It starts as a slight sore throat at the end of a long day, a buzzing in my mind that won’t be quieted and anxiety levels during the night that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The absolute tipping point is when I find myself bolting upright in the wee hours of the morning with my heart racing. Every time this happens, maybe once every two weeks or so, I know it's time to dial things back - by a LOT!
As healthcare professionals and caregivers we often don’t pause (or pause long or often enough) to fill up our own cup. How can we show up as supportive practitioners who teach about health and wellbeing for our clients if we don’t have our own self care practices? Who is going to be there for us as we look after the health of the people who rely on us?
The key is being able to respect ourselves enough to show up for ourselves first. You remember those aircraft instructions at the beginning of the flight, right? Oxygen masks go on us first and then onto our loved ones. This is the only way we are going to get out of tricky situations - or even our everyday lives - in one piece!
In nutrition school we were taught to think about our lives as a barrel getting more and more full with each day. We also learned about a concept called the ‘river of life’ and how to do small things every day to keep us directed towards that elusive ‘flow state’ that we all crave.
You recognize the feeling of flow well I’m sure. When we are in flow we don’t realize where the time goes. We are productive, detached from our environment and happily immersed in our task. And, no, I don’t mean mindlessly doom scrolling on the socials here!
We need to consciously choose what goes into our barrel - clean water, nourishing food prepared at home, the company of people that support and build us up, our furry pet friends, and the fresh air of the great outdoors. When this barrel gets full of work, social media, negative people and an environment that doesn’t change, this barrel gets over full and we start to feel ill.
When our barrel fills with these less than ideal ‘things’ it gets harder and harder to find that river and stay in our flow. Taking small, conscious actions each day to stay in the moment and look after our own physical and mental wellbeing allows us to be consciously in the world, present for others and at peace with ourselves.
"Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart." ~ Unknown
Here are some ways to help ease yourself into that delicious feeling of flow every day:
1. Turn out the lights by 10 pm - During sleep, and especially during the hours from 10 pm to midnight, our brains and bodies get rid of the waste that accumulates every day. Our organs work hardest at night! Powering down the day about an hour before bed, so around 9 pm, is important to set us up for the very best thing we can do to show up well the next day.
Create a peaceful environment for the best rest - very dark, as soundproof as possible, fresh sheets, clean pillows and blankets that don’t overheat you. There is a TON of advice about keeping pets outside your bedroom at night. I haven’t yet been able to convince our Siamese cats Samson and Delilah that the guest room bed is just as comfortable as ours!
2. Sip filtered water - If our bodies and minds are well hydrated we can digest our food better which means our brains will work better. Enjoy room temperature water for easy absorption in the gut with some berries or a squeeze of lemon or lime for variety.
Side step bottled water if you can. The plastic waste, the dubious quality of bottled water and the absorption of plastic components into your water is not what your body or our environment needs. To complicate matters even more, did you know that tap water cannot be filtered to remove prescription medication? Yet somehow people still think it's ok to flush their medications and leftover supplements down the toilet. Not sure how much to drink? Aim for pale yellow pee throughout the day.
3. Dry brush your skin a few times each week - Have you ever tried this? It stimulates the flow of lymph fluid, improves circulation and removes dry skin. Pick up two skin brushes from your local health food store. You’ll need a short one for all the places you can reach and a long one to reach along the length of your back. Stand in your shower or bathtub. With the short brush, lightly brush your skin with long circular strokes from your feet up to your neck. Now use the long brush to get all the places you can’t reach along your back.
This takes some getting used to but, after a few tries, you’ll enjoy the tingly and invigorating feeling that will overcome you as you turn on a cool shower on to rinse off. Maybe cool showers aren’t not for you? I get it! Start with warm water and then ease the temperature to cool (or even cold if you’re brave!) at the end.
4. Enjoy a daily movement practice - It doesn’t really matter what this looks like. It could be a 20 minute walk around the block, a 10 minute ‘out and back’ slow run, a yoga-like practice on the floor beside your desk, or a series of made up movements that just feel good in the moment.
Try to include movements that get your head below your heart like a ‘cat cow’ on all fours, a downward dog (yes you can bend your knees!) or even a series of forward bends followed by big over head stretches. Breathe through your nose as you gently move - even while walking and running. Too tough to keep your mouth closed? Slow down. Your body will adjust in a few days.
5. Try meditation and mindfulness - These two ‘m’ words don’t automatically mean a yoga mat and painfully crossed legs! Focus on your breathing and how your body feels for a few concentrated minutes from time to time each day. This dialed in attention for short periods begins to help your awareness of the tension you might be feeling as your day goes by. Before long these cues can really help you to lower your voice, slow your breathing, take time to listen as others speak and become aware of the tension you may be carrying in your body.
Change your physiology by closing your mouth and breathing through your nose, unclenching your jaw, letting your shoulders fall away from your ears, and relaxing those muscles that always seem to be short - your belly and pelvic floor, your neck and - believe it or not - your bum!
6. Learn to say no - By conserving your energy for what matters to you and not to others, you’ll begin to feel less frazzled with your attention divided in a million different directions (or maybe that’s just me?). Remember the saying, ‘Your inability to plan is not my emergency’? You don’t need to jump every time someone asks you to.
Are you the one who is always the problem solver, the organizer, the planner and the ‘go to’ person for everyone in crisis? Maybe it's time to step back, to delegate, or simply not be as available as you might have been in the past. Leave some ‘white space’ in your calendar. Not for emergencies that might crop up and need your attention, but time just for you.
Use these tips to help your body and mind keep some room in your barrel. Enjoy a day that meanders like a river rather than tumbles like Niagara Falls. Allow yourself to create a bit of openness in your day, some space to find that flow state.
Help yourself get into flow by taking time to transition between tasks, by standing and enjoying a stretch, heading outside for a break, or making a cup of green tea. You don’t need to give yourself permission to find your flow. This is what self care is - self respect for your own time and energy. Set yourself up for success by finding your flow through self care.
"Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be." ~ Wayne Dyer
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