Holistic Health Self-Care
I'm willing to bet that you take care of regular maintenance for your car. After all, most of us pay thousands of dollars each year for our vehicles and need them to carry us through our lives. We can't risk having something so important break down because we've ignored oil changes or new parts!
But how many of us treat our bodies with this same standard of care? It seems that we're habituated to running our bodies without proper replenishment until they begin to break down. Consider how many people you know who get sick during vacation. We push ourselves all year to work harder and harder, ignoring our mental and physical health and hoping to replenish during the little time off we have. But that's one of the few times when our bodies can finally get our attention, when we slow down enough to listen. At this point we've usually pushed it passed the limit, and our bodies say, "Ok, now that you have the flu, you WILL stay in bed for a week, or else!
It's a shame that we have to become sick just to give ourselves a break. In the meantime, our deprived state leads us to suffer from stress, fatigue, chronic illness, depression and anxiety. But there's something you can do about it.
Good self-care means finding a way to regulate your energy flow. Energy that goes out needs to be replaced, just like your car needs to be filled with gas before it runs out.
Many doctors and health care reports indicate that stress is currently the number one health problem in America. I'm not going to tell you that life is easy _ far from it sometimes. But a friend recently summed it up best when he asked me, "Why do you think they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first in an airplane?" The answer, of course, is that you can't help others until you take care of yourself. Reducing your stress levels and improving your physical well being is the one thing you can do that will have the biggest impact on your heath, your performance at work and your relationships.
Think about energy out and energy in. You need to replenish your spent energy or you go into energy debt. Whatever you flow out needs to be replaced, or you face paying the penalties. Energy debt is something we are all familiar with through the symptoms of depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, unrelieved stress and adrenal burnout, which all lead to major system-wide problems.
Here is a tip: you will know you are running up a huge energy debt when you start feeling empty, drained, exhausted, stressed, but most of all, watch for resentment. When you feel resentful, it's a major red flag that you are experiencing an energy imbalance. Every time you feel resentful, check your internal energy-o-meter and you can be sure that whatever you are doing is draining you, and you're not filling back up again.
I'd like to take better care of myself, but I don't have enough time (or money). I feel guilty when I treat' myself before I've taken care of my other responsibilities. These are common excuses we use to avoid better self-care.
The key to unlocking this dilemma is twofold: First, to find means of self-care that are accessible and affordable. Second, not to get too hooked into the inner critic when we contemplate our self-care, but rather to cultivate an attitude of loving kindness toward ourselves. In my mind this is the seed of all self-care and the root of balance and well being. Yet it is difficult territory for many of us.
How easy it is to let the inner critic run rampant, thinking that we need to pick up a highly restrictive diet and spend all of our spare time in yoga, exercise or meditation. Although it's true that those things can be very beneficial, it is also imperative to take them on with a sense of balance.
I went through a period of time when I completely avoided sugar and flour, meditated for an hour every day and spent all of the extra time I could in the gym. It didn't take long for me to become tired, cranky and brittle. What happened? I was trying so hard to fill up that I had let my inner critic rule me with its shoulds, have-to's and if onlys.
So I tried something different. Now I'm nice to myself on my time off. I began learning to tune in and give myself what I actually need in my spare moments. Sometimes it's a nap or an hour in the tub with a book. Sometimes it's a walk in the woods or even (gasp!) a late night indulgence in Ben and Jerry's. I feel better about myself now, fuller and radiant again. It's the best lesson I have learned on the pay offs for treating one's self with loving kindness.
The best way to find self-care balance is to be honest with yourself about what you really need. Remember that you are a whole being, and in addition to taking care of your body, you also have many other needs.
I need solitary, unstructured time. Sometimes I need this more then all the other things on my should do list rolled into one. A morning with nothing scheduled and nothing to do fills me up faster then just about anything else. What do I do? Nothing! It's great! I stare out the window, putter aimlessly in the garden, nap in the sun, read an entertaining book or a lightweight magazine and drink coffee and eat crumpets. It's heaven.
It can be hard to look at our needs honestly, but it's worth taking the time to do this every so often. My current list looks something like this:
- Exercise: must have everyday
- Other body care: massage, chiropractics, yoga and floatation make my regular list, and I do these when needed
- Solitary time: ahhhh, my favorite!
- Social time: friends, family and couple time
- Spiritual development: reading, taking classes and meditation
- Sleep and rest: find out how much you really need and honor that
- Healthy diet: I have to force myself to do this by making time to get to the market so I have healthy food to eat or I end up eating junk and feeling like junk.
- Outside time: gardening and sunlight addict!
But that is just my list; yours is what is important! Make the Inner Critic stand in the corner and look honestly and lovingly at your own needs.
You'll find it particularly effective to combine solutions. For example, I realized that I really needed more social time because work and family were monopolizing my schedule. But I needed more physical exercise as well, and I didn't have a lot of extra money to spend. So I put these things together and found a friend who plays racquetball with me once a week. I already have a gym membership, so the only extra cost is court time, which we split at $7.50 each.
Another favorite of mine is to combine solitary time with exercise and take a walk in the woods as often as possible. Once, when I was craving a creative outlet, while also needing a way to spend more time with one of my daughters, I found a solution in Plaster Fun Time where we painted ceramics and talked for hours. At the end of that time she had made new friends with other kids who were there with their parents, we had quality time together, and I have a beautiful Bengal tiger statue that always reminds me of my special time with my four-year-old.
Self-care is not restricted to taking care of only the physical body. There are as many ways to practice holistic self-care, as there are ways to enjoy life. Find ways to match the two up in considering all the areas of your life that may be out of balance and needing your loving kindness. Search for solutions that will bring the most harmony into your life.
Kai Rostcheck is the founder and owner of Clear SelfCare in Milford, MA, which offers unique and effective therapeutic methods of treating stress, fatigue and chronic pain, including floatation tank rooms. See http://www.clearselfcare.com or contact him at 508-473-0609 or firstname.lastname@example.org.