Why Self-Care is Key for Successful Friendships
I’ve always put pressure on myself. Whether with schoolwork, my career desires, or personal life, I have always pushed myself to do better and achieve success. I’m fortunate in that my parents have always supported me, and while they want me to do my best as well, they have never critiqued me for my shortcomings. I’ve attended pretty competitive schools, but again, I was always the one putting high expectations on myself. And while these expectations push me to work my hardest, they’ve also been the source of anxiety.
I remember the first time I felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety. When I was in eighth grade, my school placed a limit on how many classes you could miss for high school visits. I was on my second out of three allotted visits, but when I received my quarter’s progress report, I saw that my grade in music had dropped by a full letter. Now, music was always something I excelled at. I was in a travelling competitive choir outside of school, as well as being a piano, violin, and guitar player. How was I not doing well in my school’s beginning music program? I immediately felt like a failure and started to think of all the consequences. Surely the high schools to which I was applying would not accept me now, especially because I listed music as being one of my strong skills. My GPA was down, meaning my top choices were out of reach and that meant I no longer was going to get into the college of my choice either. And from there, I thought I might as well kiss my future goodbye. All this, and I was in eighth grade.
As it turns out, my music teacher thought I had gone beyond my three allotted visits, marking me as an unexcused absence for one of the classes. Thankfully, we sorted the situation out. But my anxiety definitely stayed with me over the years. While college expectations introduced a whole new level of anxiety, the most anxiety I felt during my college experience was my sophomore fall. I am pretty sure the entire semester I was one big ball of anxiety. I’ve mentioned before all the activities and classes I was taking on, but even more, this was the peak of my disordered eating and exercise practices. I was not confident in myself and my capabilities anymore, which then began impacting my relationships with friends. Between turning down dinner invitations, taking out my stress on others, not knowing how to talk to my friends anymore, the entire semester was filled with heightened emotions and I really was not myself. Even after I began approaching food and exercise differently, it took time for me to adjust and find a healthy place before I could be the best friend I could be again.
The lowest of the low regarding relationships was when one of my best friends and I went on a boat trip together before study abroad. This obviously should have been a trip that I felt grateful for. I am so fortunate to have access to such travel and to have visited different parts of the world. But I couldn’t enjoy the trip because of my mindset and how stuck I felt. On this trip, I was confined to strict eating schedules and dining options. There wasn’t too much to do on this boat except to visit the gym, which I did to work out in the morning and then to walk on the treadmill in the afternoon. And because I was so anxious and stressed, especially with the many unknowns about the few months before me, I took it out on my friend. To this day, things aren’t the same. I’ve seen her maybe three times in the past two years, and I’m still really upset and embarrassed by how I treated her and our friendship.
But, I thankfully did make progress with my mindset, and other relationships began to heal. With my continued divulgence into a balanced lifestyle, I learned how to take care of myself. I learned how to say no to my friends, not out of a lack of self control, but out of self control. I have learned how to stay in at times instead of going out (rarely feeling FOMO). I have learned how to speak openly about why I am staying in and how to communicate effectively with my friends so they know it is for self-care. And most importantly, I have learned how to make sure my friends know I am there for them no matter what. I learned that I cannot be a good friend unless I take care of myself. And because I have learned to take care of myself in this way, I have so much more time, energy, and passion for my friends.
All of this is to say that it was really, really difficult for me to give my all to my friendships because of my own mental and physical place. Think about it- how could I be there for others if I didn’t even know how to be there for myself? How could I support others during their times of stress and need when I myself wouldn’t even listen to the advice I was giving them? I learned balance during this time, which relates to friendships just as much as it does to food, exercise, sleep, etc. I want to be the friend people can rely on, and for a year of my life, I was the complete opposite. Now that I am able to take care of myself and listen to my body, I can be that friend and I am proud of myself everyday for the progress I have made. While I wish my relationship with my friend was completely healed, I am also somewhat grateful for that boat trip. Without it and without the following months of reflection, I may never have realized the extent to which my mentality was out of my hands. From this trip, I realized I needed to take a step back, heal myself, and be the kind of friend to myself that I so desperately wanted to be for my own friends.
How has your stress or anxiety impacted your friendships? What forms of self-care do you practice to make sure you are a better friend?