I was raised in Baltimore, an only child in a single parent household. My father struggled with drug addiction and an ever-evolving arrest record, and was absent most of my youth.
My mother worked tirelessly to protect me from my environment. She moved us into a lower middle class neighborhood in the suburbs of Baltimore County, and enrolled me in some of the best schools there.
But for years I struggled with self-doubt and low self-esteem, and school only made things worse.
Teachers told me that I'd never graduate from high school, students made fun of me because I was a part of the free/reduced lunch program.
I carried those feelings of inadequacy along with me into adulthood, and was ultimately diagnosed with generalized anxiety and panic disorder a few years ago.
This completely change the trajectory of my life.
After years of battling my disorder, chronic depression, an addiction to my anxiety medication, and surviving an accidental overdose, I realized that I had hated myself for far too long. It was time to save myself from myself.
Here are eight lifestyle changes that have personally helped me learn to love and accept myself.
1. I start my day with a gratitude prayer.
I often lose sight of all that I have already accomplished, simply by fixating on what I have not. This only perpetuates my insecurities, and creates more doubt and disillusion. By expressing gratitude for all that I have, I am reminded of what's working in my life. It shifts my focus to what's working, which affects the attitude I bring to my day and toward others.
2. I meditate to release my desire to be in control.
Anxiety is deeply grounded in fear — fear of the unknown, fear of the future and fear of not being in control. Meditation helps to release the fear of tomorrow, by shifting our focus to today. Every moment has a message and every experience has a lesson, but we’re only able to comprehend them when we stop trying to manipulate their meanings. I’ve learned sometimes it’s important to just let go, and allow God and the Universe to conspire for your benefit. Put your faith on autopilot and go along for the ride.
3. I exercise for how it makes me feel, not how it makes me look.
When I started working out, I did it because I hated how I looked. Shortly after, my innocent desire to change my body grew into an unhealthy obsession, filled with testosterone boosters and countless caffeine supplements. After being rushed to the hospital for breathing difficulty and panic attacks, I discovered that my aesthetic aspirations were actually killing me slowly.
Exercise should be a pleasure, not be a job. It’s important to do it because it makes you feel great, not because you feel pressured to have a six-pack or you’re trying to get bikini ready. Also, don’t limit yourself to just a gym or fitness class. Taking a dance class, rock climbing, yoga or a few games of tennis, are all great activities to help you stay healthy and in great shape. Soon you’ll uncover your inner athlete without ever trying.
4. I spend more time with my children.
Children teach us everything from patience and kindness, to compassion and humility. They also teach us about ourselves. They're a direct reflection of the people they spend the most time around, and how they act is usually how you act.
I had to ask how I could show my kids to love themselves, if I didn’t know how to love myself first. In loving them unconditionally, I subsequently learned how to love myself in the same way. Thanks Christian and Jayden!
5. I write about my experiences.
One of the worst feelings in the world is feeling like no one understands you. As an anxiety sufferer and addict, I’m all too familiar with that feeling.
By sharing my vulnerabilities and faults, I’ve liberated myself from them. I found strength in my ability to concede my weaknesses, and have since been able to connect with an entire community of like-minded people who have shared similar struggles. We are all empowered because we empower one another.
I’ve found my greatest healing in the form of helping others heal.
6. I went on a TV detox.
It’s rare to find positive, uplifting programming on television today. Our daily news typically focuses on tragic events. By being oversaturated with such negativity, I found myself become more fearful, stressed, worried, depressed, uninspired and unimaginative.
I’ve found great relief in putting down the remote, and picking up books on self fulfillment. I educate myself on the things I’m most interested in and hopefully become a better version of myself.
7. I cook at home more, and eat out less.
Cooking is a great way to monitor what goes into my body. By cooking, I eat healthier, which also helps me to feel better, have more natural energy and also save more money.
8. I travel, a lot.
There’s nothing more humbling than traveling to a new place, and realizing that your problems aren’t as bad as you’ve believed them to be.
There are people with much less, who don’t desire much more. Opening ourselves to other ideas will not negate our trials, but it will help us to change our perception of them.
I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone, and learn to accept new cultures, new customs, new ideas and new values. We have to embrace our differences, if we ever expect to accept our commonalities.
Photo courtesy of the author