Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Exceptional Self-Care: A Great Gift for Every Woman

Taken right after running a Turkey Trot 5K. I run one every Thanksgiving to celebrate good health, something I don't take for granted as a cancer-survivor.
Five months from today I turn the big 5-0! That feels like a pretty big milestone and one I plan to welcome. The forties have been amazing in many ways, but I'm ready to embrace a new decade in my life, and one of my biggest goals is to hit 50 full-throttle in terms of energy and joy for life!

My forties have taught me that you pay a heavy price if you consistently push yourself too hard without taking good care of yourself. Too many times, I have dismissed exceptional self-care as somehow not worth my time or too self-centered or self-indulgent, but I can tell you that the consequences of self-neglect add up, and sometimes those consequences are irreversible. For example, when I pushed myself too hard after ovarian cancer surgery in my early forties, I ended up with a second surgery for an injured back. I live with the nerve damage down through my leg and foot to this day, though it's thankfully much more manageable than it was for several years.  

Life is amazing but it is also very, very challenging at times and none of us are exempt. There are health crises (ours and/or others), worries about loved ones and friends, financial challenges, difficult decisions to make, heartache and so on. And I have learned that those are the times when perhaps we should make an extra effort to take good care of ourselves. For example, I remember when my father was very sick in the hospital five hours away. Though I was tempted to just jump in the car and go, I took a few minutes and packed some fruits and vegetables and hummus dip to accompany me since I knew I would hardly leave the hospital at all. And I was glad that I took that time because eating to nourish in the midst that crisis gave me more energy and focus to be present for my dad in his final days.

As I have worked to eat healthier this year, I have really begun to wonder how much difference exceptional self-care can make in our lives. When I say "exceptional self-care," I'm not talking about a luxury spa trip, though I'm open to that being a possibility someday. Rather, I'm taking about taking good care of ourselves on a daily basis right here at home. What difference can exceptional self-care make over time?

So far, I have learned that eating healthier overall (I've had a few slip-ups) makes me less sluggish, more energetic, clear-thinking, and upbeat. I have a well of energy that I do not experience when I eat for instant gratification rather than thinking about how what I eat will ultimately impact me.

I know from experience that exercise (something I'm consistently good at) makes a huge difference in my days. When I exercise, whether by walking, jogging, cycling or swimming, I feel far less stressed and more focused overall. Though I'm not a big fan of swimming laps (I'd rather splash around), there's something about swimming laps in the summer time that makes me sleep like a baby at night. And sleeping like a baby at night is the ultimate self-care!

There is one more big thing I want to do more consistently to take better care of myself and that is having a daily meditation practice. I have become a huge fan of Mark Williams, a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University,  who writes and teaches about the power of mindfulness and meditation to change our lives for the better.

Sometimes people think of meditating as esoteric or hippie-like. Not so with Mark Williams' book, "Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World." His website www.franticworld.com offers free audio-meditations that are very effective.

On the days I take time to meditate (usually 8 to 15 minutes is all it takes), I experience a wonderful calm energy. I am less preoccupied with worries, more engaged in the present and so more able to positively impact my life. Worries and stress are draining. Meditating is energizing, while I'm doing it and for hours afterwards. Among other things, meditating allows me to get more out of my daily devotionals with my scripture study because I am more fully engaged in what I'm reading and studying.

Is there something else I need to add to eating healthier, exercising regularly, and daily meditation? The truth is, I need to have a little more fun every day. Sometimes, I can be so serious about life that I forget to do something just for fun. Later today, I will watch a few silly Studio C show segments with my husband and kids. That will be good for some laughs.

So, I have five months until the big 5-0! As a gift to give myself, I'm going to find out what difference five months of exceptional self-care can make. I hope you'll join me.

Love and Blessings,


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