Many people look to me for Self-Care Advice
As an acupuncturist, many people believe I treat my body like a temple. People imagine me waking up in lotus pose, receiving IV drips of Kombucha and basing my schedule off the lunar cycle. That may be a stretch, but you get the point. Those of us in the healthcare field are held to a higher standard; personal trainers are supposed to have a ripped core and buns of steal, yoga instructors should be more flexible than Jennifer Beals in 'Flash Dance' and acupuncturists should rise and set with the sun.
The Reality of Self-Care
In reality, I am terrible at self-care. Throughout my four years of graduate school I gained more grey hairs on my head in 3 months than existed in my entire lifetime. I would have so much stress that my face turned into an Icelandic mountainous landscape and my body started turning against me. My digestive system, menstrual cycle and sense of well-being went down the drain. My body aged about 40 years in 4, and my mind turned into mud.
The Turning Point
It wasn't until after graduation that I decided it was time to take care of myself. It was a simple thought in my head that turned into the act of self-care. I had no more excuses; no more exams, papers, endless class schedules, or studying to take up all my time. It was finally time to start taking care of myself. But where to begin? How exactly do you take care of yourself? Well...it's up to you. We all have to figure out what makes us happy, gets us in the "zone" and relaxes us, and lucky for you I have a few ideas that can help jumpstart the process. So here we go, here's 5 things you can do to take care of YOU.
1. You are what you eat....how you eat affects how you feel.
I always believe that a great place to start is your nutrition. If you are feeling crappy, can't seem to feel good in your body, or if you still think that low-fat diets are the panacea of health, you need to rewind and start again. A great place to start is here and here and here and then read this. I have plenty of sources for books and articles that I offer up on the website for your nutritional pleasure. So put down the ding dongs and start paying attention to what goes in your body. Research shows that what you eat can affect your DNA and and CHANGE your epigenome! No, it's not science fiction, it's real. Changing the foods you eat can make you feel like a completely different person---so why not start in your kitchen?
2. Get out and Play
You also have to find something that relaxes the mind. Meditation has been getting a lot of attention recently, but if that's not something you resonate with or are intimidated by, find something that puts you in the "zone" or allows you to be in the moment. Small steps work wonders. Does painting allow you to forget all your worries? Does fishing make you feel like a zen master? Are you lost in time when you smack terra cotta on a table and create a questionable bowl that looks more like an extra thick ash-tray? Who cares if you are good at these things, what matters is that you enjoy these things. Research has shown that the act of "play" for adults is incredibly important. Play is vital for creativity, relationships and problem solving. It can facilitate deep connection between adults and healing. Not convinced? Read it for yourself.
When it comes to exercise most people think of endless hours on the treadmill, stair-master or elliptical and honestly that all sounds like hell. Instead, think of exercise as moving your body. Get up from your couch and move what your momma gave you. Take a walk, go to the woods, play some frisbee while you listen to Bob Marley and reminisce about your college days. Exercise doesn't have to be tedious, it just has to be frequent and reliable. Going on a walk once a month doesn't count---even though every little bit helps, yadda yadda, yadda--- what matters is that your body can count on you to move it on a regular basis. Going from the couch to the kitchen also doesn't count. What matters is that you enjoy the activity that you are doing, because joining the gym every January in an attempt to get into your high school jeans never gets anyone back into their jeans. What helps is doing something you enjoy, not over training and doing it on a regular basis.
And here's some good news: research has shown that those awful long cardio sessions that you are doing may not actually help you lose weight. Actually, it makes people hungrier and leads to eating more. Also, the high intensity exercise you think is burning off that plate of cheesecake you ate last night is only increasing the inflammation in your body and causes stress which leads to weight gain. Your body doesn't want to run that marathon as much your mind doesn't---admit it, waking up at 5:00 in the morning is not that fun. Sleep is fun.
Exercise is necessary for overall health and well-being, just don't over do it. All you need is some interval training, weight lifting and good old walking. Not too much, not too little. Just enough.
4. Get Pampered
If you are always taking care of your kids, your spouse and the barista before you even think of yourself, it's time to change. It's time to acknowledge that taking time out for you and having someone massage your grubby feet is okay and actually good for you. We all need a little pampering now and then to let us relax and reset. Don't deny yourself.
5. See Friends
Having friends might be one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. Researchers are starting to pay attention to the benefits (social, spiritual and health) of having close friendships. Strong social ties have been shown to improve brain health, increase longevity, decrease anxiety and more. In a 2006 study of nearly 3,00 nurses with breast cancer found that women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more friends. Some researchers think that this is one of the main clues why women tend to live longer than men---in general they seem to have stronger social connections.
If this isn't enough to run to your best friend, give her a hug and a bottle of Pinot Gritio, I don't know what is. Friends heal.
Change doesn't have to be big!
There are many ways to start your self-care journey, but it doesn't have to be a huge transition. You can start by seeing your best-friend 2 times per week instead of one, or you can go and get a pedicure once a month. The idea of having to meditate and drink gross herbal tea may sound off-putting to some, but luckily you don't have to start there. Find things that ring true to you, and go from there. You may find that you really do enjoy meditating and waking up in Lotus pose, or maybe you enjoy being stuck with needles (I know I do!). But whatever it is, find a way to let yourself unwind and de-stress---it's necessary for your health.