Our expert Ivana (@iwilukacova) has chosen self-awareness as today’s topic. #expertadvice

Hello again! After Kate asked me to become a regular contributor on @allthingswomenshare, I knew that I wanted my first ‘official’ post to be about something that I consider very important for my own well-being. I knew that self-awareness is something that looks and feels different to each individual, and it’s also something that is reflected upon differently by everyone. For me personally, self-awareness has been something that I did have to work hard at, but once I learned how to ‘do it’, my outlook on life and on myself changed significantly (for the better!).

Self-awareness could be defined as an individual being aware of different aspects of the self, including traits, behaviours and feelings. My personal favourite definition of the concept is ‘a psychological state of mind in which oneself becomes the focus of attention’. I think that this definition is a wonderful way to look at self-awareness.

I started focusing on this concept when I was just in my first year of my undergraduate degree, taking the Foundations of Cognitive Psychology module. I had heard of it before, in movies, TV series, read about it in books and magazines. But I never took the time to think ‘am I practicing self-awareness?’ or ‘am I self-aware to an extent which can be considered good enough?’. I think that as people, we can be so busy, and distracted, and self-awareness goes completely out of the window. Don’t get me wrong, self-awareness can be something as little as picking out a matching pair of socks or wiping the lipstick off your teeth. But true self-awareness is much, much more than that. It’s realising when it is enough, when it’s time to fight for something and when it is time to quit. It’s also realising when we need a break, a time-out, to practice some self-care.

In our day-to-day lives, we are very much hard-wired to just keep going, keep pushing, regardless of the consequences this may have on our mental and physical health. And this is when self-awareness come into play. Over the period of lockdown, there is one specific day that really stands out to me. I had just submitted some coursework the day before and wrote out a basic plan for my dissertation. I finished all my chores, I took care of my dog, and there was nothing else for me to do. The entire day (and night) I had the most crippling, flat feeling in my chest. Like butterflies, but not the good kind. It took me a little while to realise that it was anxiety. I had (and still have) no idea what the cause of it was, as I had done everything I was meant to. But I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t move, and I could not even hear myself think. Everything was so loud and confusing. I tried breathing techniques, I tried other things I knew ‘should’ work, but the feeling was still there. The next day I woke up exhausted, and whilst the feeling of anxiety was gone the aftermath was even worse. I felt completely burnt out, I knew that I wouldn’t get any work done that day. I ended up turning my phone off, putting on a film, a hair mask, a face mask and just taking the day to myself. Having a pamper, a true self-care day. The day after that I felt 100x better.

I think that it was just a regular case of burn out. I’m still unsure whether it was the Uni work, normal work, or simply the mental health side of being in lockdown, not being able to see anyone from outside of my household, not having my usual routine. As a person I am very busy, always going somewhere, doing something, seeing someone, and so the lockdown period really did take its toll on me and my mental health. And after that day, I knew that self-awareness was more important than ever. I need to know when to switch-off, when to take a break and when / how to listen to my body.

Everyone needs that and making sure you’re self-aware could begin as a self-care Sunday every week. A day for absolute chilling out, no checking emails or writing extensive to-do lists that get you thinking about the next week or 5 (plenty of time for that in the evening / Monday morning). It’s so important for us to look after ourselves, because if we can’t look after ourselves, who else will look after us? It’s important to recognise that listening to our brains and our body is ok, it’s perfectly normal to need a day off, or a nap or a lie-in. Bringing the focus of our attention onto ourselves is something everyone should do at least once a week. Ourselves being our centre of attention for one day is healthy and normal and boosts our psychological well-being.

So next time you feel fed up, or drained or just really irritated, take a few breaths in, and out, and whack a face mask on, light a candle and put on your favourite movie / TV series. Encourage self-awareness within yourself, for yourself and your well-being.

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