“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” ~Jean Shinoda Bolen
We all get lost sometimes.
So lost that we lose track of who we are, where we’re going, what we want, and how to give ourselves what we need to feel nourished and healthy.
I’ve been there many times, enough times to realize that it’s an inevitable part of life, to realize that it’s okay to get lost.
The triggers? They’re never predictable.
Some are subtle and prolonged; some are brief but so huge they knock me off my feet and leave me reeling from shock: the pain of not fitting in at school as a teenager, the sudden death of my father when I was away at university, my first serious breakup, the time I found myself in an emotionally abusive relationship but couldn’t work up the courage to leave, a betrayal by a friend that made me question if everything that we shared was even real.
At times like these, when I find myself down on my knees, the first thing to go out the window is my motivation to take care of myself.
I either eat too much or stop eating. I stay in bed all day. I don’t drink enough water. I drink too much alcohol. I become unkind to myself. I lose patience with myself and others.
It just feels easier to not care.
It was only in recent years, when I hit my mid-thirties, that I became aware of how repeating this cycle of behaviors wasn’t serving me in any way. In fact, they were keeping me stuck in a negative place and holding me back from healing and moving forward.
It’s been during this time that I decided to break that cycle and give my intuition the voice and attention it deserved by making the following self-care steps a part of my life.
I give myself permission to not feel motivated all the time.
I always thought that motivation was this bright, powerful flame of desire that would drive me to do what was good for me, no matter what.
After all, if something was important enough, I should want to do it all the time, right?
As time passed and I gained more experience in life, I came to realize that there will be highs and there will be lows where I’ll feel like jumping off the moving train because it feels like too much work to stay on it.
It’s important that you recognize this and allow yourself to be in this place without feeling guilty about it. Give yourself the space you need to breathe and be still, then gradually start easing yourself into taking the steps you need to get to where you want to be.
I set an intention for the day the minute I wake up.
When life has knocked you off your feet and you aren’t sure where to go, the thoughts that go through your head in the first few minutes of your day can mean the difference between getting closer to the path of healing or drifting further away from it.
Instead of allowing negative thoughts to take center stage in my mind the way they used to, I now guide my thoughts to these two steps the minute I wake up:
- I think of three things that I’m grateful for, and then…
- I set an intention for the day ahead. This can be something as simple as keeping my spirits up throughout the day, or something more challenging, such as coming up with ten actionable solutions for a difficult situation that I may be facing.
Your intention doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. It just has to be meaningful to you.
I prioritize getting enough restful sleep.
Over the past few years, I experienced several violent break-ins into my home, and at the same time was struggling to deal with an emotionally abusive relationship.
As a result, anxiety became a constant companion, making it difficult for me to fall and stay asleep.
Now as I heal, doing my best to make sure that I get enough sleep each night has become a priority for me, and this means having a pre-sleep ritual in place:
- I make sure my computer is turned off by 8 p.m. and that I head to bed at the same time every night.
- I don’t drink coffee, but I love tea, so I stick to caffeine-free teas after 4 p.m..
- I spend an hour before I plan to go to bed doing something that helps me let go of the stresses, excitement, and chaos of the day, and this typically means spending time with my dog and family, reading, talking to a friend, or going through a soothing yoga sequence. Within this hour, I also spend five to ten minutes questioning any stressful thoughts that I might have, with the help of Byron Katie’s “The Work” so that they have less power over me and are less likely to keep me up during the night.
If you’re finding it difficult to sleep restfully for at least seven hours a night, I encourage you to start putting together a pre-sleep routine that will help calm your mind and body down to make falling and staying asleep feel easier.
I focus on building mindfulness.
Having been an emotional eater since my teens, it can be easy for me to fall back into my old pattern of turning to food for comfort when stress and anxiety get the better of me.
This is why nurturing mindfulness is an important part of my daily routine, especially when things get rough.
Rather than numb myself with food, alcohol, compulsive shopping, or some other habit that helps me avoid facing the difficult emotions I’m experiencing, I acknowledge their presence, the discomfort that they’re stirring up in me, and what the old me used to do when they came up.
I then consciously make the decision to not give in to those old habits—habits that I know will ultimately drag me down and hold me back from getting back on my feet.
If you’re struggling to give up a habit that you know isn’t good for you, here’s my challenge to you: Every time you’re tempted to say yes to that box of donuts, bottle of wine, or pity party, ask yourself, “Is this going to make me stronger?” If your answer is no, move away from it.
I make gentle movement a part of my day.
I know I can’t be happy and capable if my body isn’t healthy and strong, so I make time three to five times a week to exercise.
If I’m not in a good place and am running low on energy, I can’t make it through an intense workout that involves heavy equipment, so I shift gears and go slow with my own body weight instead.
Fitness isn’t always about going hard and fast all the time or getting flat abs—it also means being able to listen to your body and spirit so that you can add purposeful movement into your day that helps you build the resilience you need to deal with the anxieties of everyday life.
I learn something new that will strengthen me from the inside out every day.
Whenever I feel stuck in a rut or painful place, I often have my gut telling me that it’s because I may not yet have the necessary skills, insights, or right mindset to heal and break free from it.
This is why I set a goal to learn one new thing every single day by reading a book, blog post, listening to a podcast, or even connecting with someone who has more experience than I do so I can approach life or a particular situation that I’m in from a fresh perspective.
The internal shifts that happen don’t have to be huge, but they do add up in a way that makes a significant difference to my life: I gradually become stronger, gain more clarity, and start feeling more confident about taking that first step in a new, healthier direction.
No matter how low or lost you feel right now, I want you to know this: There’s always a way out and up, and it will always start from within you.
About Michele Lian
Michele has worn multiple hats over the years: emotional eating survivor, microbiologist, Deputy Editor at SHAPE Malaysia, American Council On Exercise-certified personal trainer, Precision Nutrition-certified sports nutrition coach, and now, self-care advocate at michelelian.com. She’s fascinated with food, movement, and learning how to take better care of herself as she makes her way through this crazy, chaotic world, and her mission is to help you do the same.