I got my wake-up call a little over 10 years ago. I started feeling short of breath and tired, despite the fact that I was—or so I thought—in great health. I was in my mid-30s, not overweight and ate really healthy.
After passing out one night after many days of complaints that my leg really hurt when I stood or tried to walk, I was rushed to the E.R. with a Blood Clot and Pulmonary Embolism. (This is what killed actor Denis Farina, and it’s what sidelined Serena Williams and Nick Cannon.)
While my time in the hospital was grueling, my recovery to full strength was much longer. It was filled with good days, not-so-great days, and doses of hard core drugs to thin my blood. I was willing to try anything that could help me get back to normal, and so I began to see an acupuncturist, a Pilates teacher, and a Reiki Healer.
My doctors made the connection between synthetic estrogens and progesterone’s which increase blood viscosity and my particular kind of blood clot, they have assured me that as long as I didn’t take estrogen, or any other hormone replacement the rest of my life I wouldn’t be at risk of another clot.
But it didn’t all add up as to why I’d had a clot.
I had taken birth control for years in the past prior to this event, I had not traveled and I had several times years before taken long transatlantic flights along with 5-8 hour flights with nary an issue. But had I been ignoring messages from my body all along?
As I started to think seriously about my health, I remembered other messages from my body that I’d ignored.
Was I really just a horrible sleeper or was there more to learn from my periodic bouts of insomnia?
Why did I catch so many respiratory infections last year?
Why are my shoulders always hunched up to my ears?
Why was I so physically exhausted and feeling so stressed?
Why was I in such a mental fog?
I’d been ignoring my body’s whispers for years—occasionally masking its signs with Ambien. My doctors didn’t see a connection between the imbalance in my life and my incident, but I disagree. I believe that everything is connected. I wanted to move on in life but I felt stuck, stressed and immobile.
I had always chalked up my lifestyle (and subsequent lack of sleep, high cortisol levels, and frequent infections) to the opportunity cost of my lifestyle and career stress. I worked more hours a week than necessary at a stressful job and was also often on the go with my family. When I managed to do something to relieve the stress such as getting a massage, attending a yoga class or getting a manicure, I was always running in late, guilty about leaving my work, clients, and family.
Do you know what a high-sugar diet, smoking, emotional stress, anxiety, high cholesterol, and high uric acid levels do to your blood?
All of these make your blood hypercoagulable, meaning it makes it thick and slow-moving, which increases your risk of having a blood clot or stroke. How many of those were in my life, hmmmm all but smoking….at least I had that going for me!
What I discovered after my Blood Clot incident was that I needed to redefine my ideas about success and health. As I got closer to what I’d always thought of as “normal health,” I realized I wanted to set the bar higher. I didn’t want to go back to being stressed out all the time. I didn’t want to experience Sunday night blues every week, dreading the start of another work week. Being productive at work at the expense of my health wasn’t making me feel fulfilled.
And so, for the first time in my life, I began taking care of myself. I developed new ideas of success.
Did I get to read the morning news updates?
Did I get to read a book to my son?
What did I do that was fun today?
Did I get to go to Pilates, walk, or hike today?
How much time did my husband and I spend together?
What I discovered is that taking good care of you isn’t selfish or indulgent. It’s smart and one of the best preventative medicines you can self-prescribe, and it’s often the easiest to overlook.
And yes, drinking alkaline green juices, doing some sort of exercise and eating superfood-infused meals, are all wonderful ways to build and maintain a healthy body. But checking healthy activities off of a wellness “To-Do” List without being able to enjoy the experience, calm your mind, and nourish your self is also not health. We often prioritize these activities over relaxation, self-care and having fun that can create a strong and calm mind. But why?
I know that feeling calmer, relaxed and balanced has helped make me a better wife, daughter, friend and mother. And I don’t have to tell you about the effects of stress on your health.
I do think it’s possible to be prosperous at work and live in balance with your mind and body. For me, I had to redefine what success looked and felt like.
Don’t wait until you get a cosmic kick-in-the-butt in the form of a monumental birthday or health scare to start the process. Here are my five favorite (and easy) ways to infuse some self-care into your day:
- Schedule a little sun.
Vitamin D helps make essential enzymes and proteins and makes you feel great. A little goes a long way. In Revive, Dr Frank Lipman says the body can create 20,000 units of vitamin D after only 20 minutes of sun. One idea: try taking some calls outside. What an efficient way to multi-task!
- Bring some ritual to meal time.
Mariel Hemingway sums it up in her book, Healthy Living from the Inside Out, when she says “eating is the most fundamental act of taking care of yourself.” Light a candle, put on music, set the table, do whatever it is to create an experience out of your meal. And whatever you do, don’t eat at your desk or in your car on the go every day!
- Practice balance, even in wellness.
We wellness junkies can take ourselves a little too seriously. My bookshelf (Hungry for Change, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead and Forks Over Knives) reflected this tendency. I was spending too much time studying health and not enough time living a rich and fulfilling life. Remember to invest in the art that also makes you laugh (as well as learn).
- Develop routines that make you happy to begin and end the day.
In her book, Balance Your Hormones Balance Your Life, Dr. Claudia Welsh explains, “when the body adjusts to a daily routine and learns to count on it, the nervous system can relax.” I love starting my morning with a protein smoothie and ending the day with a meditation. Whether it’s meditation, writing or massage, explore what helps you relax. Calm is the new busy!
- Invest in simple luxuries.
When you get your nails done pay a little extra for the massage, when the weather is nice take the time to get away from the computer and get out and walk, go see a silly movie just to laugh. Invest in the simple luxuries that hugely impact your happiness.