As a designer, stylist, and photographer, I was surprised to find recently that some of my most popular posts (on social media, my blogs, and live streams) are actually about self-care and mental health.
It made me realize that a lot more people than I perceive experience the same anxiety, pressure, and self-doubt that I do. It also made me realize that the way I’ve gone about building my business has been unique.
In my business, I’ve made sanity and making money equal priorities. Not everyone goes about building an empire this way. Some people play it safe and err on the side of protecting their hearts and minds, and then never get their businesses off the ground; others throw themselves entirely into money, without ever recognizing that no amount will ever be “enough.”
What made me choose (because I did choose) to make sanity and money equal priorities?
Well, honestly, at my last job, I had terrible, life-controlling anxiety. Multiple times a day I’d experience dizzy spells from either forgetting to breathe or hyperventilating, and I’d have to find a dark, hidden corner somewhere to close my eyes, tuck my head between my knees, and pray.
People around me liked to joke that one of my “bad days” at work was like anyone else’s best day—that I could get 3X more done in an hour than should have been humanly possible. Part of me was flattered and pleased by these types of remarks; another part of me felt like at any moment, all the spinning plates were going to fall and smash to bits.
So when I left “corporate America” (my former boss would hate that I’m calling it that) and went to work independently, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let self-employment be as painful as working for someone else. In order to make that promise a reality, I knew I needed to prioritize my mental health.
I took a month off after I left that job. It was January, and no one would have paid me to do anything then, anyway; everyone was broke after their holiday festivities, and the heart of winter was just setting in in New England. I cozied up with a blanket, a stack of books, every season of Gilmore Girls, and about eight different kinds of tea, and spent the first twelfth of the New Year relaxing on the sofa. And I let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
My body didn’t understand what was happening at first. I’d developed some tremors at work that I was starting to struggle to hide. I still had them long into the New Year, but in that first month, I could feel my body wondering if I was going to allow it to step timidly into the sun—if I was really and truly going to rest long enough to allow it to heal. It was sort-of like the worse-before-it-gets-better feeling your head gets when it’s on the upswing from a cold. I stayed still, I breathed steadily, and I silently told my body, “Go ahead. It’s okay. Do your work. I’m not going anywhere.”
And it that month, I got really in-tune with what my body chemistry could tell me about my state of mind. I got familiar with the racing feeling in my chest when I was getting anxious, the shallow breathing that would ensue. I got familiar with the relief a warm cup of tea could bring to me, and how pampered and pleased it could make me feel to have a magazine and a plated pastry in front of me on the coffee table.
I discovered that having a graceful vase of flowers in my kitchen was like having a steady stream of calming waters wash over my senses. I learned that it was okay to admit when I needed a nap. I realized that no one was going to take care of me if I didn’t, and I was surprised to find that being cared for, even just by myself, brought me bursts of joy.
So in the months and almost years now since, I’ve stayed in touch with the sensations within my body. When I feel tension or anxiety, I stop what I’m doing, and I go for a drive, or I make myself a cup of tea, or I read a magazine article or I watch a fun, informative video on YouTube. And I don’t allow myself to feel guilty about it; I acknowledge that this is me, taking care of myself.
I’m still a very driven person. I still go to bed often wondering if there was more I could have accomplished during the day. But when I look at where I am now, versus where I was 18 months ago, I know I’m worlds ahead of where I was then. Because there are also days when I give myself 3 things to do, and when I get them done, I sleep like a baby. I feel waves of relief and joy and pride and peace knowing that I made it out of that dark tunnel I was in two years ago. Life doesn’t need to be perfect for me to at least recognize that.
What brings you joy? How can you be intentional about carving out space for those things in your life? Tell me with a comment below, and then come on over and stay a part of the conversation on Instagram, @alexisthegreek. Can’t wait!