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Ask Ainsley: How do I learn to put myself first?

Dear Ainsley,

Schoolwork is piling up and my stress level is rising—all the while, one of my best friends is constantly asking me to hang out late at night. I know she’s going through a rough patch after recently breaking up with her significant other, but I've been losing sleep, with having to hang out all the time and constantly check in on her. I love my friend dearly, I just feel like she asks a lot of me, and sometimes takes advantage of my kindness. I want to make sure she is happy, but not at the expense of my own well-being. How can I prioritize my needs without being a bad friend?


Prioritizing Other People (POP)

Dear POP,

Your situation reminds me of my own relationships with my friends, actually. I have often found myself getting so overwhelmed trying to help and support them that I forget to take time for myself or think about the kind of support I need. I eventually reached a point where I needed to evaluate my current situation and from there, decide what amount of time I could truly commit to others. As important as it is to be a supportive friend, it’s equally as important to know where to draw the line in terms of focusing too much on others’ needs instead of your own. By saying “yes” to someone else, you shouldn’t be saying “no” to yourself.

The first step in prioritizing yourself is accepting that you can’t change who you are—it’s human nature to want to make people happy. However, you can change some of your actions when you navigate this friendship, and doing so could ultimately put you in a better mental state. Once you acknowledge that you may be a people pleaser—meaning you tend to prioritize other people’s feelings over your own in order to make everyone happy—and figure out why you’re so eager to please those around you, it’s a lot easier to understand the root of your anxieties.  

It’s also important to know the limits of how much time you can afford to give to others. If you have a tendency to accommodate everyone’s wants and needs, try reducing the word “yes” and embracing “no.” In the case of your friend, the more you get used to saying “no” to those late night hang outs when you need alone time, the less guilt you’ll feel in doing so. When you do say yes, try setting time limits for how long you can hang out to ensure that you can still have the time to yourself that you need. If you really struggle with saying “no,” try to remind yourself that there will always be other times and opportunities to help someone that will end up working better for your schedule. Of course it’s nice to see loved ones happy, but if you are overwhelmed, true friends should understand that you can’t always be available to help them and won’t take advantage of you for feeling guilty.

In terms of learning how to tend to your own needs more, developing a self-care routine can be immensely helpful. I tend to get really overwhelmed with work and commitments, forgetting that I need time to relax. If you find that you may also be lacking the time to meet your needs, it might be beneficial for you to consider dropping a commitment or two. If you’re giving up something that you need, such as getting a good night’s sleep or studying for a test, it might be time to reevaluate and refocus. There is no shame in caring for yourself—you deserve to be happy, too.

All in all, remember that it’s okay to not always be everything to everyone—and that you can’t make everyone happy all the time. By knowing how much time you can truly offer to others and committing to creating a healthier mental state for yourself, you will be way more capable of committing to things that are the most important to you and to the people you love.

With love and care,


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