By Jane Sheppard
Of all the problems of modern life, few are more pervasive than stress. Stress and fatigue are signals that you are not giving enough to yourself. Stress can cause a wide variety of ailments and serious diseases, including allergies, pain and heart attacks. I’ve taught a course in stress management, so I know how to deal with it. I’m the first person to lovingly tell others to take care of themselves. I used to manage my own stress by meditating, getting massages, hiking in nature and taking plenty of time for myself.
Then back in 1995 I became a mother.
Being a single mother and the sole provider for the two of us, I focused on just two things-my daughter and making a living. I had a home business, a busy massage therapy practice…and not enough hours in the week. Taking care of myself didn’t even enter the picture. Merely knowing that I needed to take time for myself wasn’t enough. The trick was to figure out how to do it and still meet the needs of my daughter and pay the bills. When my daughter was two, I received a frightening wake-up call: My body gave out. I had so much pain in my neck and shoulder that I could barely function. I found myself completely drained, in a state of deep exhaustion from lack of sleep. I was alarmed: How would we survive if I couldn’t work?
Recognizing the severity of the situation, I realized that if I was to get any rest, I had to get away, even if only for one night. I was amazed at how easy it was to arrange. It took about 20 minutes and a few phone calls to set up babysitting and a mini-retreat. I drove my tired body to a remote cabin in the forest only 20 miles away. There was a hot tub, a sauna, a pool, a comfortable bed and, best of all, peace and tranquility. I also arranged a massage and an acupuncture treatment for myself. Basically, all I could do at the cabin was sleep and rest-something I couldn’t do at home. I had to actually step out of my life for about 30 hours-30 wonderful hours of no work, and no taking care of anyone but myself.
How many times have you wanted to get away to a little retreat, but gave it up because it didn’t seem possible? Perhaps your baby or toddler isn’t ready to be away from you all night: Partial-day retreats can be just as wonderful. Or you can take naps with your baby or begin to do regular infant massage. Giving a massage can be as relaxing and nurturing for you as it is for your baby. The point is to make it a priority to carve out time for relaxation whenever you can. We must regularly do the things that foster peace and serenity in our daily lives. We must turn off the noise and fuss that has become so common. Unless we regularly take care of ourselves, our bodies will call for attention. Ignored, that call will turn into a scream-a scream that manifests as pain or disease. Once things are at that point, everyone suffers, including our children.
My own breakdown would never have happened if I’d listened to my body’s signals and allowed myself some regular rest and relaxation. If I had been receiving one or two massages a month and regular acupuncture, I might not have needed four in one week. The retreat was exactly what I needed, but it would have been better if I’d been doing it periodically with joy, instead of waiting for an emergency when I could barely move.
Yes, our children need us to be there for them, wholly and completely. But we need to be whole and complete in order to take care of them. We need to be happy and healthy before we can have happy, healthy children. We can’t teach our children how to be healthy without modeling it ourselves, nor can we look to anyone else to make us healthy. Health practitioners or doctors can assist us in the healing process, but true health must come from deep within ourselves. This is our responsibility. True holistic health means to be sound and vibrantly well on all levels of being-physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
There are many different elements and techniques to facilitate a healthful lifestyle. Each offers something different, but all of them help us achieve greater health.
Meditation is a practice that can address all four aspects of the self, renewing our minds and bodies while nourishing us emotionally and spiritually. There are many types of meditation, some with a basis in religion, and others that are completely secular. Regardless of the method, when we meditate, we shut out the hullabaloo and distractions of our busy lives and connect to our soul, or to whatever supreme being we believe in. Daily spiritual practice is important to our sense of well-being and peace of mind. Yoga is a form of meditation combined with exercise, providing deep relaxation for the mind and body.
Massage therapy can enhance every system of the body, as well as aiding emotional and mental well-being. Massage is one of the best ways to relieve stress, quiet your mind and soothe your aches and pains. Massages can cost anywhere from $40 to $150, depending on the type of treatment and where you live. If you don’t think you can afford it, try putting a few dollars into a massage fund on a regular basis. It never hurts to ask if a therapist will accept less money than her normal fee. Some charge on a sliding scale; others may even trade for a service you provide.
Few things are more relaxing than a hot aromatherapy bath at the end of a long day. Make this a ritual-your special time with no interruptions. After the kids are asleep, take the phone off the hook, fix some relaxing herbal tea, light some candles and play soothing music. An aromatherapy bath combines the healing properties of plants (in the form of essential oils) with the therapeutic power of water to relieve stress very effectively. Essential oils can bring relief to muscle pain, skin conditions and even depression, depending on the choice of oils added to the bath. Lavender eases muscle tension and promotes sound sleep. Clary sage has antidepressant properties with calming, euphoric effects, and is also good for PMS, menstrual cramps and menopausal symptoms. Roman chamomile also helps to relax you and relieve PMS, as well as anxiety and tension. German chamomile soothes dry, inflamed or sensitive skin and allergic conditions such as eczema and psoriasis; it’s also used for inflamed joints and muscle pain. Marjoram can ease muscle pain as well. Chamomile, clary sage, lavender, marjoram, neroli, sandalwood and ylang ylang have both sedative and antidepressant effects, while bergamot, geranium, melissa and rose help to lift the mood without sedating. For starters, try an evening bath with 12 drops of lavender and 3 drops of neroli.
Can we learn to love ourselves as much as we love our children? We must if we are to truly instill a love of self in our children. The best way to teach this is to model it. During your daily meditation, visualize the faces of your children and feel the intense love you have for them. Really get into this feeling. Now hug yourself and direct this strong love toward yourself. Feel it flowing through your entire body. Keep hugging yourself and say, “I am worthy of self-love and attention. I take time to nourish and nurture myself.” Find ways to value yourself on a regular basis. Do the things that bring you joy.
Good nutrition, physical exercise, relaxation, spirituality, positive thinking, fun, laughter, creative expression, love, intimacy and sexuality are all necessary elements that we must make time for if we want to be healthy. Which of these elements are missing from your life? Begin to incorporate them now so you can live with vitality and avoid a healing crisis.
If you’ve always given most of your time to others, you might encounter some resistance from your kids, or even your husband, when you begin to take time for yourself. You might need to explain to them the reasons why this is so important, not only for you, but for them as well. Write up a plan of action for taking care of yourself regularly. Sign it, and have your husband and children sign it, so they know how serious you are. Include them in the planning. Ask them what they would like to do while you’re away to make it special for them. My daughter’s very first night sleeping anywhere else but in my bed next to me was an adventure of true delight for her. After that she looked forward to sleeping over at her friend’s house.
When you need alone time, let your children know that this alone time is for them as well. We can teach our children that we need quiet time, and so do they. Children can also be taught to meditate and practice yoga right along with you. Make sure you let them know you are not abandoning them. By taking time for yourself, you are doing something that benefits your entire family. One of the most important things you can do for your children is to demonstrate a healthful lifestyle. By treating yourself with the respect and the care you require, you’re passing down an important gift to your children.
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