A study in The Lancet confirmed that emotional stress increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, the #1 cause of a heart attack. That was what was running through my mind when I awoke at 2 am on April 7th, 2008. I was working two jobs as a nurse, had young children in school, my marriage was a struggle and I didn’t have a clue how to spell self-care, let alone know what it was.
Waking my husband, I said, “I think I am having a heart attack. It feels like someone is sitting on my chest and I can’t seem to even breathe.” He replied, “I am calling an ambulance.” “No, not an ambulance. I don’t want the children to worry or the neighbors.” SERIOUSLY?! At the moment of what I thought was a heart attack, I was concerned about everyone else but myself.
Long ER story made short, after a battery of test, I was not having an actual hard attack. The prescription they gave me at discharge was…get some rest and reduce your stress. No shit Sherlock I wanted to scream. How the hell do I do that? Do you see all the “stuff” going on in my life? Needless to say, I went home, rest the rest of the day and didn’t reduce an ounce of my stress. Why? I was still too busy meeting everyone else’s needs but my own.
I’d like to tell you that I figured it out pretty quickly, but I didn’t. I can be a bit stubborn sometimes. It took me several years to figure out that self-care wasn’t selfish and a few more years to figure out what self-care meant for me. Here’s the thing. Self-care is different for everyone and you have to define it for yourself. The best way I found out to do that was trying new and different things.
First thing I did was go back to my Qigong practice. I had practiced on and off for years, but this time I found a teacher I resonate with and my practice flourished. Qigong has been shown to reduce stress. When you link your breathe, mind and movement together, you experience the relaxation response.
Our brains are highly complex, but when we are in a stressful situation, say being chased by a sabor tooth tiger, it has one focus and on focus only, SURVIVAL. Our brain diverts all our resources to our lungs, heart and muscles so we can run like the wind and get out of the situation. When we have averted the crisis, our brain knows this and redirects our resources to back to our digestion, sexual organs, liver and kidneys. We are relaxed, can assimilate nutrients from our food, make love and sleep. The problem with our modern day lifestyles is that our brain doesn’t realize the stress we are feeling at work because of a deadline, the boss, short staffing and such is not actually a threat to our life. It responses as if we are being chased by a sabor tooth tiger.
This is the emotional stress I was taking about at the beginning of this blog. This is the stuff heart attacks are made from. Now, back to my prescription from the doctor. “Rest and reduce your stress.” So, I started listening to my body. I rested when I was tired, ate when I was hungry. I started seeing a counselor. I got a Qigong coach who helped me to develop a plan for myself to reduce my stress. I wrote in my journal, I talked to friends. In other words, I figured out what I needed and did it.
Now, for you…what are some ways that you do self-care? What are some ways that you reduce your stress. I would love to hear some of your experiences. If you are having trouble coming up with them, book a free call with me and we will brainstorm some ideas together. Whatever you do, do something for yourself. You will feel better and you will be more available for those you love in the process.