This month, we’re focusing on Healthcare. We asked Carrie Miles from Neighborhood Health Center to write about self care and share some tips on how to stay well, even with a busy schedule.

There is a lot of talk about self-care.  We can’t function very well if we aren’t very well.  If it is important to us to be able to take care of others, then we must pay attention to our own well-being. 

There is a pervasive cultural pressure to keep pushing ourselves, to ignore the physical needs of our bodies and the emotional needs of our souls, which invariably leads to chronic stress, burnout, depression. Data show that burned-out healthcare providers provide crappy service, depressed parents can’t effectively parent, employees that don’t get adequate sleep miss work and the list goes on.

When these topics come up, you often hear things like “But I don’t have time!” or “I feel like I’m being selfish!”

As a working parent with children, responsibilities, and a boatload of “to do” items, I can empathize. I will offer some advice to revive and nourish your body and soul (and do my best to follow it as well). 

Be physically active.

Exercise eases stress, boosts the mood, and elevates our energy level, not to mention the heart health benefits. Believe it or not, you can exercise just about anywhere, anytime. It doesn’t have to be at the gym. It doesn’t have to be a scheduled class. And it doesn’t have to be more than a few minutes a day. All activity counts. Find an activity that they enjoy. Think about how that enjoyable activity can fit into your life: maybe you can ride your bike to work, or take your kids on an easy hike, or get the whole family to rake leaves with you.  

Spring is right around the corner.  Maybe make your next meeting a walking one, or take a brisk walk at lunchtime. Try a few minutes on the exercise bike in the kitchen, or dancing around your living room in your socks. I park farther away than I need to and walk a little more. We don’t have to spend hours at the gym, small steps can make a big difference. 

Eat well.

That means eat healthy and in moderation.  Find a balance that works for you.  A lot of us grew up in the “clean plate” club so it is tough to stop when you get full.  Eating smaller meals more frequently help to keep the hunger at bay and reduce the urge to cheat.  Limit processed foods and sugar filled soda.  The more colorful the fruits or vegetables, the more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants they have and the healthier they are. Get creative with meals and make meal prep a fun, family activity.  Cut yourself some slack too; as busy adults it is perfectly fine to have cereal for supper.  We do not have to live on salad greens and beans, small steps can make a big difference. 

Calm your mind.

We all have stressors in our lives. What varies is how much we let the stressors stress us. What can we do? Yes, meditation works. The relaxation response works. Yoga works. But for those patients who stare at me blankly when I mention these, I talk about other calming activities. This can mean knitting, baking, walking, swimming. Anything quiet and peaceful, when one can take deep breaths and be calmly, enjoyably focused. Find a great support system, maybe your spouse, friends, siblings, parents, or a book or church group.  Additionally, service works.  When you help or serve others, you find internal peace.  Our community is really blessed with a lot of great organizations that can use your time and talent.  We don’t have to be Zen masters; small steps can make a big difference.  

Sleep well.

Aim for a refreshing amount of sleep. This will differ for everyone, generally it’s about eight hours. It’s tempting to stay up late to cram in those last household chores or answer email, but really, the world won’t end if the laundry is dirty for another day, or the dishes are piled up in the sink.  Sleep deprivation causes irritability, poor cognition, impaired reflexes and response time, and chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to depression and anxiety. Create a short, easy bedtime routine. Stretching or yoga, prayer, or reading a book can be relaxing. Stay away from electronics as the light interferes and interrupts the natural sleep onset. If you are struggling with getting anywhere close to 8 hours of sleep, try backing up your wind down time by 30 minutes.  Again, small steps can make a big difference. 

The bottom line is this, small steps matter!  Maybe we can’t do all these things every day. But if we make self-care a goal, and try to address these factors regularly, then we will feel and function better. The better we feel and function, the more we can do for the people and things we care about.

Carrie Miles is the Chief Executive Officer of Neighborhood Health Center, who promote health and wellness in Wayne and Union Counties.

Learn more about Forward Wayne County’s focus on the health of Wayne County on our Health and Wellness page.

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