In September 2017 I was in a car accident.
I was heading home from a client meeting and while driving through an intersection, a car sped through in front of me. I slammed on my brakes and slid on the wet pavement right into the back side of his truck, rupturing his tire and making the front end of my Honda Accord look like it got punched by the Hulk. Thankfully me and the other driver were both ok; but my car was totaled.
While it's never fun to be in an accident, it actually ended up being one of the healthiest things that could have happened to me.
Wrecking my car became the wakeup call I needed to stop putting my own wellbeing aside in the pursuit of progress. – I hope that my story can help you cut through anxiety and overwork and finally give yourself permission to rest, even while you hustle.
In this article I'll share with you how I learned to overcome my anxiety and fear with 4 Pillars of Self-Care, but before that, you need the full picture.
The story continues:
While getting checked out at the doctor, she told me that I was storing a bunch of hypertension in my neck and back muscles, which had been aggravated by the accident. Everything was a big mess of persisting knots and aches.
You see, in the months leading up to my accident, I'd been in a state of high anxiety on an almost daily basis.
I'd wake up and the first thoughts going through my head would be fears: about my client work, about finances, expectations, responsibilities, etc. I would feel the weight of these things crushing me before I even got ready for the day.
My energy felt sapped, my mind felt slow. I honestly had many days where I just wanted to stay in bed all day or escape and go somewhere with my wife to find relief.
But I had to keep going because I needed to provide for my family. I needed to keep working. I had to work while tired, stressed, and worried.
At the same time I was facing these thought battles, I was also sick for months on-end (I literally had a gnarly cough for 4 months!), and Shannon also had a set of health issues she was facing; and yet I was unable to take more than a day or a half a day off; because when you're self-employed, if you don't work, you don't get paid.
So I'd pull myself together, tell myself,
"One day at a time. One step at a time."
And keep going.
I was constantly battling fears:
- Fear of Loss - That my business would take another big hit as it had in 2016 and early 2017. Fear that my current clients would find some reason to bail on me.
- Fear of Disaster - That something bad was unexpectedly going to happen to me or Shannon, our health, our home, or our finances.
- Fear of Rest - I had the fear that if I took time to rest I would be "punished", that there would be negative consequences if I rested, that "everything would fall apart" if I didn't hold it together.
These fears kept me so trapped in caring for everything else in my life, that I didn't spare any care for myself. The weight of responsibilities felt crushing.
I felt like I wasn't allowed to care for myself, invest in myself, rest for myself.
And at the heart of that was the belief that I wasn't worth it.
I believed that everyone and everything I was responsible for was more important than I was, and that in order to fulfill my duties I had to take the backseat at all times. My mindset was 100% sacrifice.
This belief made me feel like a slave, it made me feel even more worthless.
I couldn't even fully enjoy when I'd experience something good, because I'd be thinking about the next challenge/need/deadline in the back of my mind instead of being present in the good moments.
Then I wrecked my car.
It was sobering to hear from the doctor that my body had been storing up all the stress I'd been experiencing. It had been packing it down inside me, which was taking its toll on me physically as my responsibilities were taking a toll on me mentally and emotionally.
My doctor is also Shannon's doctor, so she's aware of how much I'd been caring for and prioritizing her health over the past 2 years. She gave me this advice,
"You can only take care of others if you first take care of yourself."
In another conversation with a friend they put it this way:
"Self care is not selfish."
Following the doctor's appointment, I began to make some changes in my life to target the issues that had been crushing me in body, mind and spirit.
- I began going to the chiropractor and getting massages (courtesy of car insurance)
- Getting more rest/sleep and taking breaks through the day.
- Stretching to release tension
- Fixing my posture (so I wouldn't look like Gollum when working on my computer)
- Working out (At home & Crossfit)- This has a profound effect on my overall well being. I feel confident, not creaky. I feel stronger, and it gives me a great outlet from stress and tension. In addition: working out does more for relieving pain/aches/back problems than any medicine I've ever tried.
- Taking breaks from my work. Sometimes I'd even lie down on the floor in my office and just be still for 5 minutes to process my thoughts and emotions. I'd also go outside and take my dog for a walk and just listen and look at nature, enjoy the sun and fresh air and let my mind wander.
- It has been huge to give myself permission to take a true day off without feeling bad about it. This can actually be quite a challenge if you've ever found yourself being a workaholic.
- I started to journal my thoughts when I'd be stressed out or fearful. I do this by having a conversation with myself or writing out a prayer.
- I called friends or mentors and asked advice when I was stressed or frustrated. (Admittedly, I wish I did this even more because it's very easy for me to default to handling things all by myself)
Firstly, I made a decision to dedicate more time to prayer, writing, reflection, and studying the Bible in my morning routine. This habit required me to wake up even earlier, but it's payed unmeasurable dividends.
Beyond that, I started a transformational habit that I'd recommend to every single person I know:
I began speaking daily affirmations.
This is something I've done before in the past, but I started this practice again after hearing Craig Groeschel speak a sermon called "Words To Live By". (Regardless of if you're a person of faith or not, the core principles of his message are SO stinking good.)
I started by by identifying all of the negative thoughts and emotions I was experiencing on a daily basis: fears, doubts, insecurities, etc. and I came up with positive truth statements about myself to counteract them.
I also came up with positive statements for other areas of my life to affirm how I wanted to be and what I wanted to experience: business, finances, relationships, health, etc. - I have a list of these affirmations in my Evernote that I add to whenever I encounter a new fear or doubt or struggle.
I speak these affirmations out loud in the morning, when I'm getting ready, journaling, praying, walking the dog, driving, sitting down at my computer, as well as throughout the day and any time I sense the negative thoughts creeping in again.
This has been the single most effective practice I do for my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well being.
The most significant affirmations for me have been in relation to my self- worth. Since battling a low self-worth is what got me into the situation in the first place, it been the most transformational facet of my health since I've started building myself up.
Here are some examples of my affirmations:
- Value - "My value is not defined by my performance, circumstances, bank account, what happened to me, or other people's opinion/perception of me. My value cannot go up or down, because I am already more valuable than I can imagine. My value is a set constant: priceless."
- Performance - "I am not valuable because of what I do. I am valuable because of who I am."
- In relation to how people treat me - "I don't have to view myself through the eyes of people who don't value me. My value is intrinsic: it always has and always will be there."
- Comparison - "I am right where I need to be in life. My journey is my own, and my timing is God's.
The morning I began writing this post, I felt a crushing weight of worry.
I began to battle fear again. I began to be anxious about the future and the unknown.
I began to lose faith that everything would be alright. I began to let the undefined path ahead be something that paralyzed me instead of exciting me.
My wife Shannon pointed out that she can always tell when I'm struggling because she can see it on me:
My shoulders slump, my eyebrows furrow, I look down at the floor, I sink down into my chair... I quite literally "take on the weight of the world" when I begin to lose sight of the truth.
She then began to help lift me up by walking me through making declarations of gratefulness and truth.
She asked me, "What are you thankful for?"
Because it's impossible to be grateful and ungrateful at the same time.
She also began sharing some encouraging passages from the Bible with me about overcoming fear, doubt, and obstacles. – Whether or not you share the same faith, the core principle is this:
It's important to have life-giving truths written down so that you can reference them and read them aloud in the times when you don't feel hope.
Shannon also encouraged me to open up my list of "Words To Live By" and begin making my declarations out loud, since those were personalized beliefs I'd recorded about myself.
Keep in mind that I didn't FEEL like any of these things were true that morning, but I CHOSE to believe that they were true because I knew that I didn't want to stay in my mess, I wanted to life a life that those truths represented.
You need to affirm the truth of what you want your life to become on a daily basis, ESPECIALLY when you don't feel it and when your circumstances tell you otherwise.
Our words are powerful.
They frame our entire mindset and control our emotions.
We have the power to influence our mental, emotional, and physical state through our words and beliefs. And when we put this into action, then we are no longer victims of our circumstances, our joy and peace is no longer conditional on what we have or what happens to us, and we can have hope and confidence in the face of insurmountable odds.
As we did this together, I began to feel my heart LIFT.
- My eyes didn't feel as heavy, my mind didn't feel as clouded.
- I began to focus my attention on what I was grateful for instead of what I didn't have.
- I began to remember challenges I've overcome rather than ones that I don't yet see the answer to...
My whole countenance began to change as I spoke life into myself.
This is why it's so important to have someone else alongside you in your journey: So they can remind you of the truth when you can't see the light.
We can't make it alone, we need people who have our back who we can be real with and say, "If I'm being honest, I'm not doing good today. I'm feeling overwhelmed."
Whether it's a spouse, friend, parent, sibling, mentor, a group, or whoever, we need people who can brace us up through the storms of life and point our eyes to the truth.
Here are four of the most powerful concepts, let's call them Pillars for Self-Care that I've discovered:
1.You are not a victim.
If you believe that you're a victim, then you are at the mercy of whatever happens to you in life.
If you aren't a victim, it means you have the power to RESPOND to your situations and to DECIDE which direction you want to go.
You can control your thoughts, and therefore you can influence your attitudes and feelings.
2. You have intrinsic value.
Our actions are a reflection of our thoughts, and our thoughts are a reflection of our hearts.
If we don't value ourselves, it's because (in some way) we don't believe that we are valuable. And if we don't believe that we are valuable, we won't take care of ourselves.
Think about your most prized possessions: You take the best care of the things that you find most valuable, and you disregard the things that are of little significance.
If we apply this concept to ourselves: The degree to which we take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally is an indication of our self worth and self esteem.
3.You don't have to agree with your feelings.
Our feelings are reactive, but we can choose to be responsive.
They don't define our situations, they are simply our emotional response to what's going on around us. Or feelings are a fruit of our core beliefs.
Here's an example:
Let's assume that you've been packing on a lot of stress in life; you're pushing yourself in every area of your life to the limits of your capacity. You order a pizza because, well, pizza fixes everything (and you never need a reason to get pizza)...
This pizza is your one escape from the stresses of life. It is going to make everything right. And as you're walking up the stairs to your home, you slip ever so slightly. (You know where this is going) – The pizza box flips out of your hand. *Splat*... Your pizza is now on the ground, inedible, covered in dirt.
You lose your crap. – Everything in your life is crashing down. Everything is falling apart. You can't have anything nice, not even something as simple as comfort food. The world is ending, and you're siting on the top step of your stairs sobbing over a soiled pizza.
Question: Is the world actually over because your pizza fell? Of course not.
But it certainly FEELS that way. It feels that way because you've probably been telling yourself "I can't make it. Everything is about to crash down." the past several months. Your REACTION to the pizza on the ground is a fruit of what you've been believing on the inside.
The good news is that you don't have to agree with your feelings. You can choose what to believe, despite how you feel. You can step outside of how you're currently feeling and say, "Ok, this is how I'm feeling right now, but what do I KNOW is true?"
How do you make sure that you make these kinds of sober-minded responses? This leads us to the next principle of self care.
4.Front-load your self-care.
Some of us operate under the philosophy of taking each day as it comes and accepting what life gives you as "It is how it is".
While this approach sounds very poetic and free-spirited, we need to partner it with a healthy perspective. It can be too easy to leave our mindset and self-esteem at the mercy of your circumstances. If you have a good day, then you feel good, but if you have a bad day then you feel bad.
When You front-load our self esteem with positivity and belief on a daily basis, then you can maintain momentum in life.
When you encounter challenging times on a "bad day" (ex: rainy weather, experiencing disappointment, getting let down by someone, etc.), you will have a reserve of self esteem and confidence to draw from. You won't be derailed by situations that normally would have taken you out.
I have a close friend, John Schreiber, who has written a few articles for Frontrunners, who always says,
"I've never had a bad day in my life."
Is this possible? It is if you CHOOSE.
John isn't naive by having this mindset, and he's not in denial. Chances are that John has experienced some pretty crappy days before. He's probably felt overwhelmed, stressed, sad, afraid, angry, or disappointed before. But the reason he can confidently say that he's never had a bad day in his life before is because he chooses to learn and grow from every single experience he has, and that growth and experience is a GOOD thing.
Responding instead of reacting involves an acknowledgement and embrace of our circumstances, and then a DECISION to always look for the good and a DECISION to act accordingly.
Thankfully, I'd already begun this process by the time I totaled my car. Instead of losing it and stressing, I chose how I was going to respond:
"Ok, THAT just happened. I'm thankful that I'm ok. This is all going to work out. I don't know how, but it will. God's got my back."
From that point, I continued the process of repairing my mindset and beliefs with the principles mentioned above:
- You Are Not A Victim
- You Have Intrinsic Value
- You Don't Have To Agree With Your Feelings
- Front-Load Your Self Care
I've been applying these principles across the different facets of my life: Emotionally, Mentally, Spiritually, and Physically.
And I've held on to this belief:
"One day at a time. One step at a time."
Whatever your situation, no matter how dire, no matter how much people are counting on you, take care of yourself.