Dealing with chronic health conditions is not an easy task. I can say that because I've been there.
When I was 14, constant back pain incapacitated me. Many years later, I was also diagnosed with celiac disease, a parasite infection, a thyroid disorder, and a motility disorder of the colon. Say WHAT?!
My illness became my identity. And, believe me, I felt plenty sorry for myself. But there came a point when I could no longer stand to be so passive in the face of my health challenges.
I learned the hard way that those of us who suffer from chronic pain must learn to be our own best advocates. You can heal yourself.
Here, I'm sharing five steps I took to get moving in the right direction. They worked for me, and also helped many others I've met along the way in my career as a health and wellness coach.
1. Start your day with deep breathing and gratitude.
Set the tone for each day by beginning every morning with mindful contemplation. Before your feet hit the floor, take at least five minutes for “you time”: Put your phone on airplane mode, sit up, shut your eyes, and practice deep breathing.
If the breathing seems like it isn’t enough, add a simple mantra. For example, you can say “I am” on the inhale and “well” on the exhale. Meditation is a time-tested technique for giving you focus and a deep sense of well-being and calm. You'll begin your day with a lowered stress level that will endure as the hours pass.
I also recommend beginning your day by thinking about the things in your life you're grateful for. There's been a lot of recent research about the ways in which cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” also improves your sense of well-being. Take a moment or two to review what’s made you happy in the last week, or the friends you have, or how your family has your back. It'll set the tone for your whole day.
2. Eat and drink as though your life depended on it.
Because it does. Start the day with a mug of hot water and lemon. This “cocktail” is like an alarm clock for your digestive system and preps it for the day’s intake of food and drink. Continue sipping water throughout the day.
At the grocery store, fill your basket with the dark greens and colored fruits that give your body the vitamins, micronutrients, amino acids, and fiber it needs to ward off disease and keep you moving and grooving inside and out. Push past the snack and candy aisles, but stop to collect wholesome proteins.
Keep your diet simple and fresh. Set yourself up for success. A good diet is a requirement of good health, and your body will thank you for it later.
3. Move every single day.
Make the effort to get moving. If you haven't exercised in a while, start slowly — but start. Try taking the stairs, maybe just one flight at first, instead of the elevator. Dance, ride a bike, try a mini-trampoline. Take a leisurely 10-minute walk.
You'll be strengthening and nourishing your muscles, expanding your lung capacity, and improving your circulation. Movement is another proven stress reliever, and building some workout time into your day lets your body discharge stress in a natural way.
If you feel like you can’t do a workout, simply lie in savasana, a supine yoga position, or in child’s pose, and just breathe.
4. Make self-care a priority.
No one deserves your love and affection more than you. Commit to one act of self-care every single day — it'll be the most important thing you do all day. Treat yourself to a luxurious bath with Epsom salts, candles, and some lavender essential oil. Settle into a comfy chair with a good book and some herbal tea. Call a friend who makes you laugh. Take a stroll that feeds your soul and listen to your favorite music.
Whatever makes you feel happiest — do it. You need it now more than ever.
5. Grab a buddy.
Figuratively, I mean. It's always easier for me to make a new and radical change when I have someone else there to hold me accountable.
Make an agreement to have a weekly or monthly check-in with a friend. You'll have someone to talk you through your ups and downs and cheer you on. They'll hold you accountable until your new habits of mindfulness, moving, eating more healthily, and self-care are firmly in place.
And remember: You are not alone. There are thousands of people dealing with similar issues.
Take the first step toward wellness by implementing these recommendations — you’re definitely worth that investment. Your body is your home and the only place you have to live in. It will repay you when you take the time to nurture it.
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