Five things will always sabotage your mental well-being:
- Lack of sleep.
- Lack of nutrients.
- Lack of sunshine.
- Lack of movement.
- Lack of community.
I could leave it at that. It’s a whole post in itself.
But I want to flip this, because most of us know these things on some level. However, during times of stress, we often forget to take care of ourselves. We forget that we humans are basically just plants, and plants left without care will wither and die.
We were not designed to stay inside all day, blinking back at a screen with artificial light, head and neck perpetually tilted downward while the rest of our body is unmoving, eating food that is filled with hard-to-digest chemicals and additives, with a schedule so packed we don’t make time for people who are important to us.
Yes, I know that was a massive run-on sentence. It was exhausting (and convicting) typing it out.
Times of brief stress and opposition can be helpful for the body, but when we are continuously stressed, doggy-paddling up to the surface of the water all day long, we will start to feel side effects. It will impact our physical body’s health, and it will most definitely affect our brain’s health. It will cause us to be unable to make clear decisions, show empathy, and connect well with others – because we are in survival mode.
Our bodies are amazing at survival – that’s why you’re here. You’re here because your ancestors survived during difficult times. You gain weight after you diet because your ancestors were able to store weight during famine and not die. Your digestive discomfort is physical evidence that your body knows how to respond to mental stress and anxiety. Your blood sugar fluctuates in order to adapt to emotional stressors and physical stressors on your body. Your hormones are wacky, because duh, it’s never optimal to reproduce when there is a famine or threat to your safety (remember – your body doesn’t know the difference between a stressful job or a T rex chasing you). Even your afternoon fatigue that hits you like a load is a sign that you are overflowing with stress chemicals, and your body’s response system is working properly.
Your body is doing all the right things it is supposed to do. Your body is on your side.
Unfortunately, when we see those warning signals with our body we get annoyed that it’s just one more thing slowing us down. Instead of seeing those signals as a chance to slow down and check in with ourselves, we look for the quickest fix to manage the symptom and keep going at our usual pace. Caffeine to rev up? Check. Wine to wind down? Check. Pills to regulate our cycle? Check. Over the counter digestive relief? Check. Another restrictive diet to give us the temporary feeling of being in control? Check.
We are bombarded with tools to manage our symptoms – which is not necessarily a bad thing. What a great thing it is to have choices! But we all know the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.
We have to do something different to make lasting change. We have to flip the script.
Instead of pushing through, in survival mode, ask your body what it needs. Does it need more sleep, more sunshine, more nutrients, more movement, or more community? What can you give your body to support its natural responses to the stress in your life?
I’ll give a tangible example. Yesterday, I was feeling overwhelmed with our move and what is ahead. I had things to do, but I also knew if I didn’t take a second to get centered, I probably wouldn’t do any one thing well. So I turned on my favorite yoga video (click here to check it out), and did a short, 30 minute session, focusing on my breathing and letting go of tension. It was the movement I needed!
It doesn’t have to constantly interrupt your day, every day. You can do small things to ensure you’re getting the nourishment you need. Adding more veggies to a meal can up your nutrient density. Taking a walk around the block after lunch or dinner can give you some quick movement (or sunshine). Keeping the same bedtime and wake time can improve your sleep, or maybe putting on blue light blocking glasses when it gets dark can help your sleep quality. Eating a meal with people you care about can optimize your digestion and help your body absorb more nutrients. Most of these things will impact the others.
Don’t ignore or suppress what your body is trying to tell you. Tune in, listen up, and find ways to nourish the miraculous and amazing body you have right now. It does so much for you; it deserves to have a little love in return.