What I learnt from putting myself first

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Last semester at uni was one that was particularly stressful for me. I had placed a great amount of pressure on myself to do well.  I was also aiming to get up at 6am each morning to make it to pilates or yoga. I needed to be in bed by 10pm (which I was not doing on a regular basis). I put tremendous pressure on myself this year to do really well as my goal for next year is to get into dietetics which is very competitive. I changed my perception to being a robot who could do everything for all hours of the day and night.

I was worried about the huge amount of study to do and my part-time job felt like it became more demanding for the first time ever. By the third week of the semester I had started to feel like I was losing the battle to do everything really well. I was only making it to two, maybe one class of yoga or pilates although I aimed for four pilates and three yoga classes in a week (crazy!).

For the first time in a long time I was reaching more often for processed food – cakes, biscuits, take away food. I was gradually consuming less fresh fruit and vegetables and drinking much more coffee. The stress of losing the battle had left no time to prepare food for the week ahead.

Funnily enough I was studying a psychology unit which covered maladaptive and adaptive processes of stress. Maladaptive processes of coping include avoidance, guilt, fear of failure, fear of starting the task at hand in fear of doing a bad job.  Adaptive processes are a sense of satisfaction and pleasure from successful efforts. I found I was practicing more maladaptive processes of coping with stress than employing adaptive processes due to my unrealistic study/life balance.

I was holding onto maladaptive processes by procrastinating, ridiculing my own assignments and lab reports for not being perfect in order to get the perfect mark, criticising myself for not making it to the early pilates or yoga classes or making batches of food to freeze for work and uni. I had placed so much pressure on everything external in my life and the way it should be for me to have “balance”.

It dawned on me that the one thing I had missed during the last twelve weeks was putting myself first. I realised that without setting time for myself I had set my life up to let everything in it fall apart.  You see, without making yourself number one you cannot expect other aspects of your life to flourish. When I reflected, I realised there are “essentials”  you need in your life to take care of yourself and for everything else to work well. Everyone’s essentials may be a little different, but in essence they represent time you spend on yourself to allow your life to function well.

My essentials:

1. Sleep. Honouring your sleep time whether you are a 6, 7 or 8 hour sleeper will give you a huge return of concentration, restoration and focus if you commit to your personal number of sleep hours every night. I have made this a priority and now make a non negotiable rule to myself of being in bed by 10.30pm.

2. Exploring a form of exercise and the best time to do it. I’ve changed my early 6.15am yoga and pilates classes to 9.30am and 12.30pm class times on weekdays. Doing this has also opened me up to the option of a light run over the weekends and mixing up my exercise to include other things like rock climbing.

3. Diaphragmatic breathing. It is a simple thing and so important to get right. Focusing on deep, slow breaths from your belly for a few minutes signals to your parasympathetic nervous system that everything will be okay and you are safe.

4. Find a way to meditate. This is one aspect has helped me in leaps and bounds by calming my rushing thoughts and simplifying my tasks. I found a great (free) app called One Giant Mind which has been wonderful in creating a habit of meditating every morning.

5. Set aside time to prepare food for the week ahead. Once I made the time again I felt more connected and nourished to my body by preparing dishes to freeze knowing I had healthy food to grab at any point.

6. Give yourself a non negotiable ritual/pamper occasion such as a foot or hand, or even body bath. A simple loving acts towards yourself will give you the space to appreciate yourself and the magnificent work your body does for you. I now have a foot bath with essential oils and magnesium salts and it feels so indulgent!

7. Having a list with no more than three tasks on the list ensures I no longer get overwhelmed. This helps with a positive mind and proactive actions.

8. Lastly, don’t be afraid to fail. Knowing this has really helped by taking pressure off of the “all or nothing” attitude I held last semester. Knowing there might be a chance I might fail has changed my perception of feeling I can still achieve what I want to without the necessity of feeling as though I must.

All of the above points have completely changed the way stress impacted on my life once I embraced them – I now feel much more confident and able to give my last semester the best shot it deserves.

Abby xx

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