Like many women and young people in general, I didn’t grow up learning much about self-care. What I did know how to do was everything. All the time. I knew how to give and give and give. And that when I gave out, I should give from the ground that I was lying on. That’s what I thought it took to be a good girl. And I wanted nothing more than to be good. I bet you have felt this way, too.
And, then, my body fell apart in a most dramatic fashion when I was a high school teacher. Though it took me a while to admit that my behaviors had anything to do with my sickliness, I eventually put together my very first wellness plan with the help of a nutritionist, some books, a journal, and some creative problem solving. Once I started taking care of myself, I felt remarkably better (go figure) and, suddenly, I understood a whole new truth: choice- choosing your behaviors to best respond to what your body and soul need- is medicine. Food can be medicine. Movement can be medicine. Taking on challenges in moderation can be medicine. Living a deliberate life is, in fact, medicine.
For the longest time, I thought that my health, my wellness, my sense of wellbeing, just happened to me. Except then I learned that it doesn’t. As it turns out, I happen to it.
I happen to it by understanding that I can choose to infuse my life with a deliberate embrace of intentional health, of making my body as whole as it can be, of giving my body and mind and soul what it needs so it can move me through life in harmony with the way that I most want to be. I do this not by coincidence or happenstance or luck. I do this by listening to my body, observing what it loves and doesn’t, respecting what it can and cannot do, and then working deliberately to provide it with the good stuff and ridding it of the bad stuff. I do this by following a personal wellness plan/ prescription.
Over the years, I’ve had different wellness plans. I’ve needed different plans. Life changes (you find a partner, you move across the country or world, a baby or child comes into your life, you replace your bike with a car or your car with a bike, you lose a partner, a parent, your way). Your body changes (you have a short term illness, a chronic condition, you break an arm, you gain muscle). Your needs change (you require more sleep, less sleep, greater energy, less stress). The wellness plan I had in my mid-20s isn’t practical for me now in my early 40s. Sometimes, your wellness plan needs to even change by the seasons.
Moreover, my wellness plan won’t work for my sister or my best friend, because it is not personalized for them, their experiences and needs, their bodies’ little quirks. When we want intentional health we have to do the work of defining it and deciding to embrace it for ourselves (although, yes, there are some general touchstones that we all might want to factor into our plans).
And so at the beginning of each year, as part of my effort to be intentional (which includes choosing a word for the year and creating a vision board), I revisit my wellness plan. Today, I want to encourage you to write one for yourself!
Step #1 Name your core beliefs in terms of wellness.
For me, loving myself is about taking good care of my whole self- my body, mind, and soul- so that all of me might enjoy the work that I choose to do and that I am capable of doing it with less strain, stress, anxiety and more enjoyment, awareness, passion.
Caring for my body isn’t about punishing it. It is not about beating it into submission so that it might obtain a particular shape. It’s about listening to my body, giving it what it says it needs and maybe a little dash of what I know might be good for it even if it doesn’t particularly want it (my taste buds do not want bananas, I tell you, and, yet, sometimes a banana’s potassium is really what my body most needs. When I crave a banana, I know something’s up and I make myself have one.). With my wellness plan, I am not trying to achieve a certain weight or look. I’m trying to achieve a feeling of optimism and optimal wellness for who I am and where I am now. Caring about your body means you actually listen to your body, respond to your body’s needs, and make choices that support it. It takes practice and paying attention to learn what your body needs, but it is practice and attention that is well worth the effort.
So take a minute and get real about what wellness means to you. Let yourself off the hook of someone else’s standards and really embrace doing what is good for you because it sustains your soul.
Step # 2 Name what you need.
Think about what you need to be physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually well. Make a list of everything that comes to mind.
Step # 3 Craft that into a wellness prescription.
If you could prescribe behaviors and actions to yourself based on what you most need, what would they be? Make that list.
Here is a peek at some items that have been on my list over the years:
- Eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Have fruits or vegetables with every meal.
- Minimize processed foods in my diet.
- Cook thoughtful meals at home for me and my family.
- Practice a good stretchy yoga with a focus on building flexibility.
- Move my body- sometimes for contemplative, joint loosening movement and sometimes for cardio-endurance- at least four times a week.
- Strength train three days a week.
- See my physician for an annual visit that includes labwork so I know how I am doing in terms of blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc. Based on what I learn after talking to my doc (and getting any lab results), I adjust my behaviors to support obtaining my optimal health. Related: get a mammogram and other screenings (eyes checked, dental, skin checked).
- Read every day with a goal of finishing at least one chapter.
- Take the opportunity to reflect through time with myself, journaling, and conversations with friends and family.
- Drink at least 60 ounces of water.
- Schedule massage as necessary to work through neck, hip, and shoulder tightness and to encourage stress reduction.
- Enjoy time with friends.
- Sleep at least 7 hours per night, and ideally more.
- Express love.
- Choose my life. While I can’t control every situation, there are things I do get to choose. There is a life I do get to call dibs on. I work very deliberately to design the life of my imagining and not an accidental life.
- Schedule additional self-care like an appointment and not an afterthought.
Step #4 Work your wellness prescription into your life.
Start to work your wellness prescription into your daily life. Include different steps on your daily to do list. Menu plan and grocery shop for the weekend over the weekend. Get an accountability buddy. Make a checklist.
Can you see this tool working for you? What needs to be on your wellness prescription? What does taking care of you look like?