Much. Easier. Said. Than. Done.
But, it can be done and the list of benefits is nearly endless. I have spent over a decade now trying my best to stay focused on the task of making my health a priority and creating more balance in my life.
After losing my mom to a rare incurable autoimmune disease, Scleroderma , (when I was 24) many things shifted for me in terms of my own perspective when it came to the importance of health. I think for many years I took for granted the fact that I was pretty healthy and if I was ever concerned about what I was eating it had more to do with calorie intake and much less to do with nutrition or energy. Once I came to see how much I had been neglecting to make my health a priority I slowly started to seek out information that would help me create a better plan for myself moving forward.
It didn’t happen all at once. I made gradual changes and tried to give myself the space and time to adjust while still indulging in all the foods I loved. (Because I LOVE food, don’t we all?)
The first change I made was to the start eating more whole foods and less processed foods. I began to lean heavy on a diet rich in raw vegetables and fruits. I came to better understand the importance of lean proteins and also the value in eating local and organic foods. The first benefit I noticed after a few months of this new way of eating was a huge increase in my energy levels. After every meal I felt energized instead of exhausted and ready for a nap. I found that my mind was more clear and I was able to focus better too.
Aside from my diet, there were other factors I hadn’t realized were having a negative impact on my health as well - my stress and anxiety levels and lack of sleep. I had always been one to take on way more than I should and stretched myself thin in every area of my life, both personal and professional. This meant I was experiencing a poor quality of sleep on a regular basis, but I always figured that everyone struggled with sleep and we’re all tired, aren’t we? Well…it turns out I did not even know what tired meant until my kids came along. By the time my first son was born I was already in the full swing of chaos and stress as I was working two hair styling jobs and also working to run a non profit I had created. My sleep was already suffering, and then throw an infant into the mix? I was stressed, exhausted and depleted. And my body began to let me know it was not ok. I started to see some autoimmune symptoms begin to surface, and after having just watched my mom quickly and sadly lose her life to an autoimmune disease, this scared the hell out of me.
I immediately made an appointment with a Rheumatologist. After many tests, I was grateful to learn that there was nothing autoimmune related going on. But the doctor make it clear to me that although there was no disease present that did not mean that my body wasn’t still trying to send me a message. He told me that he was certain these symptoms were directly related to stress and lack of sleep and he warned that if I didn’t take this seriously I could in fact end up with autoimmune related issues down the road considering my genetic predisposition. He suggested that I get no less than 8 hours of sleep a night and do all that I could to dramatically reduce my stress levels.
Clearly, taking the stress of an infant out of the equation wasn’t an option so this led me to make some changes in the rest of my life in order to create more balance. I decided to scale back on my hair styling and commit more fully to my non profit work, which I could do mainly from home. I didn’t realize that juggling all this at once was producing so much underlying anxiety, but when I made that shift I felt the difference almost immediately.
I committed to no less than 8 hours of sleep a night (as best I could with a new born baby) and honestly I have remained committed to that rule ever since. There are still nights when it’s not possible to get the full 8 hours but I try to stick to it as often as I can. And again, the main benefit for me of getting consistent sleep is the increase in energy and a more clear mind. It doesn’t hurt to mention that researchers say getting adequate amounts of sleep can also add years on to your life – sign me up!
As much as I have been able to make rather significant strides in terms of diet and sleep I would say stress is still the number one issue I have to work on continually when it comes to maintaining balance. Often it’s not huge worries that are stressing me, it’s more the every day little stresses that pile up. Being a mom who works from home with a relentless entrepreneurial spirit, I bring a lot of that stress on myself. But I honestly can’t help it, I’ve come to understand it’s just the way I’m built. But what I can control is how much I take on at once, how much time I carve out to recharge and reconnect with myself, and how I react to every single situation that could potentially cause me stress.
One of the greatest tools I rely on in terms of balance and reducing stress is my yoga and meditation practice. In a perfect world I would wake up every morning and do an hour of yoga (alone!) and I would end each evening with a half hour long guided meditation. But the reality is that is really difficult for me to achieve at this point in my life, being home full time with 3 kids. So I commit to fitting it in as often as I can each week. That means some weeks I do yoga every other day and meditation just a few nights a week, it’s not ideal but it’s what balance looks like for me right now. And this approach truly has helped me to stay calm and less stressed, especially during this new crazy quarantine life!
I’ve learned that when things get extra stressful for me, I tend to ignore everything I know about balance. But without fail my body finds a way to let me know loud and clear that I am overdoing it. Right away I start to get awful neck and upper back pain and I know that I have to do some damage control ASAP. I have trained myself to completely halt everything when this happens and throw myself directly back into some self-care. I refocus on my sleep and I make every effort to prioritize my meditation and yoga. And within a few days I am back on track.
The point is, life is stressful in varying ways for each of us. But I have personally come to a place of deep gratitude and respect for my body and my health since making it a priority and I am hopeful that my story will help someone else who is struggling to figure out that work/life/health balance to feel inspired to commit to their own health and balance. For each of us, this path looks different, but the truth remains that if you value your health you must find a way to prioritize it and create the balance you need. Maintaining balance is key to living a life that allows you to be more present, happy, and whole.