The new year is nearly here, and for most, not a minute too soon. I think we’re all looking forward to it with renewed hope and energy. The end of December is traditionally a time when we reflect and consider how we want to step into the new year. Have you made any resolutions?
I have. This month, I’m thinking about self-care as a way for all of us to take our best selves forward.
Today marks the first in a series of three blogs on self-care—body, mind, and spirit—as we move into the new year.
Over the years, I’ve learned if I want to be the best partner, mother, and professional, I need to put myself first. I know it sounds counter-intuitive (self before others?), but it’s really not. Self-care is not inherently self-ish. It can make all the difference in living our own full, creative life and being present in our loved ones’ lives. When we’re at 100% in mind, body, and spirit, we can be our best selves. We owe it to ourselves and our families to protect and nurture our bodies.
“If we are creating ourselves all the time, then it is never too late to begin creating the bodies we want instead of the ones we mistakenly assume we are stuck with.” —Deepak Chopra
As we get ready to ring in the new year, let’s reconsider and prioritize the areas in our lives that are sometimes neglected.
Sleep: Every living being comes with a system for restoration and repair, yet we can underestimate or ignore our need for a full eight hours of uninterrupted rest. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, such as when a newborn joins the family. Other times sleep gets pushed aside in favor of… what? College students often boast about pulling “all-nighters” in order to finish a term paper. Some of us binge-watch The Queen’s Gambit until the wee hours of the morning. And a good book can keep us turning pages as the clock ticks the night away. The ultimate result of all of this lost sleep isn’t just the brain fog the next day—lack of sleep is credited with serious physical maladies—everything from obesity, heart disease, depression, and decreased life expectancy.
Sleep is deeply restorative; the corollary benefits are nearly endless. It boosts the immune system, helps maintain a healthy weight, strengthens the heart, improves your mood, increases productivity, and increases exercise performance. A good night of sleep almost ensures you’ll have a productive next day.
The irony of spending more time sleeping? During your waking hours, you’ll accomplish more and be present with the people you love.
Exercise: I work out six days a week. I started out as a long-distance runner (and even ran marathons in the past). At one point, I noticed that running wasn’t working for me the way it used to. I began shifting my routine based on the feedback I was getting from my body. Several years ago, a friend introduced me to the Tracy Anderson Method, and I found my groove. On top of the exercise, I’ve made friends, and the classes are so much fun.
Like running, the TA Method provides a meditative experience. I can’t tell you how many times I finished a class and discovered that I had a solution to a problem or a new revelation and left feeling inspired and creative. I definitely consider this crucial ‘me’ time.
Like getting enough sleep, I am simply not my best self without my exercise routine… and I am fiercely protective of that time in my day.
“The road to health is paved with good intestines.” Dr. Sherry A. Rogers
The gut is considered the mini-brain or the ENS (enteric nervous system), which, like your brain, uses neurons to send information to other cells in your body. It communicates back and forth with our brain—with profound results. Scientists are learning more and more about how our gut “talks” to our body.
Take a moment and think about that: your digestive system tells your brain how it is doing and can even dictate your emotional state. For instance, for years, scientists and physicians thought anxiety and depression contributed to functional bowel problems such as bloating, pain, and stomach upset. Today, researchers believe gastrointestinal irritation may actually send signals to the central nervous system that trigger mood changes. Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, writes in an online article, “These new findings may explain why a higher-than-normal percentage of people with IBS and functional bowel problems develop depression and anxiety. That’s important because up to 30 to 40 percent of the population has functional bowel problems at some point.” In other words: depression and anxiety may be triggered by our ENS (and not the other way around).
Since the ENS is utterly responsive to what you eat, I am mindful of what I ingest and take a daily probiotic. I watch my sugar intake and do my best to stay away from processed foods. If you feel a little “off” and can’t put your finger on what it might be, take a look at what you’ve been eating.
You are truly what you eat.
Rethink Moment: With the holidays in our rear-view mirror, let’s take the next week to prioritize our bodies. Go to bed thirty minutes earlier. Take a walk around the block rather than watching TV. Be mindful of what you put in your body. I promise: a week from now you’ll feel like a new person in the new year.
Next Week: Self-care for your mind
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