I remember sitting in my car crying and feeling overwhelmed almost every day because I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore. Crying was the only way I knew how to deal with the demands of working in the corporate world. It was the only way I knew how to release the emotional pressure of feeling like I was drowning daily with no support. I felt as if I was being constantly suffocated and the only way to breathe was to cry or scream my way out of this prison I had found myself in. Years later, I learned it was a mental prison that I had the power to break free from.
As an African-American and highly sensitive woman, spending over 10 years in corporate forced me to learn how to guard my mental health and central nervous system during hectic days. Unknowingly, I made the mistake of not mentally preparing myself for what I already knew was to come. I was internalizing the inaccurate belief that my job took precedence over my wellbeing.
After several therapy sessions I learned that:
I wasn’t crazy; being a black woman in the corporate world is the ultimate mental Olympics.
I needed to identify my triggers so that I’m able to navigate them with ease.
To navigate hectic days, I needed to create stronger boundaries.
I also learned that I needed to do a better job of protecting my mental health. I couldn’t be out here as a highly sensitive person without tools to support myself.
After turning inward and removing myself from environments in which I did not thrive, I’ve created a system for myself that has helped me to navigate chaotic days while protecting my mental health.
Preparation Happens Before Bed
After trial and error, I learned that preparation happens when the workday is complete. I created an evening ritual that consisted of the following:
Creating a To-Do List
To ease my stress and to increase the likelihood of a restful night’s sleep, I create a to-do list of all the tasks that need to be completed the next day. Creating a to-do list helps with time management and makes the day less hectic. It also prevents any little fires that may occur during the day.
Filling My Cup
Ending the workday to shower, cook dinner, watching less than an hour of television, and then working on my entrepreneurial ventures wasn’t a good system for me. I still felt depleted. I needed to find something that brought me joy, even if it was only for an hour. For me, I discovered that pouring into myself was reading, painting, writing, doing yoga, having family time, going for a walk, or taking small and productive steps to grow my business. I noticed that when I was finding pockets of joy after work, it changed the dynamics of my energy.
Setting aside 15 to 20 minutes to meditate and to gather the fragments of myself that I had lost during the workday was pivotal in preparing myself for the next day. Taking the time to quiet my mind decreases insomnia and panic attack episodes. I wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on whatever the day has to bring.
Setting the Tone for the Day
Carving out an hour of sacred time for myself in the morning helps me to psychologically prepare myself for the day ahead. It also helps me not to become anxious over the things I cannot control. For me, slow mornings look like meditating and not checking my phone first thing in the morning.
During my time of internal exploration, I’ve learned that upon waking, the body is still in the theta brain wave state. We experience this state before falling asleep or after awakening. Theta is the border between the subconscious and conscious and the mind is susceptible to learning and healing. This is the perfect brain wave state to meditate on and to enjoy being in your body.
After meditating, I turn on the sound of singing bowls and nature sounds to gently usher my mind out of the theta brain wave state. I incorporate light stretching and movement to wake myself.
Next, I make a cup of tea and read an uplifting text and journal my thoughts about what I’ve read. I prepare and eat a nourishing breakfast while listening to calming music or uplifting audio content.
During the Day
To carry me through the day, I’ve created a mental health tool kit that is always within reach whenever I need support. This toolkit includes:
I always carry my favorite scents with me when I need mental and emotional support. Some scents are carried in a spray bottle or in a glass vile. I associate each smell with a specific thought or feeling. For example, if I had just experienced an undesirable phone call, I will spray a citrus aromatherapy blend to dissolve any negative feelings I may have felt during the call. This spray also reminds me that I am deserving of peace, joy, and happiness.
The 5 Senses Meditation
When I have limited time, and need to ground myself midday, I perform a quick meditation called: The 5 Senses Meditation. This meditation consists of engaging all of your senses to help you return to yourself. This meditation is also known as finding your happy place. You can do this by closing your eyes and visualizing a place that makes you feel happy. Let’s use the beach as an example:
See: I can see the beautiful, sparkling, blue ocean.
Smell: I can smell the saltiness of the ocean.
Touch: I can feel the sand between my toes and the warm breeze on my skin.
Hear: I hear exotic birds flying along the coast.
Taste: I can taste my favorite food or drink while I’m relaxing on the beach.
Your brain does not know the difference between creative visualization or reality. This meditation takes less than five minutes and can be done anywhere.
To navigate a hectic day, I surround myself with affirmations and place them where I can see them. They’re a reminder that I am supported and that I need to trust myself to ride the waves of chaos. Affirmation examples include:
Their urgency is not my emergency
I do not need to get tense to solve a problem
I find the good in all things
During difficult days there have been times where I have caught myself holding my breath or breathing too quickly. I later found out that this was a trauma response to my vocational anxiety and I had been unconsciously forgetting to breathe for over 10 years.
I know it sounds simple, but taking the time to breathe is a form of self-care. It’s a reminder that we’re not machines and that our time here is temporary.
A simple breathing exercise that I do is called resonant or coherent breathing. This can be achieved by inhaling for a count of five and exhaling for a count of five. This breathing pattern can be practiced for a few minutes. Breathing at this rate reduces stress and depression symptoms.
Music has been proven to be a mood booster; it increases memory, enhances productivity and relieves anxiety and tension. As a part of my toolbox, I’ve created a mood-boosting playlist that helps me to work calmly.
I set alarms to remind me to stretch, drink water, eat, go to the restroom, and to go for a walk. Setting timers prevents me from sitting for long hours or stewing in stressful situations.
The word trigger has a negative connotation as it is related to evoke negative feelings. However, positive triggers exist as well. An example of a positive trigger is watching something funny on television or receiving a call from a friend. Positive triggers that I use as a tool are:
Photos of me as a child
Photos of my husband and me on vacation
A seashell from my tropical vacation
A plush avocado to squeeze
When I am having a tough moment, I will take time to look at these positive triggers and remind myself that I am capable of reaching the finish line.
Schedule Yourself in Your Calendar
Scheduling myself in my calendar and giving myself something to look forward to serves as an end-goal during a demanding day.
Scheduling myself in my calendar may look like setting time aside to take a bath, go shopping, or setting up an appointment to be pampered.
Learning how to protect your overall wellbeing from the energies of the outside world will help you to cultivate a deeper relationship with yourself. It will help you to learn how to remain grounded in any chaotic situation, listen to your body, and tune into your needs.