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The end of the year is a perfect time to reflect on the year’s stresses, and what you plan to do about them in the new year.

Smiling through the stress.

Aetna asked me about stress levels because stress has damaging effects on health and reducing stress can boost well-being. And that question got me thinking: If 2015 was the Year of Yes for Shonda, then it was the Year of “Oh, Dear God, What Have I Done?” for me.

The prevailing idea of “doing what you love” led me to make a pretty big decision: I quit my job of two years in content marketing, where I had made the most money I had ever made in my life, to run mater mea full time with zero promise of a steady paycheck or major payday to keep me afloat.

I was so excited—when my annoying office login asked me to change my password for the umpteenth time, I made it my leave date. (There were Solange sashaying gifs being tossed around Facebook.) I was also very prepared—I had saved about six months worth of sky-high New York rent and expenses, and I already had three pretty big and well-paying clients lined up for freelance work after the big day.

And then things almost immediately went left.

To say I felt stressed would be the understatement of the year.

A health scare, one I’ll write about in more detail on another day, meant staying on an extra month at my job for the insurance—something I was incredibly lucky to have the option of doing, but a setback that still knocked me down a few pegs. And after my real last day passed, a combination of family obligations, medical bills, and delayed invoices scrambled my nest egg.

Oh, and those well-paying freelance gigs? The largest one fell through when I needed it most.

To say I felt stressed would be the understatement of the year. I was confronted with my biggest fear—being a broke failure—on a near-daily basis. Though I was technically doing what I loved, I was treading water—doing just enough to keep the site up and running and my apartment lights on.

I would wake up each morning and tell myself that today was the day I would turn it all around—the day when I would finally move forward and do all the projects I hadn’t had the time to do when I was just working on mater mea before and after work. But then I would open my inbox, or lose hours on social media keeping tabs on other entrepreneurs who seemed happier and more capable than me, or get another bill, or see my bank account careen toward $0, and I would think, You know what? Maybe tomorrow. There were days I could feel my body shut down under the stress, as if it were saying, Nope. Nuh uh, son. We’re done.

But then I had a minor epiphany. I was feeling victimized by my life instead of enjoying it. I was reacting to instead of taking control of what happened to me, and it was turning me into a person I didn’t recognize or even like.

So I started asking for help. I looked at the things that were causing me the most stress and broke them down into smaller pieces so they didn’t feel all-consuming. And then I made a big decision: 2016 would be the Year of Me. A large part of that means creating new systems of thinking and working that make stress more manageable, as well as being more mindful in my actions so I don’t spiral as often as I have these last few months.

It won’t be easy, but it beats the alternative. Good things will come from changing my mindset and taking control of my life and business—and I’m ready to make them happen.

This post was sponsored by Aetna, who believes health is about the body and the mind. Stress can affect emotional and physical health, and reducing stress can boost wellbeing. As part of their #Mindful30 challenge, the views and opinions expressed in my posts on the topic of mindfulness are my own, not Aetna’s. To learn more about mindfulness, visit

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Tomi Akitunde is the founder of mater mea.


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