Learning How to Prioritize ~ by Kaylani

Late last year, I was hospitalized for almost 2 days due to liver issues. Lying in the hospital bed, I realized that the stress I had been putting on myself was too much.

I wanted to get into a great college, but I would never make it there with how much pressure I was putting on myself. I was suffering the consequences of not properly taking care of myself because I didn’t know how to prioritize. I was out of school for a month and a half which gave me a lot of time to think about the advice that I am about to tell you. I am not a doctor, motivational speaker, or therapist. I am just an average high school student that wants to share with you what I have discovered about prioritizing.

Everyday life is a balancing act. You are given 24 hours a day to handle what you have on your plate. Once you factor in sleep, eating, and other responsibilities, it may seem like you have no free time left to enjoy your life. How can anyone find the time to do everything that they want to do in a given day? Unfortunately, the secret is that you can’t do it all. However, you will live a happier and less stressful life by learning how to prioritize.

The first thing you need to prioritize is your mental health. Your mental health affects every other element of your life. When you are not feeling good, you will not be able to take care of yourself, perform at school and work, or enjoy your free time. Regardless of the help available, it will come down to your willingness to put your mental health above all else, which is crucial for your wellbeing. When things would get stressful for me at school, I typically focused on school above everything else. Not only did this cause fatigue and more stress, I could not even properly complete my work because of how strained I was. 

Since my hospitalization, I have begun taking scheduled breaks and giving myself time away from school work. By doing this, I have felt happier and been more efficient when working because I know that once I finish one project or task  I can take a break. The critical thing to remember when trying to prioritize mental health is that it is okay to take time off when you are not feeling well so that you can come back and give your responsibilities your full attention. Instead of working at low energy for hours on end, take a break and come back to the work when you can dedicate yourself to it.

The second thing you need to prioritize is your physical health, which is closely tied to your mental health. I am not a doctor, but I know that sleep, healthy food, exercise, and sunlight always help me feel happier and keep me energized enough for the rest of my tasks. I used to stay up really late even on school nights, mindlessly scrolling on my phone, and then I would wake up exhausted and wish I didn’t have school. Now, I put my phone away and try my best to get 8 hours of sleep each night around the same timeframe to set myself up for a great next day. 

I have also begun focusing more on healthy eating and exercising. You do not need to eat healthy food all day every day, but the nutrients in foods like fruits and vegetables are necessary for your body to perform its daily functions. Exercise and sunlight are often a challenge when you are very busy, but they can come together in a form as simple as a walk around the neighborhood. Even before my hospitalization, I knew that it wasn’t good for my health to spend all day sitting at my computer, but I would just focus on working as hard as possible. However, even if it is just 10 minutes walking around my yard, now I make sure to go outside and do some sort of exercise each day. Appreciating the nature around me gives me the break I need from work while exercising relieves some of my stress by giving me a healthy way to let it out. 

The third thing you need to prioritize is relationships. Whether it be friends, family, or a romantic relationship, having stable connections with others is essential. Without relationships, you will spend your free time alone which can increase feelings of stress and sadness. I used to believe that I was too shy to make new friends and that I didn’t have enough time to spend with them anyways. However, I know now that even introverts need to have a support circle of close loved ones to help them relax on their time off from school or work and be there for them in tough times. When I am feeling stressed or sad, having someone to talk to about my feelings not only cheers me up, but it also allows me to view my situation from a new perspective. 

You may have one or two close relationships that you focus on, but it is important to have a variety of friends so that you do not put too much pressure on the ones closest to you by wanting to spend all your time with them. It may seem tough to meet new people, but at school or work you are surrounded by peers that could end up being your best friends, you just have to reach out to them. Once you have those friends, set aside time to spend with them instead of just waiting for time to open up in your schedule. I have fallen out of touch with some great friends because neither of us felt we had the time to make for each other and we didn’t put enough effort into aligning our schedules. Reach out, schedule a time to hang out, and have fun being away from any school or work responsibilities.

The other things you need to prioritize depend on your own life because each person has their own responsibilities. You will probably choose to prioritize school or a job next, but keep in mind that even though you may need to go to school and/or work, they should not take over your entire life. You can still get good grades and complete work without sacrificing your wellbeing. Whatever you want to value next, you should regularly reevaluate what you are prioritizing by considering the following questions: 

  1. What can you do today that will make you happy? 
  2. How can you take care of your mental and physical health today? 
  3. When was the last time you spent time with your loved ones? 
  4. Most importantly, when you are 80 years old, will you look back at your life and say “I wish I had worked more”? Or will you say “I wish I had spent more time with my loved ones and pursuing my interests”? 

It took a hospitalization for me to learn how to prioritize, but I hope that for you all it will take is this article. 

P.S. In this article, I discussed the importance of mental health, but I recognize that many things cannot be resolved without outside help. The following are some resources that I have found helpful and I hope can be a good starting point for you if you need it:

BetterHelp

NIMH » Help for Mental Illnesses

60 Digital Resources for Mental Health Social Workers

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