Maybe it's because Im older now; wisdom creeps up on us as we age, I have found. Maybe it's because I have finally had enough. Or perhaps, it's because I have decided that after 30+ years of existing for the soul purpose of pleasing other people, that it's time to take care of myself. What ever the reason, I am one of many many people who never stopped to take care of myself.
Oh sure, I ate organic, socialized, exercised - so in that sense, I did take care of myself. But I never properly rested. I never took time to decompress the mind, or sip a cup of tea while watching the sunrise (or set). I have always been busy trying to achieve that one little bit of research, homework, email to a client, taking care of others needs, signing up for yet another volunteer activity, taking on more at work... the list goes on and on. All of this was activity that I felt would pay off in the end after I achieved that next goal.
What I found is that this behavior leads to chronic stress, which for some of us leads to autoimmune disease. But in order to heal and properly manage autoimmune disease, we have to take a critical look at our lifestyle and make some changes. Some of these are harder for some of us (read: me!) than others. Especially habits that have been built up over decades.
Here are my top 5 lifestyle changes that have made a huge difference for my autoimmune condition. Let me be straight with you, I am no master at these - these are all challenges that I face daily. But it is getting easier with practice!
- It's OK to take a day off: most of us get caught up in the workaholic culture, you know, the one where your co-worker (or was that you?) shows up to work sniffling and coughing just to not take a sick day! If you feel like you need rest or recuperation - I'm giving you permission to love yourself enough to heed to the body's request for rest! This is perhaps my biggest personal challenge: knowing when to take time to rest. I have developed such a numbing-to-my-body over the past several over-achiever decades that its hard for me to listen to the subtle signs (headache, slightly swollen lymph nodes, brain fog, fatigue...). Even today I get tempted to "power up" with some coffee or sugar to get through <insert over-achiever moment here>. Now, if my body starts being subtle, I make time for rest. It's a much shorter recovery than burning the candle at both ends complete to burnout.
- Say "No" more often: Being the over-achiever that I like to be, I find that I say "Yes" to an opportunity before I even knew what the opportunity was. These days, I have had to learn to sit on my hands and not give answers till I have thought about it for a few days. So now, I work to really consider the benefits of the opportunities in front of me before making a commitment. My go-to response these days, "Probably not, but let me think about it and get back to you."
- Quiet the mind: If you want to use meditation, great! (Im currently hooked on the Headspace app for this) But if that is to woo-woo for you, then just taking 10m out of the day with a cup of tea and being quiet with your thoughts is a great way to restore balance.
- Get out in nature - a lot: "Weekend warrior-ing" the nature contact may be beneficial, but its not enough. I have found that I need to get out in the sunshine, feel the wind on my skin, or the earth/grass under my feet on a daily basis. Plus, regular sun exposure raises Vitamin D levels which is beneficial for those with autoimmune diseases [1, 2]
- Move the body: Not a ton - most of us with autoimmune disease need as little inflammation as possible - so no chronic cardio here. But getting outside to take a walk (see #3) every day, doing some restorative yoga, or perhaps a bit of weight training are great things to help take care of yourself.
- Spend time with those you love: being around those people that you love the most, make you laugh the hardest is where you want to maximize your time. Not only does it raise Oxytocin, but you get to have a great time to boot!