Too many people don’t take very good care of themselves until their health becomes an issue. You would think that with all of the efforts of health care professionals, the initiatives of various levels of government, and the increasing medical knowledge in this area, people in this part of the world would be an exceptionally healthy group but this is not necessarily so.
One reason why many people overlook self-care is because our bodies are strong and adaptable and we can accommodate unhealthy changes until the problems become acute and chronic. When it comes to health, it seems that the focus of our attention is on crisis intervention, symptom management, and problem resolution. In addition, many people are generally, by nature, caring people who are sensitive to the needs of others. It’s tough to make time to care for yourself when family, friends, colleagues, employers, and the demands of life in general devour much of your time and energy.
There must be many times in your daily life where you would like to compel your family or friends to change their lifestyle to achieve greater health and wellness. Perhaps they drink too much or eat too much, or work too hard. You know that a few positive changes could make a huge difference and even though you offer helpful suggestions, your well-meaning advice falls on deaf ears.
As you reach out to care for others, how often do you listen to your own thoughts and words to see whether or not you are practicing what you are preaching? How often do you seriously and objectively take a look at your own health and lifestyle issues? Just because you don’t suffer from a major illness, it doesn’t mean that you are doing all that you can to be in good health. Are you physically active? Do you eat healthy and well-balanced meals? Do you pay attention to early warning signs and adjust your daily activities to take better care of yourself? Is your health a priority? How well do you manage the stress in your life?
You have the power to give to yourself the gift of health. You know that your health is your responsibility and that your body, mind, and spirit need to be cared for on an ongoing basis. At least once a day, consciously shift the focus from the problems of others and of life to monitor how well you are taking care of your own health.
You also know that the mind-body connection has been well established. Your mental health has a direct impact on your physical health and conversely, your physical health has a powerful influence on your psychological well-being. You have a choice of waiting until your health problems develop and you are faced with a crisis, or you can begin right now to take better care of yourself.
Let’s try a none-too-pleasant imagery exercise. You have had chest pains and shortness of breath. Your heart is racing and you feel a terrible sense of foreboding. The last thing you remember is thinking that you are not ready to die. Upon regaining consciousness you are in the Emergency Department, with many wires and tubes attached and concerned medical staff and family around you. Now, what are you thinking? I’m sure you are greatly relieved; thrilled to be alive, and wondering what the heck just happened to you. What are your regrets? Do you wish you had earned more money or that you had worked longer hours to achieve that promotion? Perhaps you are thinking more about the quality of your life: of family, friendships and how you spend your time. Lying flat on your back, feeling grateful for another chance, feeling scared about the diagnosis and about the future, and feeling very fragile and vulnerable do your priorities change?
Let’s continue the imagery a bit further. Your medical treatment has been successful and you will recover fully. You have the opportunity to resume living your life. When you walk out of that hospital, you have the choice to live your life differently so that you don’t return in the near future. If you can see that you truly do have a choice as to how you live your life, then you have taken the first step in giving to yourself the gift of health.
This first step is the awareness of your power to choose how you live. There will always be great demands on your time, energy, and resources. This is the stuff of life and it would be pretty boring if no one wanted or needed you. It is your responsibility to decide how you will manage these demands. Don’t throw in the towel or throw up your hands and allow everyone to have a piece of you whenever they want. You will live with the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle! Accept the responsibility of your health and learn to deal with the demands of life in a way that balances your needs with the needs of others.
One of the biggest barriers to taking care of your own health is the belief that you are being selfish. There are two things to remember here. When you are healthy, you are at your best with your family and friends, at work, and in the community. What is selfish about giving your best? Next, realize that if you don’t take care of yourself, someone else will have to take care of you. If you have the opportunity to be healthy and you don’t take it; that is selfish.
The second step in giving to yourself the gift of health is much harder. This is where you have to translate your power to choose how you live into action on a day-to-day basis. This is no easy task as it often means a change in behaviour, perspective and lifestyle. Your way of thinking may need to change, the pattern of your relationships may change, and your daily routines and activities will likely have to change. While all of this sounds hard, isn’t your life worth it?
It may be that you know what you need to do and you just need to start doing it. Sometimes you may need to turn to others for help. Your family or friends can be a tremendous source of encouragement and support. After all, they have a vested interest in keeping you around for a long time – they love you and don’t want to lose you. There are times though, when the task is too big and complicated or you just need someone who is completely objective, and you need to reach out for professional help.
Psychologists understand human behaviour and relationships. A psychologist can help you to resolve childhood trauma issues, deal with major life changes, address relationship problems, cope with anxiety, depression or addictions, and help you to manage stress and get your life back in balance and back on track.
Getting the help you need is a gift of health to you. You may have financial coverage through your employer health benefits or spousal health insurance to assist with costs of counselling.
Talk to someone who can help. Call CHVBV Registered Psychologists at 424 – 0123 (Edmonton area) or toll free 1-888-424-0126 (province-wide).
Stephen Carter, Ph. D., R. Psych.
Shirley Vandersteen, Ph. D., R. Psych.