Don't Wait For A Cosmic-Kick-In-The-Butt To Start Practicing Self-Care
How do you know when it’s time to start taking better care of yourself?
I got my wakeup call a little over a year ago. I started feeling short of breath and tired, despite the fact that I was—or so I thought—in great health. I was 32 years old and practiced yoga four times a week.
After almost passing out on the subway, I scheduled a visit with my doctor, figuring I had a severe case of dehydration. He thought it was a pulmonary embolism, blockages to arteries in the lung caused by blood clots. (This is what killed actor Denis Farina, and it’s what sidelined Serena Williams and Nick Cannon.) My doctor sent me straight to the ER, and it turned out he was right.
While my time in the ER was short (two days), my recovery to full strength was much longer. It was filled with good days, not-so-great days, and doses of hard core drugs to thin my blood. I was willing to try anything that could help me get back to normal, and so I began to see an acupuncturist, an astrologer, and other healers.
My doctors made the connection between birth control pills and clots, and assured me that as long as I didn’t take estrogen, I wouldn’t be at risk of another clot.
But it didn’t all add up as to why I’d had a clot.
I was under 35, had been on the pill for quite some time, and my only “trigger” event was a three-hour flight to Miami. I had traveled on much longer flights to Asia, South America, and Europe without any issues. Why was this short flight the trigger? Why now? Had I been ignoring messages from my body all along?
As I started to think seriously about my health, I remembered other messages from my body that I’d ignored.
Why was I always so cold that my toes and fingers turned blue?
Was I really just a horrible sleeper or was there more to learn from my periodic bouts of insomnia?
Why did I catch three colds last year?
Why were my shoulders always hunched up to my ears?
I’d been ignoring my body's whispers for years—occasionally masking its signs with Ambien. My doctors didn’t see a connection between the imbalance in my life and my PE, but I disagree. I believe that everything is connected.
I had always chalked up my lifestyle (and subsequent lack of sleep, high cortisol levels, and frequent colds) to the opportunity cost of “leaning in” to a corporate career in New York. I worked 70 hours a week at a stressful job and was also often on the go. When I managed to make it to yoga class after work, I was always running in late, guilty about leaving my team at the office and embarrassed about entering class late.
What I discovered after my PE was that I needed to redefine my ideas about success and health. As I got closer to what I’d always thought of as “normal health,” I realized I wanted to set the bar higher. I didn’t want to go back to being stressed out all the time. I didn’t want to experience Sunday night blues every week, dreading the start of another work week. Being productive at work at the expense of my health wasn’t making me feel fulfilled.
And so, for the first time in my life, I leaned into taking care of myself. I developed new ideas of success.
Did I get to cook dinner this evening?
What did I do that was fun today?
How much time did my husband and I spend together?
What I discovered is that taking good care of you isn’t selfish or indulgent. It’s smart and one of the best preventative medicines you can self-prescribe, and it's often the easiest to overlook.
And yes, drinking alkaline green juices, doing some sort of exercise and eating superfoods-infused meals, are all wonderful ways to build and maintain a healthy body. But checking healthy activities off of a wellness “To-Do” List without being able to enjoy the experience, calm your mind, and nourish your self is also not health. We often prioritize these activities over relaxation, self-care and having fun that can create a strong and calm mind. But why?
I know that feeling more calm, relaxed and balanced has helped make me a better wife, sister, daughter, and friend. And I don’t have to tell you about the effects of stress on your health.
I do think it’s possible to be prosperous at work and live in balance with your mind and body. For me, I had to redefine what success looked and felt like.
Don’t wait until you get a cosmic kick-in-the-butt in the form of a monumental birthday or health scare to start the process. Here are my five favorite (and easy) ways to infuse some self-care into your day:
1. Schedule some sun.
Vitamin D helps make essential enzymes and proteins and makes you feel great. A little goes a long way. In Revive, Dr Frank Lipman says the body can create 20,000 units of vitamin D after only 20 minutes of sun. One idea: try taking some calls outside. What an efficient way to multi-task!
2. Bring some ritual to every meal.
Mariel Hemingway sums it up in her book, Healthy Living from the Inside Out, when she says “eating is the most fundamental act of taking care of yourself.” Light a candle, put on music, set the table, do whatever it is to create an experience out of your meal. And whatever you do, don’t eat at your desk every day!
3. Practice balance, even in wellness.
We wellness junkies can take ourselves a little too seriously. My bookshelf and Netflix queue (Hungry for Change, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead and Forks Over Knives) reflected this tendency. I was spending too much time studying health and not enough time living a rich and fulfilling life. Remember to invest in the art that also makes you laugh (as well as learn). A little Mindy Kaling goes a long way.
4. Develop routines that make you happy to begin and end the day.
In her book, Balance Your Hormones Balance Your Life, Dr. Claudia Welsh explains, “when the body adjusts to a daily routine and learns to count on it, the nervous system can relax.” I love starting my morning with essential oils and ending the day with some sesame oil on my feet. Whether it’s meditation, writing or massage, explore what helps you relax. Calm is the new busy!
5. Invest in simple luxuries.
I used to take the subway home regardless of the time of night to maximize the ROI on my MTA pass. Taking the subway late at night meant longer waits for the train and arriving home exhausted. Not an ideal way to unwind. Now, when it's after 9pm I invest in taking a cab. My advice? Invest in the simple luxuries that hugely impact your happiness.