Take time to take care of yourself

In a recent issue of the Atlanta Journal Constitution Helena Oliviero offered an article titled, Balance in Life Starts with you.  Oliviero shared tips from various life coaches and wellness gurus. Gabby Reese, fitness guru, mom of three and entrepreneur, contributed these eight nuggets of advice for achieving balance in life. I added some thoughts about Gabby’s advice. Take what works for you and make it your own.

  • Schedule exercise – Appointments with yourself are just as important as appointments you make with and for others. Write workout time on your calendar and show up for yourself just like you show up for everyone else. Think investment rather than chore.
  • Plan meals in advance – Deciding what you will eat in advance makes it more likely that you will choose foods that help you feel your best. Last minute or convenience choices usually dishonor healthy eating goals.
  • Leave work at work – Technology makes it easy to blur the lines between work and home. For many of us it can feel like we are always working, even when we are “off” Blurred lines between work and personal time can rob us of the rest time we need to restore and be our best.
  • Decide what is important and write it down – It can be very clarifying to commit to personal priorities in writing. Use your list to stay on track and minimize distractions. As you make daily choices it can be helpful to look at your list and ask yourself – is what I am about to do going to move me closer to or farther from my goals and priorities?
  • Concentrate on one thing at a time – Multitasking may seem like a good idea but studies show that doing one thing at a time is more efficient. Multitasking slows you down and increases stress levels.
  • Keep only one calendar – Writing everything down in one place can make it easier to see all work, life and family plans so you can spread them out and not become too overwhelmed. Wouldn’t it be great not to be overwhelmed at all? Work on that!
  • Schedule at least one thing you look forward to everyday – This is something just for you. Pick something you love – it doesn’t have to cost money – and find a way to fit it in for at least a few minutes everyday. It could be coffee on your deck with relaxing music or a book, yoga, a walk with your dog or a visit with a friend. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to make it happen.
  • Set up some accountability – Ask someone who is emotionally healthy enough to be supportive of your self-care plans. Check in about how you are doing. You may even consider doing some things together. Maybe if your goal is to try a triathlon or learn how to swim, you can sign up and train together. It is harder to skip your workout when you know your fitness buddy is waiting for you.

There is a saying that goes, if it is to be it is up to be. That is especially true when it comes to taking care of yourself. It really is up to you. Make it happen for yourself.

Working through painful experiences

With pen and paper close by take some quiet time to let a past resentment or hurt fully bloom in your consciousness. Notice how you feel – is your body tense, has your breathing become more rapid? Now pay attention to what you are telling yourself about what happened. You might hear something like, these things always happen to me or what did I do to deserve that or why is life so unfair? Write down exactly what happened along with all of your questions and feelings. Other questions to explore include:

As you go over past hurts change the question from why to now what. Asking why keeps you in a position of powerlessness because your focus stays on the person and the pain he or she caused. Asking why is not useful because you will never be able to come up with a satisfactory answer. Asking now what is a more useful question because it puts you in the driver’s seat. Now what reminds you that you can decide where you go and what you do next.

How does it help me to hold onto painful feelings?

How would it help me to let them go?

Was there anything I really could have done differently or is the feeling that I could have based on my current (older, stronger) self? This question is particularly important if you were abused as a child.

Did the person that caused the harm have the emotional capacity or willingness to treat you in the way you deserved to be treated?

Is there anything useful or good that you can take away from the experience?

Mine your past for lessons not excuses for limits. Don’t use past pain as an excuse for future mistakes and shortcomings. ]

Forgiveness does not mean the person that caused you pain is getting away with it. The behavior is still wrong and hurtful. But refusing to let it go does not change what happened. Often, it only limits what can happen because anger closes you off leaving little room for many of the good things in life.

Decide you don’t have to stay stuck in your pain because you are left without answers or apologies. You may not ever hear the person say what he or she did was wrong or you may never even get an acknowledgment that it even happened. Freeing yourself from a painful place is possible regardless of what the other person does or does not do. Waiting for them to make the first move will only keep you stuck instead of in your own power to change the course of your life.

Boost your mood in minutes

The September issue of Yoga Journal cites a recent study that points the way to calm, even for those with a crowded schedule. In that issue, Yelena Moroz Alpert reports the International Journal of Yoga found you don’t need a whole hour of yoga to enjoy the benefits. According to researchers, self-described high stress study participants said they felt more calm and focused at the end of two weeks of sun-salutation for 20 minutes. They also said they felt less worry and more joy.

Why not give it a try? The key is to slow down and place awareness on your body in the moment. You can benefit from yoga even if you can’t bend and stretch like a rubber band – so no excuses. You don’t have to be able to touch your toes to boost your mood with yoga, you just need an open mind.

Feel better with exercise

Exercise can ease depression or anxiety by giving you a mood boost, a feeling of control and/or serving as a complement to prescriptions.  Here’s how:

    • Exercise provides a distraction from troubling thoughts. When your mind is racing it can feel like you are trapped in a painful thought spiral. Getting active can interrupt this spiral by shifting your focus from your mind to your body in motion.
    • Exercise gives you a feeling of accomplishment. Many things that happen throughout the day feel like they are beyond our control. Deciding to head for the gym or for a walk around the block provides a positive focus with immediate positive feedback. You benefit from pride in making and keeping a promise to yourself as well as the mood boost of being active.
    • A Harvard Health Publications article titled, Exercise and Depression asserts that regular exercise improves mood in people with mild to moderate depression. Researchers believe this is because exercise releases endorphins, chemicals that impart a feel good effect as they course through the body. You may be able to reduce symptoms of depression with just a 35 minute walk, 5 days a week.
    • Exercise may also offer some people alternative or complementary options for managing anxiety and insomnia.

      If you are looking for a fun way to boost mood, banish depression and ease anxiety, exercise is it. Countless studies have shown that exercise is like medicine. Use it as your personal prescription to not only look your best but to feel your best, too.

I am always in control of myself…you cannot take me out of my character

The next time you have a difficult or upsetting conversation with someone, pay attention to the dialogue running inside your head. When you focus on trigger thoughts like:

  • who do you think you’re talking to?!
  • you’ve got the wrong one, this @#%$#% must think I’m soft!
  • I have to get with her or check her so she knows she can’t talk to me any kind of way

It can be very difficult to stay calm and uncover what is really upsetting you or what you need in the moment. Trigger thoughts rob your focus, so instead of using your emotional energy responding to your own needs in the heat of the moment you spend that energy reacting to the other person.  Try this instead:

Pause – take just a few seconds to breathe and check in with yourself. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • what is happening for me right now?
  • why do I feel so angry?
  • what am I telling myself about what is going on right now?
  • is this about what is happening right now or does this make me remember something else that was painful?
  • what do I need in this moment?
  • what do I need in this moment to act in a way that I will feel good about later?
  • is this even about me? maybe she is going through something.

Decide it is okay to focus on your self care instead of your ego during this difficult conversation. Some ways to talk to yourself include:

  • this feels hard
  • I feel angry but I don’t have to act outside my character
  • all relationships have ups and downs, good days and bad days
  • I can decide how I want to respond, I am in control of myself
  • everything is always changing, this difficult moment will pass

Conflicts are a normal part of every life and every relationship. Instead of thinking of it as a challenge, think of conflict as an opportunity to understand yourself and your needs better. Use conflict as an opportunity to improve your communication skills and be your own best advocate. How you choose to respond during a conflict can mean the difference between going to jail or getting fired from your job and keeping your job and staying free to keep working on your goals. The only person that can decide if you stay in your character is you. You are always in control of yourself.

It is okay to ask for help

“God helps those who help themselves”

  • This common phrase is not actually a bible verse
  • It is intended as a way of encouraging initiative, but often functions as a way of shaming instead

The real truth…if you don’t speak up for yourself, who will?

  • No one understands your needs better than you do
  • You are your own best advocate
  • Asking for help should not be understood as a sign of weakness
  • Strong, capable people need help just like everybody else
  • Having initiative does not mean you have to be completely self-reliant.
  • Identifying and advocating for your needs is one way of taking the initiative for getting those needs met.
  • Choosing not to remain silent about what you need and want is a way of practicing self care.

Just Breathe

Each time you wash your hands today, pause for a moment. Slow down and breathe deeply, allowing your belly to fully expand as you inhale. Exhale slowly and sigh out loud as the breath moves out of your body. Remember to sigh. Sighing can help you regulate disrupted breathing patterns and lead to feelings of calm.

Breathe deeply throughout the day and remind yourself that you are okay.

While you are taking a breath break why not also take a break from trying to manage what others think of you or how they feel about you?

She who trims herself to suit everyone will soon whittle herself away. – Anonymous

The burden of strength

“Strong black women” get tired or feel weak and want to lean on someone sometimes…….just like everybody else. Just because you may have had a lot of practice does not mean there are no limits to the emotional and physical pain you can endure. Give yourself permission to step away from the myth that you can take anything and still be okay. Saying you have had enough does not diminish your strength or power – but never saying you have had enough just might.

What burdens do you need to throw off your back?

Busier isn’t necessarily better

Who you are isn’t about what you do and worth is not measured by the number of your accomplishments. You are lovable and worthy because you are you. You are already enough.

Start by setting small exercise goals

You don’t have to be a size two to cut your risk of diabetes or to be healthier. According to John Hopkins Medicine losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can reduce your risk of diabetes by 58% . That is only 10 to 20 pounds if you weigh 200. Go ahead and get started on your fitness plan. Exercise is a great way to practice self care because it feels good and it is good for you.

Start by setting small goals

You have probably heard the expression – a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Why not make fitness a part of your journey toward wellness? Think of health changes such as losing weight and inches or committing to a self care fitness plan as points along the journey. Establish mile markers along the way to keep yourself feeling encouraged. Here are some examples:

  • I will start my exercise program on August 1 and exercise at least three times a week for 30 minutes for the next four weeks.
  • I will lose five pounds in the next four weeks.
  • I will lose three inches in the next four weeks.
  • I will be able to run for 30 seconds without stopping by September 1

Although your overall goal may be to lose twenty pounds you are more likely to be successful if you set smaller goals along the way. Setting incremental goals keeps you encouraged because you give yourself the opportunity to see results and experience success quickly. You are also more likely to stick with your plan, which means you develop trust in yourself about doing what you say you will do. Use the feeling of being successful to motivate yourself to keep going or push even more. Before you know it your doctor will say you are safely out of the danger zone.