“Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.”Katie Reed
“Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.”
Wine and yoga. Two of my favourite things (although I do not recommend combining the two simultaneously). If you told me I could only indulge in one of these two pleasures for the rest of my life, I would be extremely hard-pressed to choose between them. They both bring me great enjoyment and relaxation in vastly different ways. Sipping a chilled glass of sauvignon blanc on a terrace while sharing a laugh with a good friend is one of my greatest joys in life. And the physical and mental serenity I experience immediately following (admittedly not often during) a yoga practice can only be described as pure bliss.
We currently live in a society where stress and mental illness are at an all-time high. We work crazy hours, multi-tasking in demanding jobs, many of us still struggling with financial hardship. Most of us are caregivers in some respect; either by working in healthcare, parenting, helping to look after an aging or sick relative, neighbour, or friend, or juggling a complicated combination of the above. We are connected in ways that were unimaginable just a decade ago; by smartphones, social media, and technology, yet we have never had fewer personal interactions. We have forgotten the importance of rest. We no longer value the art of play. We fear silence and disconnection to such an extent that the acronym FOMO (fear of missing out) was created. Yet actual fun has taken a backseat to the rest of our responsibilities.
I have always been the consummate over-achiever. I have four (yes, four) university degrees, all of which I finished near the top of my class. For almost 20 years, I have had a successful career in healthcare, which on most days I love. Very little thrills me more than seeing a patient get better. I have always measured success by the number of new projects I am asked to take on in my life (a referral for a new patient or client, a request to give a seminar or to teach a new class, an invitation to sit on a committee of my peers). The more I am asked to do, the more successful I feel. Because of this, over the years I have developed a case of what I call “yesitis”. I find it nearly impossible to turn down any commendable opportunity that presents itself.
I like to think I am relatively good at several things. Self-care has historically not been one of them. Up until recently, I would take these projects on at the expense of my own personal health. I would sacrifice sleep and proper nutrition and allow the stress to build until I would inevitably reach the breaking point. Because of these tendencies, I have experienced a full-blown burnout twice (the first one at age 23) and came dangerously close to a third last episode year. It was then that I decided, especially as a healthcare professional, if I was going to talk the talk, I had better start walking the walk.
To recognize why self-care is so important, it is first crucial to understand what ignoring it means for the human body. The autonomic nervous system, the part that controls our involuntary functions (breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and so on) has two branches: the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. You know the sympathetic nervous system as the commander in chief of our fight or flight response. Its lesser known sibling, the parasympathetic nervous system regulates our “rest and digest” processes. Our bodies were designed to have the fight or flight response triggered relatively infrequently. Our ancestors needed to have it engage when a viable threat, such as an approaching predator was detected. Once this threat was removed, the nervous system returned to its dominant state of rest and digest.
In today’s world, what menaces us most often is a threat of an entirely different nature. For most of us the source of our stress is psychological instead of physical, creating the perception that something fundamentally important to us (our career, our finances, our reputation) is endangered. These threats are much less tangible than physical ones, which makes it difficult for our brain to determine when to relieve the sympathetic nervous system of its duties. It has become our default system. The result is an increase in both adrenaline and cortisol coursing through our bloodstream. Adrenaline causes our heart to pump harder and faster. While this is a great defense mechanism in the event of an actual physical threat, over time it creates significant strain on the body’s cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of fun things like heart attacks and stroke. Cortisol causes the liver and muscle tissue to dump fat and sugar into the bloodstream; awesome if you actually need to run away from someone or something and can use it as fuel to do so, less awesome if ends up just hanging out in the blood, creating a greater risk of developing high cholesterol or diabetes.
So how do we get the sympathetic nervous system to chill and make room for its parasympathetic counterpart to take over? The answer exists in the proper management of life’s stressors. And how do we master stress management? That answer is simple: make self-care a priority. In 1989 Stephen R. Covey wrote what is arguably one of the best self-betterment books of all time, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. His 7th habit is something he calls Sharpening the Saw in which he discusses the importance of self-care, essentially advocating that without it, none of the previous 6 habits would be successful.
Therein lies the focus of the new Wine and Yoga blog. But do not let the title fool you. This is not a blog fostering overindulgence in the consumption of alcohol or promoting the latest athletic gear and apparel. In fact, no booze or bending is necessary at all if neither of these is your jam. What you WILL find here are weekly posts discussing how to build self-care practices into your daily, weekly, and monthly routines, no matter what life throws your way. You will find self-care tips and ideas, as well as suggestions for overcoming obstacles to self-care such as time constraints and ways to prioritize self-care, as well as a little bit of humour along the way. My hope is to provide stories and anecdotes people can relate to, entice readers to re-embrace their most basic pleasures in life, and build a community in which people feel safe to share their own struggles with self-care and life balance.
So welcome to Wine and Yoga. Pour yourself a glass of your favourite beverage, kick off your shoes, find yourself a comfortable position, and most importantly, take a load off, if only for a few precious moments.
Remember: you’re no good to anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first.
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Keep it up!