It’s that time of year once again. Time to welcome in the new year and resolve to make big changes in the coming year. As you consider all the things you might wish to change, your weight, your relationship with food, exercise habits, letting go of that bad habit, I invite you to think bigger. Why chose to change one thing, when you can change everything by making a commitment to taking steps toward better health? So, skip that big resolution, and set intentions this year. Intentions for better health, for healing, for happiness. Intentions that will lead to a better you at the end of 2020. Not sure what to focus on? These five little shifts are guaranteed to lead to a healthier you.
Nourish your body
The first and most important intention to set is an intention to nourish our bodies. Please don’t run out and purchase the latest fad diet book for this. No going to extremes, no starvation, no foods you can never touch again, just a little simple shift. Take a good look at what you are eating now. Are you getting a rainbow of fruits and vegetables each day? Are you filling up on empty calories with foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates? Don’t feel bad, most of us are, in fact, that is the standard American diet, low in essential nutrients, high in sugar and fats. Let’s shift that standard a bit.
Include fruits and veggies with every meal. Easy right? I promised it wouldn’t be tough, I meant it. Those fruits and vegetables are loaded with the nutrients our bodies need to run smoothly; resources autoimmune bodies tend to run through very quickly with all the extra side projects they create for themselves. All that self-destruction and rebuilding takes resources. Resources you can get from a well-balanced diet. Next time you reach for a snack, reach into the crisper instead of the pantry.
The next step we are going to take to nourish our bodies is also a very easy one, add vitamins to the daily routine. A good multivitamin, calcium, and vitamin d are all highly recommended for adults, women especially need to be sure they are getting enough calcium and its helper D to ensure bones remain healthy and strong as they age. Others that are commonly recommended for people with overactive immune systems that really burn up the nutrients are magnesium, vitamin B12, and vitamin C. All of these are essential for healthy immune system function, making them twice as important if your immune system tends to overdo it.
Be sure to always discuss any supplements you wish to add to your routine with your doctor. With your doctor’s help and a blood test to check for common deficiencies, you can better target the nutrients your body is missing.
The final step we need to take for nourishing ourselves is the easiest of them all. Drink water. So simple, yet many people do not get the recommended 2+ liters a day. Making up 60% of our body by weight, and carrying out many important functions, it is easy to understand why dehydration can cause serious problems in our bodies. Water is needed to keep cells healthy, lubricate joints, regulate body temperature, and eliminate waste from our bodies, just to name a few of its important tasks. So up that daily water intake. Skip the soda and opt for water instead. Your body will thank you.
To recap intention one, nourish your body, you’re going to do three simple things. Eat your fruits and veggies, take your vitamins, and drink water. Sound doable? Good, we’re ready to tackle the next intention, moving!
The second thing we need to do to have happier, healthier bodies is to commit to moving them, every day. Yes, even on the days you feel like you can’t possibly get out of bed. I know it is tempting to lay still as a statue to keep joints from crying out. Unfortunately, playing statue too often can lead to joints freezing up and holding that pose long after you are done pretending to be made of stone. Joints, muscles, and even bones require movement everyday to stay healthy and strong. Exercise also increases energy and stamina, as well as providing pain relief through the release of endorphins. So, get moving! Again, there is no reason to go to extremes here, as a matter of fact, if you have health issues of any kind, slow and steady is the way to go when it comes to exercising. No need to join a gym or even leave your bed, check out these great exercises for some ideas. Take a walk, do some yoga, chair aerobics, ride a bike, whatever floats your boat. You may be surprised how great daily movement can make you feel.
As always, check with your doctor before starting any new physical activity. Working with mobility limitations, cranky joints, and body parts that just don’t cooperate? Seek out a qualified physical therapist to help develop and modify exercises so they fit your body. So, check with your doctor, make an appointment with a physical therapist, find a few exercises you can commit to, and set an intention to move that beautiful body every single day.
Get Enough Rest
Sleeping when you have chronic pain can be nearly impossible. That is precisely why the next area we need to focus on is not sleep, but rest. Yes, this includes sleeping, but let’s face it, due to the restless nature of sleep in chronic illness, we’re also going to need to find other ways to recharge. So, we will set intentions to rest more. The first, and maybe most important thing I want you to try is sleeping when you are tired. Stop pushing through the fatigue, go take a nap. Stop putting off bedtime to watch one more episode, close those gorgeous eyes and rest when your body is asking for it. It really is the most likely time to catch a few z’s. If falling asleep and staying asleep is a challenge, you are not alone, that is the number one complaint of autoimmune patients. Check out these tips for getting a better night’s sleep.
Since sleep is elusive and we are not likely to get enough, resting during the day is going to be necessary to replenish our exhausted bodies. This does not mean crawl in bed for the day and stay there until you feel refreshed. Remember, frequent movement is really important, but so is frequent rest. Build downtime into your day. A great general rule of thumb, for every hour of activity, you need 15 minutes of recovery time. This may mean changing the way you do things a bit. Instead of doing chores or working until you are completely toast, try taking a 15-minute rest break every hour. Have a seat, drink some water, read a book, meditate, whatever helps you feel calm and relaxed. This rule applies to seated work and hobbies as well. If you spend 2 straight hours hunched over that crochet project, you will pay for it later (ask me how I know). Set a timer, take a stretch break, get up and move if you’ve been sitting. With a little bit of attention to taking breaks and sleeping when we are tired, our bodies will be much more rested and agreeable.
Ask for Help
The next intention we need to set is probably going to be the hardest to stick with. It requires a shift in how we think and behave, a combination that is never easy. It’s time to think about when we ask for help and when we don’t. Time to be honest about our needs, and that starts with being honest with ourselves. Stop pretending to be fine, you aren’t, it’s okay that you aren’t. It’s okay to let other people know that as well. Some of them deserve to know. Your family can’t and won’t help you if you never let them know you need help. Personally, this is one of my biggest roadblocks. Admitting you need help requires a couple of things that many people struggle with, being vulnerable and recognizing our limitations. Some of us are particularly bad at recognizing our limits.
Take a few minutes to write down the tasks you do each day/week. Now, split them into two lists, in list one write down all the things that are simple and achievable for you most days. In list two, write down all the tasks that are a struggle. Next, add to that second list anything you have given up doing because you just can’t, that isn’t already being done by someone else. The second list is obviously the “need help” list. It’s probably also the longest list.
Now, before you panic, thinking there is no way I can ask someone to do all these things for me, take a deep breath and relax, we’re going to break that list down a bit more. We’re going to make three lists from that “need help” list. First things first, go down through the “need help” list and move every single household chore onto a new list, the “things we all need to do” list. Unless you live alone, there is really no reason at all that these tasks should fall to only you. In fact, go back to that list of things you can do, any household chores on that list? Move them to the new “things we all need to do” list. Now go down through the household chores list and put a check-mark or your name beside the ones you can easily do, or do with a little help. Distribute the rest among the other people who live in your house. And, just like that, your life just got more manageable. Now let’s see what we can do to help get the rest of that “need help” list under control.
The next list we’re going to create from our massive “need help” list is a list of self-care tasks that we struggle with. Bathing, dressing, brushing our hair, all of these things tend to be more challenging with chronic illness. You are going to need help with some of that. Move it all to a new, daily self-care help list. Again, don’t panic, I am not about to suggest you ask your spouse to start dressing you every day! I understand more than most how much you value your independence and do not want to have to rely on others for seemingly simple things like bathing. This is where living in an age full of modern conveniences and brilliant inventions is really going to make all the difference. For every task on that list, there is a tool to make it easier. Grab that list and take to the internet, search for assistive devices for each task on the list. You’re going to be surprised how many are out there. For a great starting point, check out our gift giving guide, loaded with great tools for getting things done with limitations.
At this point, you should have your original list, a list of household chores, and a self-care list. Now we are ready to make the final list, the list of things we actually need to ask for help with. Hopefully, now that you’ve eliminated the stuff everyone is responsible for and found tools to help with the things you are responsible for, that list is going to be pretty small. Move everything not on the other lists, and any self-care task you couldn’t find a tool for to this list. These are the things you need help with ask a family member or friend, hire it out, or just take it off your plate, those are your options.
Now that you’ve thought about all the day to day stuff, it’s time to set intentions for asking for help as needed. Time to think about how you approach the bad days and consider how much being honest and asking for help could improve them. Stop pretending to be okay and putting on that brave face. Be honest. Ask for help. Say no when you just can’t. For your health and well-being. This is a lifelong battle. Don’t burn out and become disabled because you are too stubborn to recognize your limits and ask for help. Everyone needs help from time to time.
Be gentle and Kind to Yourself
The last and possibly most important intention for healing we are going to set this year is to be kind and gentle to yourself. Be forgiving of those limits. Allow yourself to be not okay sometimes, don’t wallow, there is no need to wallow, but don’t keep that brave face on all the time. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to be frustrated, it’ not okay to take that frustration out on yourself. Allow yourself the space and understanding to be a little broken. Forgive yourself for the days when you just can’t get up and exercise. Forget the garbage you chose to eat yesterday, it’s in the past. Let yourself off the hook for all the times you’ve failed. Promise yourself you’ll do better next time and mean it. Our bodies are already attacking themselves, no sense in adding to the barrage. Treat yourself with the kindness and understanding you give those you love. With loving intention and gentle care, our bodies will be more capable of doing the things we ask them to.
With a few small shifts in the way we care for ourselves and the expectations we put on ourselves, we can make 2020 the healthiest year yet. I’m ready for a year of healing. Who’s with me? What steps are you going to take to be a healthier you in 2020? Drop your answers in the comments. Looking for support and understanding on your healing journey? Join the tenaciousWE community.