How I Changed My Life Through “Self-Care"

When I look back on my life so far, I've probably learned more about myself and what makes me happy in the past year alone than in all 20 years combined. Part of this started while studying abroad in Paris, where I knew basically no one. I had to keep myself together so I didn't lose myself in the foreign (and scary) new city. But when I returned, I realized I'd never actually taken time out of my busy college schedule to really pay attention to my emotional wellbeing after all. It was then that the importance of self-care truly hit me — that is, just how hugely important it is to keep your emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing in check, for your happiness and your sanity.

I first wrote about self-care at one of the darkest points of my life, several months ago. I had never felt so unequipped to handle everyday tasks; so resistant to personal fulfillment; so emotionally exhausted. In the months since, I've made sure to think critically about why that was, and I've finally come to realize that I honestly had no idea how to make time for myself — something so simple to do, and yet so many of us are guilty of not doing.

It probably all started while I was growing up in Silicon Valley, California — where living in an extremely competitive, high-stress, anxiety-ridden town was the norm. That all escalated when I hit college, and started getting involved with social justice causes. Suddenly, I had a hard time distinguishing between battles worth fighting and arguments that could be saved for another day.

So I set out on a journey to discover what truly makes me happy — and I soon realized that happiness can be found in the simplest of things. I started to notice that just meditating on the beach, watching sunsets, and finding flawless views of city skylines brought me a degree of peace I couldn't get in other ways. And while it might sound ridiculous that it took me such a long time to just figure out what I actually enjoy doing, I'm probably not alone. If we're being honest, many of us have the tendency to get caught up in the stress of everyday life; to the extent that we forget to have our own backs. Science even says so: According to the American Institute of Stress, 44 percent of Americans feel more stressed than they did five years ago, and stress is the basic cause of 60 percent of all human illness and disease.

There's no denying that mental, physical, and emotional health are all inextricably linked. And yet it's so easy to forget that when we fail to take care of ourselves on any of these planes, we only ensure a negative impact on virtually all aspects of our lives. At the same time, we don't all have the privilege of simply removing ourselves from stressful or toxic situations, so we need to consider what self-care actually looks like in our day-to-day lives. It could be as simple as just taking a step back for a few minutes to reflect on your day and whether or not you're content with where you are. (If you're not, ask yourself why.) Or it could be making the time to exercise, if you're able to. There's obviously no cookie-cutter formula for self-care; everyone has something different that works for them. Half the battle is finding out what that something is, and the other half is challenging yourself to implement it.

It is so, so easy to make more time for everyone and everything else in your life, rather than make time for the one who matters most: you. But as I travel the difficult path of augmenting my own mental health, I urge you to do the same. One of my favorite things that I've heard about self-care is that if you take care of yourself and nourish yourself, you will live to fight another day. You also don't have to compromise yourself to take care of yourself. I haven't let go of my values or my passion for activism in my attempt to make myself happier and healthier. Rather, I've simply recognized the importance of prioritizing the things that matter to me most, and accepted that I'm allowed to (and actually should) put myself first every now and then. Still, taking care of yourself can often be an uphill battle, so take it minute-by-minute and day-by-day — you might just find that a little goes a long way when it comes to wellness and self-love.

Images: Madhuri Sathish/Bustle