Hiking, Tromso (Photo credit: GuideGunnar – Arctic Norway)
Here in the States, we live in a culture of busyness. There is work to be done, people with which to meet, activities to master, studying and homework, and families who need us. What about ourselves? How well are we meeting our own needs?
This is not to say we should shirk our responsibilities and just do what we feel like. This is about finding a balance between giving and refueling. After all, in order to give richly we must have the inner fullness to do so. My friend Zuri shared with me her experience of trying to manage life without taking care of herself.
“As a child my parents were always emphatic about teaching me that discipline in life will help you accomplish a lot. I followed this while I was living with my parents: worked out daily, planned my days and my meals. When I went to college I decided not to plan so much. And that is when I started gaining weight, fell into a depression because things were not going as expected, and it wasn’t good financially. I hit rock bottom when I found myself 85 pounds overweight. At that time I realized that not taking care of myself or living an organized life could be fun in the moment, but later I am more stressed trying to accomplish what I need to accomplish and it is even harder. Turns out my parents were right all this time! Right now I am working on retraining myself at planning, setting goals for myself, and also finding people that keep me accountable.”
This is a great example of how so many of us today are running on fumes. We have somehow lost the right to ourselves. This idea may make some people uncomfortable. Some may think “Who has time to take care of themselves? My days are non-stop.” Others may feel guilty at the idea of taking time for themselves, believing instead they should be doing something “more important.” But how truly fruitful is this approach? I know that for myself, if I am not taking the time to build myself up in a healthy way, I am less patient with my family, less productive, less willing to help others, and more likely to look for a shortcut to get things done faster. How effective am I then?
While it may seem counterintuitive, when we take more time for self-care we are more productive and effective. I’ve put together my list of the top 5 things you can do to take care of yourself. Some may be obvious tips we already know we should be doing; others perhaps less so.
- Get more sleep. There is so much I could say about this that I will likely do a blog post dedicated to this entirely. Aim for around 8 hours. When we get less sleep than our bodies need, it negatively affects our mood, appetite, appearance, and cognitive processes. So if you want to feel better, eat better, look better, and think better, aim for a full night’s rest.
- Eat better. We all know this one, and we all probably could do better at this. More lean protein for energy and omega fatty acids, vegetables and fruits for vitamins and minerals, and whole grains for fiber. Eliminate trans-fat, fast food, soda, overly processed foods such as white breads, chips, and frozen meals, and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame; greatly reduce sodium and sugar intake. While this can be hard as these ingredients are downright addictive, your body will thank you by giving you better health. And be sure to drink plenty of water! The formula I try to live by is drinking half your weight in ounces (i.e. if you weigh 140 lbs try drinking 70 oz of water, more if you are exercising, pregnant, or breastfeeding). When we eat better, we feel better.
- Manage your stress level. Negative stress can have toxic effects on the mind and body. There are many ways to manage our stress, such as maintaining a less demanding daily schedule. This means occasionally saying “no” and being okay with chores at work sometimes being put off until tomorrow. Do things you enjoy, such as reading, hiking, prayer, taking a warm bath, spending time with friends, or spending time alone with no noise. How often in American culture are we able (or willing) to sit quietly with our thoughts without music, cell phones, computers, or television? Remember to laugh and have fun as this releases positive chemicals in our bodies. This list is not exhaustive as we all have different ways of recharging our batteries. Another way to decrease our negative stress is to increase our positive stress. This leads me to my next suggestion.
- Exercise. This is a type of stress that is good for your body, and also one we probably already know we should be doing. I’m not saying we should all be able to run a marathon at a moment’s notice, but it is important that we get our hearts pumping, sweat away toxins, burn off fat, release tension, and strengthen our muscles. Do what you enjoy, mix it up from time to time, and stretch well afterward. Exercise produces endorphins which are a fancy term for chemicals in our brains that make us feel good.
- Be Present. In each current moment, be there fully. This sounds simple but for many of us it can be profoundly difficult. It means really listening to the people we are with, without thinking about what we want to say or what we have to do next. It means eating slowly enough to taste our food. Taking slow, deep breaths. Paying attention to our five senses in each current moment helps keep us grounded to the here and now. As a counselor, I see so many people struggling with anxiety. What is it that causes us so much unease? It is often our thoughts of the future which is imaginary or the past which is gone and done with. Let’s live fully in each precious moment. By doing this we can enjoy lowered stress levels, improved relationships, and a higher quality of living.
I do not intend to weigh anyone down with more things they “should” be doing. Start by taking small steps. What is one thing you can do this week to take better care of yourself? It does not need to be very time consuming to achieve great benefit. I recommend scheduling it in and not allowing anything to push its way into that time slot. Over time gradually add more things. Tell someone about your wellness goals so they can hold you accountable. Celebrate your victories, no matter how small. The time is there, it just needs to be saved for taking care of ourselves. While this may mean we get fewer tasks accomplished, our quality of work and life will improve greatly.
Thanks for reading. Let me know in the comments below what your goals and tips are for increased personal wellness.
Check out my YouTube video on this topic:
Donkers, M. (2008, April 23). “The Dangers of Sugars and ‘Bad Fats’”. In Natural News. Retrieved January 13, 2013, from http://www.naturalnews.com/023085_sugar_fats_sugars.html
Howard, P. J. (2006). The Owner’s Manual for the Brain (3rd ed.). Austin, TX: Bard Press.
Jegtvig, S. (n.d.). How Much Water Do You Need?. In About.Com Nutrition. Retrieved January 15, 2013, from http://nutrition.about.com/library/blwatercalculator.htm
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Coming to Our Senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. New York: Hyperion.