How Slow and Steady Wins the Race When You're Struggling to Find a Smile

By Kate Harveston | Posted: September 03, 2019

Life is similar to an ocean. Sometimes it's calm, and you surf the waves with minimal effort. The water shines a brilliant blue, birds soar through the sky, and everything in the world comes into alignment. At other times, the ocean is dark and stormy, and even though it's only doing what nature intends, you feel like it purposely wants to wash you away. 

Just like the ocean, life is never all the way good or bad, and you must learn to take these fluctuations in stride. You achieve this by taking small steps towards your goals and dreams one day at a time. These steps eventually add up to form the sum of an enjoyable life, and when you look back at the bigger picture, you'll see that moving at your own pace was worth it.

Prioritize peace

Sometimes you can slip into a state where you aren't occupying enough space within your life. When so much of your time is spent responding to the demands of life, you can begin feeling like a supporting character in your own story. The way to reclaim your position as the protagonist is to control what you can. You can't control everything that happens in your life, and you have to make peace with that before managing more realistic obstacles. An easy way to do this is to create your own sacred space. 

It doesn't matter where that space is — your bedroom, the park, your bathroom, or the beach. Make it your own. Carve out a place for yourself that fulfills you. If it's your apartment, play music you love, surround yourself with positive messages and imagery or burn candles with scents you enjoy. Avoid bringing anything that creates negativity into your space. You need to have somewhere you can go whenever you burn out on the responsibilities of life.

If you haven't tried meditation before, now's the time to start. Mindfulness meditation emphasizes paying attention to the present and taking obstacles as they come but knowing when to let them go. Meditation doesn't look the same for everyone, so do whatever feels appropriate for you. The key is to have a relaxed atmosphere, whether that requires silence or quiet instrumental music. Medical studies have shown evidence that meditation helps to relieve depression, chronic pain, and anxiety.

Take breaks from your responsibilities when you can. Whether it's school, work, or child-rearing, everyone deserves to have a moment of peace when they can grasp it. Don't exhaust yourself finishing assignments. When you stretch yourself beyond your limits, you can't do your best work. Sometimes it's okay to be selfish and take time to focus on yourself. Detach from work and family obligations for a few minutes each day.

Sleep and eat well

Get adequate sleep regularly. Everyone has heard the spiel about eight hours of a sleep a night, and it's generally true. Admittedly, everyone's body works differently, and some may genuinely feel relaxed from six or ten hours a night. Remember to care for your body in ways that fit you. You don't have to switch up your entire routine, but if your current regimen doesn't help you reach your full potential, it’s time for a change.

When you don't get sufficient sleep, you disrupt functioning in a section of your brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This part regulates your circadian rhythm, which tell you when to sleep and wake. An unregulated body worsens numerous other problems, such as mood disorders and low metabolic function.

Eat healthy foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables to keep a balanced diet. Not only will these foods energize you throughout the day, but they nourish both your mind and your body. Many people don't choose healthy foods due to various circumstances, but an unbalanced diet can cause dysbiosis. Dysbiosis occurs when harmful types of bacteria populate in your intestines. This condition can exacerbate or even cause mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Food that doesn't fit your body's dietary needs can cause both mental and physical complications. For this reason, you should remain conscious of what you put in your body.

Set actionable goals

Make a list of things you can and will accomplish for tomorrow. These goals should be workable — things you can do within reason. Don't aim for anything too unrealistic. The broader your goals are, the harder it is to visualize and carry them out. Most people do well with following step-by-step directions and breaking tasks up into organized sections. It's perfectly fine to have simple goals, as everyone has their own level of capability.

When you push yourself to meet others' expectations you encourage motivation, but you also risk disappointing yourself if you don't succeed. All you need is a list of tasks you want to accomplish, not for anyone else's sake but for yours. If you're not one for speaking to strangers, say hello to someone at the store. Aim to help a different person daily for a week or challenge one negative thought for two weeks.

Defeat self-hatred

The hardest part of refreshing your mind is eliminating negative thoughts and feelings. Cognitive distortions plague everyone, and some people have more control over them than others. Sometimes you aren't able to move past the voice in your head telling you that you're not capable of achieving your goals. Aim to push that voice away when it appears and replace it with positive messaging. You can do this through reframing, which is a mental health technique for challenging self-hate. 

Perhaps you run daily and want to add two more miles to your trip to challenge yourself, but you suddenly think, "Two miles is way too far! I'll never make it." You can reframe that thought by responding with, "Two miles is far, but if I give my best attempt, then that's all that matters." Cognitive distortions can pop into your head at random moments. If you struggle with mental health issues that turn them into a constant, it can seem like they never go away.

Keep challenging negative thoughts with positive rebuttals. The road to self-encouragement can be bumpy, but you can always pick yourself up and travel onward.

Realize your potential for a happy life

Part of what makes life great is happiness, and this concept doesn't have to be elusive for you. Join the Happiness Program at a location near you during the Sept 20-22 national Happiness Weekend to focus on your health daily and avoid internal and external pressure to follow paths that don't enrich your life. As the saying goes, "Slow and steady wins the race."

Kate Harveston writes about wellness and mental health. If you enjoy her work, you can visit her women’s health blog, So Well, So Woman. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


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