Self-Care is Essential to Beat Autoimmune

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Sick and Tired

My typical client is a 48-year-old professional woman, a mother of teens, and a caregiver who manages her parents’ health from afar. She doesn’t get enough rest, doesn’t exercise, is bone-tired… and yet she can’t sleep at night.

She has trouble saying no — who’s going to make things happen? It also happens that this woman has an autoimmune condition or two, typically Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, celiac, lupus and/or multiple sclerosis (MS). By the time she comes to me, she is sick and tired of being sick and tired. She is often resigned that this is the way her life will be, forever.

Granting Permission

So what’s the problem? Is it her diet? Toxin overload? Hidden infections? Too much stress? The answer is likely “All of the above”. Each issue must be addressed, but often this client first needs me to give her permission to take care of herself before taking care of other responsibilities.

She says she’s desperate for a good night’s sleep, but she can’t wear earplugs — what if her mother calls in the middle of the night? — And she doesn’t think it’s possible to keep the dog off the bed (that’s where Fluffy sleeps!).

That’s when I use the metaphor of putting her own oxygen mask on first, as flight attendants always advise, so she can in fact be better able to help others. She gets the analogy immediately. But then she’ll say something like, “But they depend on me to [help with homework, take them to doctor appointments, manage the team, do the shopping and the cooking, etc.], and I just don’t have time or energy left to do things for myself.”

So I offer some tough love: Of course everyone depends on you — you have shown everyone that you will take care of everything. But look at what this is costing you in stress, sleeplessness, and your health!

I Can Relate

I know a bit about this profile. I’m married, used to run a sales team, sit on boards, founded a non-profit, and at one point had both parents in hospital beds an hour’s plane flight away. Did I mention that I had MS, and stress often exacerbated my symptoms?

I knew I had to manage my stress or suffer the consequences of MS flare-ups, so I pursued simple stress management solutions. I found a life-changing course called, “Love Yourself: For Everyone Else’s Sake.” I remember sitting in a circle with about 8 women and ‘fessing up that my first sentence (as the precocious daughter of a fighter pilot) was, “I can do it.” I had lived into that declaration my whole life, and I remember feeling understood as every head nodded in recognition.

For Everyone’s Sake

We were guided by Mark Abramson, DDS, founder of Stanford’s Mindfulness Meditation Stress Reduction program. Mark knows the costs of the do-it-all-yourself personality type, and sees the effects daily in his practice. He specializes in addressing TMJ – the clenched jaw disorder — and sleep apnea.

Mark drew graphic pictures of what happened to our bodies during the stress response. We learned that chronic and unrelenting stress leads to systemic inflammation and disease. We imagined what might happen to us if we continued down this path. And if something happened to us, who would care for us and everyone else?

Mark showed us how to practice mindfulness to counter our habitual stress responses. He led us through guided meditations, breathing practices and movement exercises. He gave us permission to fill our minds, bodies and souls up before attending to others.

Self-Care is Not Selfish

Women often resist taking care of ourselves first because we think it’s “selfish”. But prioritizing our wellbeing actually gives us more energy for our caregiver roles and other activities. Caring for others and ourselves are not mutually exclusive.

Since the end of the course, I’ve been wearing earplugs and an eye mask every night, and I’ll tell you that the greatly increased quality and quantity of my sleep has had a big impact on my ability to function better in all of my roles. And, not surprisingly, I’m much happier (and well-rested) than when I feel depleted.

So what can you do to fill yourself up? That depends on what brings you joy. Everyone is different. For me, getting out on a hiking trail, soaking in a hot bath, losing myself in a good book, or connecting with friends all nourish me. Imagine what you would do if you had an hour or an afternoon to yourself. Write a list of things that fill you up and decide to do one thing a week – even better, one thing a day. It’s not decadent; it’s vital to your sanity and your health!

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

7 Ways to Love Yourself More Backed By Science

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    Get Connected

    For most women, feeling connected to others is a vital component of their happiness. Take time to take an art class, or join a Meet Up group. Join friends for a hike, go on a girls’ weekend away, or try a gentle yoga or Zumba class. Research shows that investing in life experiences rather than material items makes us just as happy as taking a vacation. 1http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1057740814000631

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    Get Outside

    Mother nature is an amazing stress-reducer. Research shows that spending time in nature has a long list of health benefits including decreased feelings of depression, anxiety, aggression, procrastination, and increased feelings of self-esteem, compassion and competence. 2http://www.naturalnews.com/037693_nature_deficiency_mental_health_benefits.html

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    Do A Little Yoga

    Just 20 minutes of yoga can improve focus and increase mental clarity. You might enjoy the community of a local class; or you can achieve similar benefits at home by following a yoga video that matches your interest, energy and fitness levels. 3(“The Acute Effects of Yoga on Executive Function” by Gothe N, Pontefex MB, Hillman C, McAuley E, Journal of Physical Activity & Health https://news.illinois.edu/blog/view/6367/204796

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    Read a Good Book

    There are loads of studies on the health benefits of reading regularly. One study suggests that reading a good book for just 6 minutes reduces stress even better than even taking a walk.4http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html Another study reports that adults who read regularly are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.5http://www.neurology.org/content/81/4/314

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    Sit a Little Every Day

    The studies on meditation are piling up. A few of the most recent confirm that meditation helps relieve anxiety and depression, and improves attention, concentration, and overall psychological wellbeing. You don’t need a lot of time — start with 5 minutes of sitting quietly and paying attention to your breathing.6http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/

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    Take A Bath

    Research reveals that soaking in a warm bath each day for 8 weeks was more effective at soothing anxiety than a prescription drug. Taking a warm bath before going to bed is a smart move: The bath temporarily raises your body temperature; afterward your body temperature gradually lowers in the cooler air, producing melatonin that cues your body that it’s time to sleep. A bath-time bonus: relaxation releases painkilling endorphins in the brain.7http://www.prevention.com/health/science-backed-reasons-take-bath

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    Get A Massage

    New research is also starting to reveal just what happens in the body after a massage. While there have long been theories about how massage works—from releasing toxins to improving circulation—those have been fairly nebulous, with little hard evidence. Now, one study, for example, found that a single, 45-minute massage led to a small reduction in the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the blood, a decrease in cytokine proteins related to inflammation and allergic reactions, and a boost in white blood cells that fight infection.8A preliminary study of the effects of a single session of Swedish massage on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and immune function in normal individuals; Rapaport, M.H., et al; The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine; https://nccih.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/090110.htm

Your Turn

Once we understand the perils of not putting our own oxygen mask on first, we can embrace opportunities to love ourselves more, which has a profound ripple effect.

What’s your experience? Are you giving yourself permission to put your own oxygen mask on first? If not, I hereby grant you permission until you take the reins. What are you waiting for? And, what is it costing you?

Take good care!

p.s. For step-by-step guidance, carefully curated content, and the support of a community of committed health seekers, be among the first to know when our online membership site, Beat Autoimmune Academy is open by clicking HERE.

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