Last week, on a day when I was feeling particularly moody, my friend Sarah sent a text asking how I was doing. I told her the truth: I felt overwhelmed with work, hopeless about dating, frustrated with my weight, and … who CARES SINCE I’M SUCH A LOSER JERK ANYWAY NONE OF THIS MATTERS.
She immediately shot back, “HEY. Don’t talk about my friend like that!” and then proceeded to calmly text me all the ways I was actually doing fine — I’m finally working on writing projects that have been dream goals for decades, I’m actively choosing not to date so I can’t expect humans to come beating down my door, and I recently started working out with a trainer which has already helped my lower back pain go away.
I decided to believe her because, well, she was right; like most people, I’m usually way too hard on myself. I clamp down like a Venus fly trap when I’m feeling less than perfect, holding fast to every negative thought and refusing to let in kindness. But when framed through the eyes of someone who cares about me, my life becomes less about the ways I’m failing and more about the ways I’m kicking ass. Sarah’s simple admonishment — “Don’t talk about my friend like that!” — made me realize that no matter how much time I spent being a good friend to others, I remained terrible at being a friend to myself.
As we get older, women invariably do for others before we do for ourselves. Maybe you have children or elderly parents that need your time and attention, a stressful boss, or a demanding partner. Putting ourselves last is a cultural construct, just like gender, race, and people who think reality shows like The Bachelor are not rigged. Setting our mental and emotional needs on the back burner just makes it easier to forget about them entirely. And, while best friends are great at giving perspective, support, and getting us out of emotional spirals — what happens when they’re not around?
As we get older, women invariably do for others before we do for ourselves.
There’s no way I’m suggesting you replace your friends. If you’re at all like me, it took you decades to cultivate a chump-free lifestyle, and we all need people to talk about the Real Housewives with over pizza and whiskey, OK? But knowing how to support yourself will help you feel more centered, independent, and able to actually enjoy yourself when you’re spending time with the people you love. Becoming a best friend to yourself will take practice, it won’t all happen overnight. Here’s an easy way to start.
Send yourself encouraging messages
I send myself notes all day long — my inbox is basically a virtual high-five session. “Bitch, you look dope as hell today!” or “You just wrote the hell out of that chapter!” Do I feel like a maniac having a folder full of emails where I am my own hype man? Yes. Does it help me feel better every single time I send one? Yes!
If it feels awkward to send yourself a positive note, just think about what your best friend in the entire world would say about whatever has you feeling challenged. Channel their goodness and send yourself an empathetic or invigorating message. This might feel silly, but there’s actually science to back it up: Positive affirmations are powerful reminders of what you value, they help shape the way you perceive yourself in the world, and even boost your performance at work. Most importantly, they can simply remind you that you’re a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm when you need an immediate boost of confidence.
A good friend often has spot-on actionable advice — even if it’s something we don’t want to hear. You need to give that same kind of actionable advice to yourself and actually follow through. For example, a few years ago, I was tired of thinking about my body only in terms of how I looked, and not how I felt. I knew my scale and full-length mirror were a big part of the problem. So, when I moved back to New York, I left them both in Seattle and never bought new ones. Do you know how good it feels to get rid of scale? It’s like having sex on top of an active volcano while you surf down a wave of lava. I read too many comics but YOU GET THE IDEA.
Similarly, I want to commit murder whenever I’m stressed out and my friends tell me to go for a walk or take a yoga class; they know I spend all day inside writing by myself, and that I’m basically allergic to exercise. But, somehow, they’re always right — I feel better when I get out of my head and into my body. These are things I needed to learn how to tell myself. Now when I feel my shoulders creeping up towards my ears, I tell myself to get going and then simply get up and move around. Let me impart this critical advice: If you already spend too much time in your head, there’s no shame an emergency one-person dance party.
Think big picture
If your friends are anything like mine, they spend a lot of time reminding you that things will get better. There’s a lot of encouragement to KEEP GOING — to work on the things that bring us joy even if they don’t make us money.
On New Year’s Day, I write a list every year of 100 things I want to accomplish in that year. It’s full of things small and large (read all of the books on my nightstand, go to Paris for my 40th birthday), and I look at it whenever I feel stuck or useless. It reminds me that I’m working towards some kind of goal every day. Your list can be big or small, you can write on your birthday or Arbor Day or today, but write down some short and long-term goals to reference whenever you’re feeling like you need to shake things up. Taking action, even a small one, could get you out of your current funk.
Being your own person is mostly about trying to dig yourself out of the cycle of negativity that affects us all. If you’re not sure how to start the process, call your best friend — or better yet, just ask yourself.
Danielle Henderson is a TV writer, freelance writer, former editor and staff writer for Rookie, and author of the book Feminist Ryan Gosling. Her memoir, The Ugly Cry, will be published in 2018.