Over the past weeks and months, many of us have been feeling called to action, moved to be of service, to help create the best possible present and future for our country and beyond. I find it exciting and inspiring that we are entering a time of more direct engagement, a time of standing up, leaving the comfort of our homes, and going out to work with our communities on solutions. But consider that, before we try to offer all we have to help others, we must first tend to ourselves.
This can be a challenging idea for many people, especially those well-intentioned souls who carry the responsibilities of nurturing or caretaking in some way -- for example, parents, small business owners, teachers, healthcare practitioners, or those who work in direct service or for nonprofits. Maybe this is you, and you enjoy giving, and nurturing, and being helpful to your family and community.
There’s a dark side, however -- you may have become so busy giving that you have forgotten (or feel unable to spare the time or resources) to allow yourself to be replenished. Your needs for rest, nourishing food, sleep, play, exercise, or more may not be getting met. Perhaps you, or someone you know, have had the experience of taking care of everyone else’s needs, all the while depleting your own energy to the point of complete exhaustion -- or even a more serious health crisis. And how much can you help, then?
Allow me to illustrate this with an example -- me! Say you come in for an acupuncture treatment at the end of a long week, having looked forward to finally giving yourself an hour alone to unwind and be the one taken care of, for once. What if I opened the door to my office looking exhausted, and offered only a lukewarm greeting? What if I had trouble remembering details about you and your health issues? What if I were too tired to hold my back straight, and yawned all during your treatment? And then I said, “Well, I gave my all to the other patients who came in before you this week, so there’s not much left for you.”
Sounds terrible, doesn’t it. I certainly wouldn’t want to see an acupuncturist or healthcare practitioner who didn’t know the value of taking care of herself, and as a consequence wasn’t able to provide me with her full attention and healing abilities. We can’t be helpful to anyone else without first building our own resources. Are you with me now? Do you agree?
As my teacher Thea Elijah says, “Me first, without forgetting others.” The good news is that there are so many things that can be incorporated into the rhythm of our lives that support our energy and best possible health, no matter our responsibilities or circumstances. These practices don’t take away from our commitment to others, and they only enhance our ability to be of service to our families and communities. Before going out into the world to support change, please take some time to invest in your health. Try some of my suggestions, and let me know how it goes in a comment!
Try for yourself...
(Even if these suggestions seem basic, bear with me -- we all have room for improvement)
- Rest. Often.
- Go to sleep when you’re tired, and sleep enough. This is the goal of a lifetime for many of us, but I believe in you! You can do it.
- Eat nourishing food, and eat when you’re hungry. Also, plan ahead and carry your favorite snacks and some water with you.
- Exercise. This can take so many forms. If you don’t like the gym but do like to dance, then take a couple of dance classes every week. Ride your bike everywhere. Learn yoga with a private teacher if your neighborhood’s studio isn’t for you. Do whatever; just move!
- Take a time out from other people and spend some time alone
- Say no
- Dress for the weather
- Stretch regularly during the day
- Meditate. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. Take a minute in between meetings to focus on your breath.
- Go for a walk outside, and sit in the sun during your lunch break -- even during winter.
- Take your vitamins, especially vitamin D, turmeric, and magnesium glycinate, which all elevate mood and relieve feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Call a friend
- Burn your to-do list. (Ok I’m being dramatic, just throw it out.) Make a new one, keeping in mind what’s really important and what you don’t actually need to do.
- Play with a happy animal. This morning while we were walking, a friend of mine stopped to pet someone’s dog for 5 minutes. She called it “pet therapy” while taking a break from ear scratching, and it definitely works.
- Ask for help. Trust me, people are yearning for the opportunity to help you.
- Make a list of things you are good at. No goal here; just appreciate your strengths.
- Take a nap. You are important and invaluable, but you will not be missed for 20 minutes.
- AA meetings
- Rolfing or other type of bodywork
- Meditation or mindfulness class
- Neighborhood meetups for your favorite activities
- Reiki or Healing Touch
- And, of course, acupuncture!