"Take care of yourself, you only get one life and you want to live as long as possible." --Sonya Parker
There was a time in my life when I tried to do it all.
I woke up at 5:00 a.m., so that I could pack my husband's and daughter's lunch. I then made them breakfast and coffee, before heading into my classroom an hour early. Without eating and breakfast myself, I often worked through my lunch hour, occasionally grabbing a soda and a bag of chips from the vending machine. I then stayed after, often until 6:00 p.m., making sure my lessons were perfect for the next day.
In the winter, there were days where I never saw daylight.
When I got home, I threw dinner on the stove, then read to my daughter, gave her a bath, and managed to squeeze in some time with my husband. Bedtime for me was often after 11:00.
Even with this crazy schedule, I always came up lacking. My paperwork was late. I wasn't doing all the activities I could with my daughter. Dinner was never as lavish as I had wanted it to be.
Add to that the fact that I gained weight, lost energy, and began having major anxiety issues, and you can see that I had a situation that was a recipe for misery. I wasn't caring for myself, and that was impacting my ability to care for all those around me.
The solution came in slowing down, refocusing, and making myself a priority.
At first it felt selfish. As women, we are trained to care for everyone else first, and we see no point in doing something purely for ourselves. And yet this is so necessary. When I began to focus primarily on meeting my needs, it was like I magically regained lost time in my day. Not only was I feeling better, but I was getting more done.
How is this even possible? It all comes down to stress hormones. When you are stressed, your body goes into a state of fight-or-flight. This response is a "alert" that your mind sends out when it detects a threat to survival. Lack of nutrition, lack of sleep, and lack of exercise are all threats that the mind detects. This alert is also triggered by everyday stress that is perceived by the mind to be a threat.
The fight-or-flight response causes a barrage of stress hormones to be released. Adrenaline and cortisol cause elevated heart rate and breathing, as well as tunnel vision, hearing, and understanding. There is a sense that everything is rushed, and a feeling of being too busy. Problem-solving becomes very difficult.
Adapting lifestyle choices that help to minimize the fight-or-flight response will help you to be more productive in every way. You will feel better physically, have more energy, and experience an increased ability to creatively problem solve.
These are some lifestyle choices that have become non-negotiable for me:
1. Getting at least 8 hours of sleep.
Scrimping on sleep causes mental fogginess, lowered mood, anxiety, and overeating. If I want to be my best, I make sleep my top priority.
2. Drinking water.
Most people experience a state of near-dehydration, most of the time. Not having enough water triggers alerts in your brain, leading to the release of those stress hormones. This response can be worsened by consuming alcohol and caffeine.
3. Eating a high-protein, low sugar diet.
Protein increases serotonin production, which boosts your mood. Limiting sugar and carbohydrates helps to stabilize your blood sugar levels, which will lead to an increase in energy.
4. Exercising at least 3 days a week.
Exercise helps increase energy levels, boost metabolism, and improve your overall mood. It is ideal for stress-relief, and should be a priority in every schedule. And it doesn't have to be at the gym. Beginning the day with a morning walk can help you start things out right.
5. Taking time to relax.
Yoga, prayer, meditation, and breathing exercises can all help minimize or stop the fight-or-flight response. Taking a couple minutes, a few times a day, to give your mind a mini-break and focus on breathing and relaxing can make a huge difference in your day.
6. Get to know yourself.
Remember that the fight-or-flight response can also be triggered by stressors that are not direct threats to survival. Taking some time to realize when you are experiencing the response after work or family stress, and reassuring your mind that you are safe while doing a calming activity, can help your head to stay clear. Paying attention to your thoughts and identifying self-attack and misunderstandings about yourself can also be very helpful.
As I have implemented these strategies and made them non-negotiable, I have noticed that I am staying caught up at work, without having to spend all the extra time there. I have been able to take care of myself and my family, without running myself ragged.
Far from being selfish, putting myself first has helped me to put others first as well. It is through caring for ourselves that we are able to better care for those around us.
What strategies do you use, to make yourself a priority?
If you would like help making yourself a priority and managing stress. consider an individual email, chat, or Skype session.
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