Go ahead. Love yourself. Your body will thank you!
“You’re not going to believe this,” my close friend told me over coffee, “but the only time I get to really rest is during my chemotherapy treatments.” Every hair on my body stood at attention, shocked. “No seriously,” she continued, “ever since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I noticed that only then do I allow myself to relax! It’s like I have a reason now, an excuse. I’m not being lazy; it’s justified because I’m sick.”
As shocked as I was to hear those words from a super soccer mom of three boys and a busy physician, I realized she was right. Two days later, I broke my pinky toe. My body forced me to stay in bed. With a foot propped up on a pillow and my brain stupefied by pain, I spent time comprehending only useless shows on Netflix. That’s when I realized how just like my friend, there‘s no way in heaven or hell that I would let myself get this lazy if I hadn't broke my toe. All this has made me question my core beliefs about self-care.
I realized that apparently, I don’t have any.
My days consist of things that must be done — for the house, the kids, my husband, our parents, and pets. Occasionally, I’ll storm into a salon to make my face, hair and nails look presentable. Massages? Only when something hurts. Chiropractor? When a massage won’t help, and my body still hurts.
But do I really have to wait until my body screams in agony for me to slow down? Do I need to be told to acknowledge this vehicle of flesh and bones? Wouldn’t it be smarter to prevent the crisis and offer my body the care it deserves before it develops symptoms and I'm forced to pay attention? Logically, I should do it. I should follow my body’s cues, which are always communicated to me through my emotions. So, why don’t I? What makes me so unwilling to change?
In short — my mentality. As a holistic doctor, I know that mindset affects health. Even the medical community has finally recognized the undeniable connection between emotions and physical health. While once considered folklore, today there are numerous clinical studies published in medical journals that back up this ancient wisdom. But even without the current data on stress and disease, I can testify to this connection based on my own life experience. When I feel frustrated and do nothing about my negative emotion, my stomach hurts. When I feel anger and resentment, my gallbladder starts playing football with its stones. When I feel pressure to complete all the tasks by the end of the day, I get a migraine.
Lately, I’ve felt overwhelmed, and for legitimate reasons:
- an endless kitchen and master bathroom remodel
- kids in three different schools
- a chronic lack of sleep (My youngest still wakes me for 3:00 AM snuggles.)
And yet, I’ve ignored my emotional state.
Sure, I could tell myself soft words of reassurance. I could try to calm myself down, as I would a child. I could tell myself, “In the end, things always work out. Eventually, you’ll have the kitchen of your dreams. You can handle this. It's just temporary. Go with a flow. You are capable and strong. Besides, it makes no sense to feel upset. It won’t solve the situation."
But apparently, knowing better doesn’t cut it. I have to put knowledge into practice in order for it to work. Instead, the stress accumulates, and as a result, my mental clarity diminishes. As I jump out of bed first thing in the morning to greet the workers, make my boys breakfast and pack their snacks, I swing the door open right onto my pinky. Boom! I hear my body crack. Still, I ignore it. I keep running until I collapse in front of the fridge howling in pain.
Now in bed, shivering in agony and immobile, I consider what to make of this turn of events. Could it be that life is presenting me with an opportunity to reconsider my approach to living? Should I stop my crazy life from spinning, or even slow it down? Ought I establish, instead, my position in the midst of the chaos. Sure, I can waste this opportunity, like I’ve done so many times before. I can turn to what is well-practiced and familiar:
- hate myself for being so stupid and clumsy
- hate my husband for not helping me with the kids in the morning
- hate my mom for not offering help by taking my kids for the weekend
- hate that no one is giving me a break
So I gave myself a break, literally.
However, I know that if I stay in this hateful, blameful, judgmental emotional mode, I’ll delay my healing, because I do believe that our bodies are impacted by our state of mind. And that our healing process depends hugely on our emotional state.
So I have to decide which I want more: heal slowly or get well fast? I choose the latter. But in order to achieve this, I need to clear the path to my goal by getting the emotional baggage out of the way. For that to happen, there are a few things I need to give up:
1) My pride that I can handle everything myself— clean, cook, fold laundry, load the dishwasher, feed my kids because I don’t trust others to do as good a job as I can.
2) Resentment toward people for not offering to me help (even though they gave up on offering help to me a long time ago, because I never accepted it).
3) The idea that I have to stay productive to justify my existence and earn self-respect. Just because I was raised this way, doesn’t make it true. What if being in a state of happiness, love, and joy is my true purpose?
4) Control over things that are none of my business, such as when my sister finally decides to get married, my father to quit smoking, my 10-year-old to eat broccoli, and the president to grant maternity leave to self-employed moms. I can still care deeply about these things, but not stress over them excessively, thus ruining my health.
5) Concepts of low-self esteem, such as I am not good enough, worthy enough or deserving enough to be happy and enjoy my life. Even with a messy kitchen, screaming kids and a broken toe, I can still choose happiness. I can do this by focusing on things I am grateful for—and if I make myself look, there are many.
I remember that when Lady Gaga appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” she was asked if she’s planning to take a vacation. To which the pop superstar replied, “I didn’t join show business to sit under a palm tree.” A few months later, she canceled her show due to bronchitis.
Taking care of the self is important and should be a priority. Yet, so often, many fail to do so. Instead, some run around to prove a non-existent point and compensate for an illusionary lack — justifying the right to breathe and take up space. That is, until the body fails and is forced to go through the dirty laundry of emotions to heal. The mind keeps the useful ones (optimism, kindness) and lets go of the toxic ones (overwhelm and resentment) before the cells are infused with the energy of disease beyond the point of return. Wise people call it “mindful living.” After years of assisting my clients in building healthy self-esteem based on self-love and respect, it’s finally my turn to practice what I preach.