. But I want you to start reading this by feeling positive instead of negative; think of all the places you walk! A lot of time in college is spent walking through campus to class, or if you’re on an urban campus like mine, walking through the city. We are definitely getting our steps in.

To take exercise further, and remain positive, don’t think about hitting your campus or apartment building’s gym as a chore to attempt to lose weight. Think of it as a way to relieve stress and anxiety. Last year, I got into a routine of doing maybe 15 to 20 minutes of cardio every morning – just enough to get my heart elevated before I started my day. My anxiety was so bad freshmen year, and it was one of the major things that helped. I also started attending yoga at the dorm building across the street from mine once a week. This year, I was lucky enough to even be able to sign up for an actual credited yoga class. You may not have that option, but look up free yoga or gyms to hit up a few times a week! Make your only goal to spend some time releasing your endorphins, raising your heart rate, and clearing your mind. You deserve that.

#2 – Eat Well

If we’re going to talk exercise, we have to talk diet, right? Like I said, as college students, we all depend a little too much on eating out and microwaveable food sometimes. I’m 100% guilty of attempting to survive off of (gluten-free) chicken nuggets. But the cool thing about buying your own groceries is that they can be as healthy as you want them to be. For example, I like making chicken nugget salads and throwing together my own chicken noodle soup with organic broth and veggies. My roommate and I alternate who’s going to buy fruit bowls for us to share for the next week. Once in a while, we grab salads from Panera. The point is, it’s worth it to buy fruits and veggies instead of tons of sugary or salty snack food, even if it costs a little more (I personally don’t think there’s much difference $ wise). Plus, there are plenty of ways to find those kinds of snacks that taste bad for you, but really aren’t – and I would know, as I don’t eat gluten or much dairy. If you also have a food allergy or intolerance, college is cool because there is a very good chance your new friends will be supportive and willing to educate themselves on what you can and can’t eat. I know I used to be shy about telling people because it can be a hassle, but college has completely changed my attitude about it. And let’s face it, it is so much easier to be straightforward about allergies/intolerances than to have to explain why you’re having a bad reaction later. So again, eat what makes you feel good – it will literally make everything better.

#3 – Do What You Want

Speaking of prioritizing my diet, I’ve also begun prioritizing my time. As I’m sure pretty much every college kid has realized, thanks to tweets/tumblr posts of it going around, you don’t have to be friends with/hangout with people just because you see them five days a week anymore. In college, you’re lucky to see your roommate five days a week, between class and work schedules, not to mention other friends and significant others. The point is, you can opt to spend your time doing whatever you want with whomever you want. Personally, I would much rather stay in and try to get to some homework done while watching Netflix with my roommate two out of three nights in a weekend (weekends start on Thursday in college), than continuously going out with people I don’t know as well and procrastinating. That’s a choice; a lot of people would rather go out. The point is, you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone either way. You don’t have to apologize for your choices, whether they’re social or antisocial. Distress when you feel like you need to, and get your work done when you feel you need to. Basically, you do you.

#4 – Wear What You Want

Another obvious one? Yes, but I’m kind of fascinated by how great I feel some days when I spend a little more time on my appearance. Maybe it’s just that everything was so casual at my high school and I now go to an art school, but I’ve stopped wearing sweatshirts four days a week. Which is good – I have a ridiculous amount of other clothing. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you had the same habit I did before college where you saved all your favorite clothes for a “nice” occasion, stop. Wear clothes that make you feel good every day. Even if you have a 9 am, and you’re set on wearing leggings, wear your “good” ones. Clothes can eventually be replaced, but you can’t go back and change how a bad first impression or a negative/insecure attitude you had after telling yourself you “should” just wear those old pants and shirt because who cares? Do yourself a favor and be the one who cares.

#5 – Anything Else That Makes You Feel Good

Do you enjoy writing or journaling? Cleaning when your roommates are gone (any other Monicas out there?)? Watching Shameless after a day of three classes? Go for it. I know we’re all busy, but we are also probably more in control of our schedules now than we’re ever going to be, so do what you need to do for yourself to have a good day, week, or semester.

I know that none of us have a lot of time or money to waste, but don’t think of treating yourself well as a waste, or as something you have to spend a lot to do. You deserve it, and you can show yourself love in all the little ways that I just talked about.