The math teacher drew a pie on the black board and divided it into six pieces. She said, “Your family is having pie after supper tonight. There are six people at the table, what portion of the pie do you get?” My answer, “One-fifth,” not because I’m a poor math student. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mom will not take a piece in order for everyone else to get a bigger slice. Everyone was always more important than she. She bought dresses for her daughters; served bigger portions to her guests; took on more chores to care well for others. She is the definition of a martyr — someone who is killed because of their beliefs. Mom didn’t mean to believe she was not worth a dress, a piece of cake or an afternoon of relaxing. She meant for her actions to demonstrate love, care, and kindness. But her own mind, body, and spirit heard she wasn’t worth it. While she thought she was relinquishing her right to something as simple as a piece of pie or an hour with her feet up, what she was really relinquishing was her right and responsibility to care for herself.
To keep up with the pace of your life, do you work long hours, cancel yoga, cut back on your time with friends, skip meals? If so, you are relinquishing your right and responsibility to care for yourself, just like Mom. Everyone hears you are not worth it, not valuable. More importantly, your mind, body, and spirit begin to believe it. When we value something, we give it attention. The less we value something, the more of a backseat it takes.
Here’s the irony, the more stressed we get, the more we are tempted to cut out the things we do to take care of ourselves. The more we care for ourselves, the more ability we have to handle stress. It’s a catch 22.
According to medical studies, stress seems to worsen or increase the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, accelerated aging, asthma, memory impairment, skin conditions, insomnia, autoimmune diseases, headaches, infections, and premature death. Mentally, stress can lead to constant worry, racing thoughts, forgetfulness, inability to focus, poor judgment, and pessimism. Behaviorally, stress can effect appetite, procrastination, increase use of substances, and nervousness. If you had a magic wand and could avoid these physical, mental and behavioral issues, would you use it? Let me hand the wand to you — self-care.
Where can you step away from the stress for a moment? It may be something as simple as stepping outside, focusing on something beautiful, taking in a pleasant aroma. What triggers a relaxation response? Try a handful of deep, slow breaths or a full-body stretch or turning on some music, even dancing to it. Even when we can not block half a day to prioritize our care, we can take a handful of 5 minute care-moments in a day because we have value and worth.
When we are running low on resilience, high on stress, and feeling physically and emotionally depleted, our mind, body, and spirit are giving us a very clear message. What do you want to do differently today to respond to that message?