About a year ago, I left a steady office job to do work I love.
The first year of self-employment was the best and most challenging year I have ever had.
I was forced to go with the flow, modify, start, restart, and try again as I fine-tuned creating a career for myself that was authentic, passionate, and profitable.
I experienced the ongoing opposition of feeling wonderful when I was with clients and struggling to navigate marketing and networking as a new entrepreneur. I wanted to be of service, but I also needed to make enough income to live in New York City.
While I knew that I would serve others best if I was practicing good self-care, I didn’t make time for that because I was stressed about not having enough clients and overworked in an effort to compensate. While I was showing up to serve my clients with presence, energy, and love, I was neglecting my own self-care and self-compassion. Consequently, I started finding ways of escaping and numbing out the stress.
There were many warning signs along the way asking me to reconnect, to focus more on self-care, to accept and love the version of me that I was during this time. However, fully feeling the discomfort and pain seemed less appealing than escaping.
After ignoring the subtler signs to get present and stop escaping, I received a bigger wake-up call in the form of health issues. That was my breaking point, because I take my health seriously and it’s what I do for a living. I could no longer justify my numbing behavior. The cons simply outweighed the pros, and I had to get real and sit with the discomfort in order to course correct.
Most people would probably assume that I was doing drugs, eating junk food, or engaging in unhealthy relationships or behavior. Fortunately and unfortunately—no. Unfortunately because those methods would have been more extreme and obvious signs that I was making bad choices. My numbing out was disguised in seemingly healthy and productive behavior, so the damage I was doing wasn’t clear to me until there was a noticeable problem.
I didn’t think to question my food. I eat all healthy, organic, unprocessed, real food. I have a sweet tooth, but I make my own healthy treats without any processed sugar. I eat nuts, seeds, and plantain chips for snacks.
However, my timing and portions were off. Moderation went out the window when I was eating to feel pleasure, to relax, and to fill an emotional deficit. I would do the majority of my eating at night, once I was done working with clients, and then snack through my late night hours of work. I would go to bed uncomfortably full. I wasn’t engaging in much social interaction, and my snacking became a main source of pleasure. I convinced myself that I wasn’t doing any harm because what I was eating was healthy.
Timing, portion size, and eating only when we’re hungry are all just as important as what we put in our mouths.
Our bodies need time to digest before sleep. Everyone’s schedule is different, so eating at least three to four hours before bed is ideal to give the body time to completely finish digesting so that system can rest, heal, and rejuvenate during sleep.
In addition, mindful eating is key.
Our bodies work optimally if we feed them when they ask for fuel. We feel less energized after stuffing our bellies, and overeating also causes inflammation, which leads to many other health issues. We feel most properly fueled when we eat to about 70 to 80 percent full. Eating slowly and checking in with how we feel along the way, as well as when we are finished with one portion size, is crucial.
For years, I have been listening to audiobooks, podcasts, interviews, online summits, and webinars on all the topics I love, such as health/wellness, exercise, self-improvement, nutrition, and spirituality. Normally, I think this is a great addition to my lifestyle, and I always get golden nuggets of wisdom, helpful tips, and continuous inspiration from everything I listen to. However, sometimes my queue of things to listen to would get a bit too long. In an effort to stay on top of all my content, I ended up listening for many hours a day, often while I was trying to do other things that needed my complete concentration. During that time, anytime I had silence, I would automatically think, what am I going to listen to next? That was my sign. The desire for the next piece of noise instead of just sitting with myself was the signal that I was numbing out.
Coming back to a healthy balance of listening to educational and interesting content, while also having silent, introspective time allows me to be more in tune with what is going on inside of me.
Any time we spend with something playing in the background, no matter how helpful, is time that we do not spend in silence. It is time that we are not truly present with anything. By multitasking, we are not concentrating on one thing that deserves more focused attention. We are also not in tune with our body and mind because we have constant distractions playing.
I have a habit of opening numerous web pages on my computer at once and then bouncing around. I start researching something new or something I’m curious about, and one tab turns into ten and then twenty. I also answer emails on subway rides and read articles between client appointments. It’s again this concept of trying to get everything done, with the idea in mind that multitasking now will provide me with relaxation later. But that blissful time when I’ve “gotten everything done” rarely arrives.
As a result of my scramble to get as much done as possible, I throw myself into an overstimulated, chaotic, and physically and mentally stressed-out space. I can deceive myself to see this process as efficiency, but really it’s just perpetuating an over-active, unfocused, and unhealthy state.
It’s proven that bouncing around between different projects isn’t very effective. It’s another form of distraction, and ironically keeps us from what we want—feeling calm, blissful, and enjoying the present moment.
There are many other “healthy” and unhealthy ways we can numb out or escape. These examples are mine, but we all have them. Anything that stimulates the senses can be used for good and growth, or for escape and harm.
We all have to find our healthy limits, boundaries, and moderation.
When challenges arise, the lines can get blurred. We go from watching 30 minutes of television to 60 to 90, without much conscious awareness. We go from a small snack after dinner to grazing for the rest of the night. We are simply trying to feel better, so we keep upping the ante thinking that just a little more will do the trick. We justify our behavior because it is providing some relief and relaxation from what we are avoiding, from what makes us uncomfortable, from what we need to address.
We live on a continuum of pros and cons, healthy and unhealthy, sweet and bitter, joyful and sad, comfortable and challenging, conscious and unconscious, mindful and numb, present and inattentive.
Because the shift into unhealthy, numbing behavior is gradual, a daily check-in can be helpful to avoid winding up at an extreme:
What crutch am I leaning on or engaging in today that wasn’t there yesterday, a month ago, a year ago?
What behavior am I feeling pulled to that isn’t actually benefitting me?
What am I craving and why?
Cravings are not a normal part of a healthy body and mind. Cravings develop as an attempt to fix an imbalance, or because we condition ourselves to desire a certain thing with the repetition of a certain trigger.
If we’re developing an unbeneficial habit, what are we trying to avoid, remedy, or relieve? We must dig deep and not stop the inquiry until the answer resonates in our heart.
As I sit here, much healthier and more present, yet still working out health issues and the best way to nurture and care for my body and mind, I know that change and healing take time. I was offtrack for months, so it’s reasonable that it will take me some time to get back into harmony.
Healing by natural methods is a process and not a perfect science. It takes time to heal, and I need to be patient, forgiving, and loving towards myself—just as I would be toward others.
I do know, however, that I have woken up. I am committed to treating this body as my temple. I am committed to a variety of personal work, so I can continue to healthily process my feelings and emotions. And, most importantly as a caretaker, I commit to taking care of myself just as kindly, lovingly, and unconditionally as I would another.