Last year was a bitch for many of us.
I’ll spare re-writing the global list, but add to mine the year-long struggle my brother had with brain cancer and, yes: It more than sucked.
As a self-proclaimed self-care warrior, I knew early in 2016 that if I did not concentrate all of my efforts on maintaining my wellness, I could very easily go down with the stress-ship.
In 2009, I was diagnosed with a severe illness that is typically treated with toxic chemotherapy. That treatment did little to help me, so when I moved to New Zealand, determined to stay off of immigration’s watch-list for medical issues (and with my specialist doctor’s apprehensive approval), I started foregoing the intravenous treatment in mid-2011. Employing a range of mind-body practices, I was totally med-free five months later.
Fast forward five and a half years later and I remain med-free.
Herein lies the greatest challenge: On a few distinct occasions, life came along and showed me just how reactive my illness was to stress (actually otherwise known as life). So no matter what kind of eating or exercise or rest plan I employ, it really means nothing if stress throws my body a curve ball.
When my sweet brother became so very ill, we could see this was not a sprint, but a marathon. I soon realized it was extremely important for me to stay focused on my own self-care plan in the midst of his care. Besides a bout of gaining some extra weight when it was evident that my brother’s time on the planet was waning, I managed to keep my simmering serpent of a disease at bay during this tortuous past year.
Here are the top practices I found helpful during this tumultuous time:
Prioritise: Contrary to messages you may have been fed, it is not selfish to put your health and well-being first. As my wise son reminded me during a time of family stress: save yourself.
We are no good for anyone else if we are no good ourselves.
So firstly, work on your thinking. Yes, it is smart and right to make your health and well-being a priority. Then, and only then, may you have energy to spare to put out in the universe for others.
Remove the rear view mirror: During our journey we could have easily “what-if’d” ourselves senseless. During times of crisis, frustration, recovery, et al., notice if you find yourself going back to, “If we only would have…” type of thinking.
Stop and commit to looking through the windshield more than the review mirror.
Mindfulness: That said, do not over-focus on the future (the windshield) either. When our thoughts are in the past or in the future we are not experiencing the here and now.
Being with my sweet brother over the last year was probably the most concrete mindfulness practice I will ever have in my lifetime. One second was too much to lose when we didn’t know how much time we had.
Everyone reacts differently, but personally, I did not want to engage in anything but connection with my brother while in his presence. We all know life is unpredictable and far too short. It may sound cliche, but mindfulness, truly experiencing the moments we are in, is the only promise we have in this life.
We never know what tomorrow may bring, but rather than obsess about that fact, truly experience life. Moment by moment.
Nature: Be in it as much as possible. Rinse. Repeat.
Feel all the feelings: We are so very programmed to go into a trance to escape feeling during trying times. We sometimes use our meditative and spiritual practice as well as drugs, alcohol, and food—or lots of other things that look “good,” like overexercising to “treat” (read: stuff) our feelings, but here is the deal: if we don’t feel the feelings when they are rearing their heads, they will come back on us when least expected and typically at the most inconvenient times.
Sh*t’s hard. Hard as f*ck. But I implore you: feel it. Feel it all. Write it. Talk it. Scream it. Cry it out. Just do your best not to numb it.
Are there moments we just need a break from those intense feelings? Hells yes. You can temporarily tuck the tough feelings in the gorgeous velvet-lined feeling box for short periods of time and give your mind-body-soul a break from the feelings, but don’t neglect them long-term or else they will turn into vicious hungry little mongrels biting at your heels.
Circle the wagons (or not): If you’ve got people, now is the time to gather them. Be honest. Let them know you are hurting. And offer to be there for them as well. If you are an introvert or an extroverted introvert (raising hand), take good care, and take the space you need for yourself.
Healthy Sleep, Nutrition, Exercise, Rest, Practice your Beliefs: like your life depended on it. These are ingredients that form the very foundation of your self-care for all times and even more so when the sh*t hits the fan. Use your time management skills and an alarm to schedule these things if you need to. Seek respite when you need it.
Patience with others: Big life stuff brings out the worst and the best in people. Foremost, remind yourself that everyone does crisis, grief, tumultuous times differently, and try to relax on the judgment. Pondering too much about another’s reaction is our cue to get back to our own personal practice.
Breathwork: The core of my professional and personal work centres around the breath. Concretely based in science, we are able to control and balance our autonomic nervous system with some simple techniques that have our breath at the core. The sympathetic drive is responsible for the “fight or flight” response and is the “why” regarding stress causing physical and emotional distress. At the very foundation, become more conscious of your breath and attempt to keep your breath regulated––nothing fancy––just easy even breathing, say five to six counts in and five to six counts out. Just even, longer or shorter duration is fine.
Every one of these areas could be expounded upon in depth, but my hope is that my experience of utilizing a radical self-care practice to emerge from the abyss of tragic illness, death, and grief somewhat intact gives you the knowledge that you, too, can develop self-care strategies that will keep you afloat in the perilous seas of change and stress.
And why is it radical? Simply because you do it. So many of us talk the talk, when it comes to life strategies, but do not walk the walk, especially when the sh*t really hits the fan.
At the very least, take a baby-step toward saving yourself.
You’ve got this.
Author: Becky Aud-Jennison
Image: Author’s Own, Unsplash
Editor: Travis May