As this year came into our existence, many hoped it would be a year of clarity, where we could start seeing with “20-20 vision.” In so many ways, 2020 has truly become a time of brutal clarity. For me, clarity is actually seeing things as they are, not as we want them to be. The pandemic has caused a significant focus on what we can’t do. We no longer can safely gather in large groups, go to a movie, or take a vacation. We often find ourselves feeling disempowered and helpless in the face of an invisible virus. Not much attention has been placed on what we can do, so I hope to add some “can do” moments to your life.
START WITH KNOWLEDGE
What do we have power over when it comes to our personal health? What daily individual choices do we have and how significant is the impact of our daily choices? It turns out we have enormous power over our personal health, but we often lack the insight or the skills to put this power into play. For example, we choose what we put into our mouth. We choose the level of importance of moving our bodies on a daily basis, and we choose how we respond to stress. If health is a high priority, an excellent idea is to learn tools for how we can make daily simple decisions that support our health.
So what can we do RIGHT NOW to help our body in a time of pandemic disease and unprecedented stress? We can start educating ourselves on what it takes to be healthy and stay healthy.
- Learn to move our body: Learning how to make movement a daily adventure, either through a daily walk or a regular routine done inside our house, is necessary and can be made fun. We must get our muscles moving and lymph fluid pumping each day to help maintain the normal healthy functioning of our body. Small amounts of increased activity can make large differences. Our bodies were made to move. Picture this: a thousand years ago, a mother and her child are getting ready for the day. The child runs to the corner needing to empty a full bladder. Mom quickly reminds the child that peeing inside the cave is frowned upon, and ushers the child outside, pointing to the nearby woods. We used to have to take a hike when we needed to pee! Modern conveniences such as indoor toilets, have made it so we now “pee in our caves.” As a result, our level of daily movement has dramatically declined. A simple solution: give yourself enough time to use the farthest bathroom from your current location.
- Learn how to eat: This sounds easy, right? Sit down, put substance in mouth, repeat. That is what many meals in the Standard American Diet (SAD) have become. Often, what we are putting into our mouths has to come with a long list of ingredients, many of which we can not pronounce. These ingredient lists are required by law for a substance to be “legal” and for a company to call it food. Does this strike anyone as somewhat strange when you step back and look at it? Not too long ago in human history, we used to eat foods that did not require ingredients lists. The simple solution for this: start seeking out and eating foods that do not have an ingredients list attached. Have you ever seen a carrot labeled “Ingredients: carrot.”?
- Learn how to effectively handle and then eliminate all mental stress: Wait. Did she just say “eliminate stress?” That’s impossible! To stress is to be human! I have a right to be stressed! Before you get too stressed out about the fact that mental stress can be eliminated, let’s define stress. What is mental stress? Let’s use a simple example. Let’s say stress is as simple as being here, now and wishing to be somewhere else. How do we learn that here and now is exactly where we are and that any thoughts that contradict this fact will cause stress? Learning how to be both calm (that “happy place”) AND alert (aware of what is actually going on) is a skill most anyone can learn, but it does take some consistent practice. Meditation is not an escape from reality, but a practice that brings calm and alert together to provide the practitioner with an uninterrupted experience of “right here/right now.” Our ability to respond to stressful situations in a calm-alert state replaces our previous habit of reactivity in stressful situations. This simple skill can have the greatest impact on our ability to achieve resilience for our body in times of stress. Daily practice yields exceptional results and can have extremely far-reaching positive impacts on our experience of life.
THE ONE THING WE HAVE POWER OVER
Overall, what we do have power over is our choices. We can learn that every bite of food counts, every extra step our feet take counts, and most importantly, we can learn the root cause of our stress and develop a new habit that opens a new perspective on mental stress.
In conclusion, the steps involved in gaining personal resilience and taking responsibility for our own health can be simple. These steps do require consistency. They also require making our health a very high priority. Do this simple exercise now: Write down your quick spontaneous answers to the following questions:
- What are the three most important things/activities/people in my life right now?
- Now look at your list. Will I be able to accomplish these things/do these activities/or be helpful to these people if I am unwell?
- Now ponder deeply: What do I have if my health is gone?
To start making changes, write down the answers to these questions first thing after you wake up in the morning:
- What is one step I can do to improve my food today?
- What is one step I can do to add movement today?
- What is one step I can do to decrease stress today?
The answers are your “prescription” for the day.
START TODAY AND START SMALL
If any of this sounds too complicated or unachievable, but the desire to improve is inside of you, find professional help that makes sense to you and is easy to follow forever! Resilience requires changes that are sustainable over a lifetime, not just a couple of weeks or months. The cure to feeling overwhelmed is to learn, and, more importantly, implement the simple daily steps based on what we can do. Tiny steps are all it takes to participate in any journey. Take your first steps today and start on your own path to empowerment and resilience!
A note from the author: As a family medicine doctor, I consider the most important aspect of my job is to help my patients learn what it takes to be healthy. Unfortunately, prevention is not funded by our current health-care system (I do not get paid to prevent your heart attack), so the perspective of “fix it when it is broken” (such as mechanically opening up already clogged heart vessels) is what gets paid for in the US. Through this article, I hope to empower people to recognize what it takes to prevent lifestyle diseases and foster personal resilience when unavoidable disease does strike.
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