I’ve been graduated for quite a while now, but one thing I haven’t quite gotten the hang of yet — taking care of myself. Before graduating, I don’t think I ever truly realized how much the structure of school meant to me. Without it, I’ve been lost. Every single day holds uncertainty. I’m staring into this future of mine that is void of any sense of direction. It’s all fog and no order. I wasn’t giving each day the attention it deserved in terms of doing something that mattered.
I’ve fallen off the self-care bandwagon too many times. I’ve eaten too much junk food while binge-watching Netflix late into the night, even though I knew I had to work early the next morning. I’ve isolated myself and pushed people away when I really just needed someone to talk to. At times I felt as though I’d even lost my sense of laughter entirely. And while I’m still on the road to recovering my own sense of self-importance and contentedness, I have discovered some ways to at least take care of myself along the way.
Cook a real dinner every now and then. I’m talking main course, fruit, veggies, and potatoes followed by dessert. Make yourself feel fancy. Pour yourself a glass of wine if you want. And then do the dishes, because a clean home is a happy home.
Speaking of cleaning — take time to really scrub your living space once in a while. Even if you’re living in the crappiest apartment on the crappiest side of town and you hate it with a burning passion — take time to make it spotless at least every now and then. Whenever I organize and clean my room, I achieve this overwhelming sense of quiet accomplishment — a deeply personal feeling of calm capability.
Decorate. If you can’t afford much — DIY some shit and fill your space with life. It’s all about taking ownership of and pride in where you live. Even if your apartment lease is short, make the effort to make it feel like home. Decorate for the seasons, too. Put out stupid pumpkins that you painted yourself. Hang dumb twinkly lights and set up a tiny fake tree for Christmas. Stuff like this will make it feel like life isn’t just standing still, and you have some control over what happens next.
Invite friends over. You’ve got dinner ready, you’ve cleaned, you’ve decorated. Have some friends over just because you can. Make memories — because even if times are hard, your free time shouldn’t be full of stressing about the future. At least, you don’t have to do it all alone.
If you’re feeling isolated one day, text someone you love. You don’t have to call them or even tell them there’s something wrong — just reach out in a small way. All you need is a reminder that there’s someone else out there who is real and tangible, and in that moment they are texting you back. In that moment they are thinking about you and you’re thinking about them.
Say yes to new opportunities. Social media can be an amazing tool, especially when it comes to finding out what’s going on around town. When you see events that interest you, mark their dates on the calendar and take the time to check it out. Whether you do this by yourself or with friends, you have everything to gain by engaging your mind in a new and stimulating way.
Set realistic expectations for yourself. A lot of my own problems emerged out of comparison. I was comparing my successes (or lack thereof) to the successes of others, even though we were pursuing completely different things. I was setting goals based on other people’s paths rather than my own. And I was failing. Lately, I’ve been making my own to-do lists for each passing day. And while I am not necessarily able to complete those lists, they keep me busy, productive, and most importantly, focused on what I am working towards. I break down larger, loftier goals into small tasks that I can complete within the day. It helps me feel as though I am flourishing rather than floundering.
Sleep. When I was working two jobs and chugging away doing almost 50 hours a week, it felt like all I ever wanted to do was sleep. Yet, I didn’t sleep nearly as much as I should have. I felt like sleep was such a waste. I would finish an evening shift at the restaurant and realize I had to be up in 10 hours to go work at the coffee shop, but I didn’t want to waste those 10 hours (even though that’s what I usually ended up doing). I didn’t want all my time to be devoted to work and customer service — I felt like I had to stay awake just to give myself some “me time” (a.k.a. watching Netflix until I fell asleep with my computer in my lap). But then I was even more exhausted and my shifts at work sucked even more than they already did because I was so tired. I was too drained to see friends, too, and often went weeks at a time without talking to anyone I loved. It wasn’t worth it.
Exercise. This will always be an uphill battle for me, but especially as I get older, I’m getting more and more concerned about being healthy. If I’m ever feeling as though all you want to do is something self-destructive, I try going on a walk instead. The fresh air clears my mind and the walking gives me purpose. Feeling my muscles moving and doing what they were made for is extremely rewarding.
Get creative. Channel every harmful emotion you’re feeling into something tangible — words on a page, paint on a canvas. Then you’ll see they aren’t so dangerous after all. Start a blog. Journal. Paint a picture. Crochet a scarf. Begin a novel. The world can always use more creativity. Who knows? Maybe you’ll create something of real value by the time you’re through.
I’m trying to get better at all of these things. Even copying them down here, seeing them in print, makes them seem more manageable. The first few years out of college are going to be rough regardless, but don’t make them worse simply by not taking care of yourself. Yes, we’re our own worst enemy, but we can also be our own best ally.
I hope you’re all taking care of yourselves out there. And if you’re in the same boat as me, I hope we can get through this together.