Self-Care During Stressful Times

I had a beautiful conversation with a dear friend of mine yesterday. We were talking about lifestyle choices, and our struggle to eat the foods, move our bodies, rest, and organize our spaces in the ways that are most aligned with our values on a consistent basis. Through our conversation, I was able to verbalize my own thoughts around this struggle that I know through my work is a very common one for many folks. I thought I’d share them here for you all.

For me, I know that my struggle to keep up with lifestyle choices is a symptom of a problem as opposed to a problem in and of itself. Similarly to how addictions, disordered eating, and chronic busyness are all symptoms of underlying issues, when I’m struggling with lifestyle choices, I am also struggling emotionally. Stress, life or events, boundaries, and so many other things can impact my holistic health. And when my holistic health is off, it has a ripple effect elsewhere. And the easiest place for me to notice it is in my day to day lifestyle choices. And because of the diet culture we live and grow in, food seems to come with the biggest level of judgement and shame.

It’s so easy to focus on what we can see, and what is tangible, like how much we’re moving our bodies, what we’re feeding ourselves and when, and how we take care of ourselves and our spaces. And because it’s so easy to bring our focus there, it’s the easiest place to add judgement. It’s also the easiest place to use our will power to force change. And this is not a bad thing, but it does make healing a bit more difficult when we are trying to change the symptom rather than changing the underlying condition that caused the symptom.

I know for myself, when I try and force a new lifestyle change through will power it works well – so long as I’m putting in effort and continuing to use my will power. It doesn’t work well when I lose resources, energy, or excitement about the new change. That’s when it usually all falls flat. Basically, so long as I’m engaging a high output of energy, I can force my nervous system to keep up with me, but it takes resources my body usually doesn’t have in times of stress. And as someone who lives with chronic conditions, this is usually quite detrimental to my health quite quickly. In a way, the chronic illness helps me here because I notice the negative effects sooner and more obviously than most people.

The thing is, when I’m in a good space holistically, I don’t even have to think or plan for my lifestyle choices to support my health – they are just so natural I easily flow into them. I crave foods with more vitamins and minerals and less easier to digest carbs and sugars. I want to move my body because it feels GOOD to do so, not because I “should” be. I rest and feel recharged so I don’t need to lie down or sleep as long to get the good benefits of it. And my space is easily kept clean.

It’s easy to care of myself when I’m doing well. And so, when I’m not doing as well and it takes a huge amount of effort to function, let alone keep up with self-care, it makes little sense to judge me. We all love to root for an underdog, except when it comes to ourselves.

The sugars and carbs and salts I crave when I’m struggling? They do so much for me. They provide serotonin and dopamine for me when I’m low on them; they are easier for my digestive system to digest when I’m in fight/flight mode and my resources are sent to other areas of my body to keep me safe. These foods bring comfort and soothing on a biological, emotional, mental, and spiritual level at a time when I need it the most – of COURSE I will be craving more of them.

Yes, my body is going to struggle at some level in the long run if this is all I’m eating; yes that *may* lead to some issues with me physically if I continue eating these foods over a long time. AND, as someone who works with a holistic health perspective, I can assure you that the stress we put on ourselves about food will cause much more harm than eating the comfort food will – and it will keep me stuck in a loop of eating them for longer, because I will be needing the comfort for a longer time.

The best thing I can do for my nervous system is to look at what the underlying issue is – finding pathways to safety so that I can move out of fight/flight mode and into a feeling of safety will give my body the ability to rest, digest food, move, repair cells, balance hormones, and all of the other genius things our bodies do. Otherwise I am in for a very long and exhausting battle that I will most definitely lose – because no matter what my ego says, my body and nervous system are there to keep me safe and help me survive, and if I am in fight/flight mode, survival trumps “health”.

What can I do to get myself out of fight/flight? This will depend on what’s going on in my life. Generally, though, there isn’t a quick fix when I’m in a stressed and overwhelmed state. The absolutely best thing I can do to support my nervous system is to be gentle with it – to do what I can to take care of myself, and to bring into my awareness the enormity of what my body is holding onto. The gentleness will help shift things and make the rest, the coping strategies, the processing of emotions, and the release of energy more effective and more possible.

How I feel, how I eat and who I am as an eater, will always have more power in my body than what I eat.

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