So about three years ago, I was not in a good place.
I was in a passionate but turbulent relationship with someone I loved deeply (and who loved me) but with whom I clashed with on an almost daily basis. Anxiety and paranoia permeated our relationship, and we could barely enjoy an evening together without falling out.
Coupled with this, I was also doing an internship for a small publisher. The hours were long, the work taxing, and some of my colleagues were downright nasty.
Between an emotionally-demanding relationship and a stressful job, life was hell. I was tired, constantly in tears, and my mental health was in pieces.
But after a few months, something changed. Let me share with you my journey.
Speak to someone about your situation
The first step to dealing with this situation was to simply tell someone.
As strange as it might seem, the thought of actually telling someone how I felt never crossed my mind.
It became a habit to explain away all the stress and anxiety I was feeling. Every couple has relationship problems, and people have trouble at work all the time — my problems were just what everyone else was experiencing, right?
But one day, I had a spare evening and caught up with an old friend. We went for a drink, she asked me how I was doing — and I just burst into tears. No one had asked me that in months, and it all just came pouring out — my relationship woes, my problems at work, how tired I was — all of it.
Talking to someone gets all the mental anguish inside your head out into the open, and it’s surprisingly liberating. It lets someone else give their view on it, breaking the cycle of your own thoughts and helping you realize that you are not okay.
Cut out your bad habits
After a long day at work, I’d go home, open a bottle of wine, and collapse on the sofa. It helped me unwind, and everyone else did it, so it didn’t feel like a bad thing.
But soon I found myself depending on it. If there was no wine in the house, I wasn’t able to just let it be. I would nip out to the off-license and grab a bottle or two — I couldn’t relax without it.
But alcohol is a depressant, and it only staved off the stress for the evening. The next morning, I’d return to work with a hangover and a black cloud hanging over me.
And while I wasn’t drinking at work, I was smoking. Every hour, I’d go out and have a cigarette. But like alcohol, smoking is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
Nicotine gives you an immediate rush of relaxation, boosting your mood and reducing stress. But this feeling is only temporary, and quickly leads to withdrawal symptoms that make you more stressed.
Quitting cigarettes is hard — that’s no secret — but it helped me massively. I felt less stressed overall, I saved money, and I even started to look better.
While I didn’t quit alcohol altogether, I did cut down. I promised myself that I’d only drink at the weekend, instead replacing my weekday wine with herbal tea, long walks, and intense gym sessions (more on that later).
I won’t lie — quitting smoking and reducing my alcohol intake was hard. But it helped my mood dramatically, and I am happier for it.
Get out of the house and get active
I mentioned earlier that I replaced my evening drinking with gym sessions, and it worked wonders for me. In fact, exercise is perhaps the single best thing I did for my mental health.
The benefits of exercise are enormous. It boosts serotonin and endorphins (the happy chemicals in your body) and reduces stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. Doctors in the UK actually prescribe it as a treatment for anxiety and depression.
But exercise also fills up your idle time, time that might otherwise be filled with bad habits like drinking and smoking.
Your exercise doesn’t need to be especially demanding — no Rocky-style montages here — just a light jog around a park will suffice. The key here is to push yourself. When you push yourself, your mind focuses on your exertion, blocking everything else out.
Of course, when you’re stressed, exercise is the last thing on your mind. You need to overcome that first mental hurdle to get your trainers on and get out of the house. But even if you don’t feel like it, force yourself to do so.
Seek positive messages in your life
When you embark on a journey of self-care, you need constant messages of support. You need to know that you’re doing the right thing, you need reminding that it’s okay to look out for yourself.
Surrounding yourself with friends is a good start, especially during those first few weeks of your self-care journey. But it’s also worth looking at things you can do alone too.
Downloading the Headspace app was hugely beneficial for me. I learned meditation and mindfulness and started to actually enjoy being alone.
As well as Positively Positive, I also found Daring Woman had some inspiring articles that showed me how other women in my situation dealt with stress, and my Israeli friend recommended Orion’s Method to me. Orion has some empowering podcasts that helped me overcome my self-doubt after my breakup.
Surround yourself with positive voices. Friends that look out for you, podcasts that empower you, articles that inspire you — visit these every day. They will buoy you throughout your self-care journey and sustain you through even your darkest times, just like they did for me.
Remove negative people out of your life
Finally, perhaps the hardest step I made for myself was breaking up with my boyfriend.
It was hard — I still loved him, and he loved me — but the right thing to do isn’t necessarily the easiest. In fact, it rarely is.
My boyfriend was a negative presence in my life, and I was a negative presence in his (even though he didn’t see it that way). The good times were great, but the bad times? Downright harrowing. Our arguments were frequent and vicious, with each of us bringing up old incidents and calling each other names.
But I had to be selfish, and I learned that cutting negative people out of your life (even if they still provided some good times) was the best thing to do for my mental health in the long-term.
Of course, this was harder to do with work. If I wanted to get ahead in my career, I had to complete this internship. So I kept my head down and focused on the light at the end of the tunnel.
No, it wasn’t easy. But combined with the other self-care steps listed here, work became easier to manage.
If you have someone in your life who does more harm to your mental health than good, cut them out. It won’t be easy, and you will doubt yourself time and again. But be selfish, be resolute, and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel — do it for yourself.
Today, I’m single and happy. I completed my internship and I’m working on my own projects that I enjoy. My journey here wasn’t easy, and I still miss my ex sometimes. But I know deep down that I did what was right for me.
Remember life doesn’t need to be this way. Take inspiration from my story and take the first step on your own self-care.
Hollie Jones is an expert lifestyle blogger who lives for writing. Hollie’s drive, passion and background come from the arts and media sectors. You can read her latest blog posts on Hollie and the Ivy, where she shares tips and advice about her passions while having a lot of fun along the way.
Image courtesy of Dustin Belt.