It’s March in New England, and that means the weather can go from spring thaw to thundersnow in 24 hours or less. Here in Quincy, we got about 18” of heavy snow overnight this past Monday. That morning was a beautiful, bright winter landscape, and it was warm enough to make shoveling out almost pleasant, but…
It’s now two days later. Every muscle in my body hurts and I’m so fatigued it was a struggle to get out of bed today.
Now, I’m no delicate flower here. For most of my life, I’ve been genetically blessed with vibrant health. I’ve run 5 marathons and set records in my age and weight class as a competitive powerlifter, all after the age of 40, so strength and endurance are not something I generally lack.
So what gives??
Well, I often joke that I’ve had to admit to myself that I’m not 25 anymore. As I creep up on 50, I can’t really hide from the aging process, but it’s something more than just getting older. It’s something that’s really far worse.
I haven’t been taking care of myself.
Now, I generally bristle at the whole “self care” pablum that’s been floating around the media for some time now. For me, all the shallow recommendations you see out there about mani-pedis, bath bombs and essential oils, with pictures of white women laughing at salad while wearing $100 yoga pants smack of frivolity and privilege. The way the media presents “self care” is a whole other rant I could go on, but that’s for another day.
The thing is, self care IS truly important.
Over the last 5 years, I’ve had a lot on my plate. (Don’t we all?) Stress, working nonstop, people and events that, in the moment, take precedence over my own immediate needs have all slowly taken their toll on the healthy habits that were once at the center of my life.
I’m feeling the effects for sure. Weight gain, fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, poor digestion...the list goes on. This is all new to me, and I don’t like it one bit! Once I realized what was happening, I sat down and thought about how my habits were different five years ago, when I felt healthy, fit, and mentally clear. Wow, have I gotten off track!
It seems that as we get older, and our lives grow more complicated and hectic, that we put ourselves on the back burner in favor of “more important things.” Everyone else needs us to be there for them...children, aging parents, colleagues, and responsibilities. It seems almost silly or selfish to spend the time, money and energy on this mythical “self care” everyone’s always on about.
Here’s the thing though…
As we age, it becomes even MORE important to take the time to do these things. In or 40’s and 50’s is when things start to break down. Disease processes begin, aches & pains from old injuries start to surface, and we aren’t quite as resiliant as we used to be. NOW is the time to invest in ourselves, and create a “care team” that you can rely on to make a plan to be healthy and well. This is something that goes beyond your yearly visit to your primary care doctor. “Wellness” is not just the absence of physical disease, it’s being in OPTIMAL health, mind, body and spirit. When we reach this stage of your lives, it’s important to create a plan to keep ourselves well, and a team to help you implement it and stay on track.
If you want to preserve your health and to be able to use your body well for your whole lifetime, you need to stop problems BEFORE they start, and that means taking time to do the things that keep you healthy. Regular acupuncture, hypnosis, body work and nutrition should all be a part of your preventative medicine.
Where have you neglected your own self care? What things are your non-negotiables in terms of taking time for yourself?
It's officially fall, and cold and flu season is right around the corner. Many patients ask me what they can do in addition to their regular Acupuncture treatments, to stay healthy. Here's a few easy tips!
Drink Enough Water
Water makes up nearly 60% of your body weight, and is critical to a healthy immune system. Proper hydration helps all of your body’s systems function at optimum levels. Drinking adequate amounts of water will help your body’s own, natural detoxification systems function at peak efficiency, and help carry nutrients to your cells. Sugary or caffeinated liquids do not count toward the basic requirement of 64 ounces of per day. If it’s hot out or if you’ve been exercising, increase your water intake. If you find it difficult to drink plain water, spice things up with a wedge of lemon, slices of cucumber, mint leaves, or even a couple sliced strawberries for flavor.
Get Enough Sleep
When sleep suffers, the immune system suffers. Studies show that when you are sleep deprived, our levels of T-cells go down, and inflammatory cytokines go up, leading to an increased risk of contracting colds, flu, and other illnesses. Aim for 8-9 hours of sleep a night, and if you are among millions of chronically sleep-deprived Americans, try to get yourself a little extra sleep one night a week.
Get a Massage
A recent clinical study published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that a single massage will significantly decrease the body’s levels of stress hormones, and increase the body’s production of cells that boost the immune response. Seriously, who doesn’t love a great massage therapy session?
Among the many ways chronic stress can wreck your overall health, it lowers the immune response and makes you more susceptible to catching every little bug that you come in contact with. Choose healthy ways of managing your stress levels. Take a 20 minute walk, listen to a guided meditation at the end of the day, inhale a calming scent like lavender, or do a few simple yoga asanas to bring your attention back into your body and off of the day’s responsibilities.
Take Immune Boosting Herbs
Most people know to take some vitamin C when they feel a cold coming on, but what other supplements can you take to keep your immune system performing at its peak? As an acupuncturist and herbalist, I have a few favorites from the Chinese Materia Medica. As always, consult your healthcare practitioner before adding any new supplements to your health care regime.
Astragalus is an adaptogen which helps the body cope with physical, mental and emotional stress. It has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to fight colds and flu.
Reishi mushroom, known as “Ling Zhi” in Chinese medicine, has strong antiviral, antifungal and anti inflammatory properties.
Cordyceps has been shown to boost production of ATP,increase levels of strength and endurance in athletes, and also promotes the adaptive immune system, including cellular and humoral immunity.
Studies have shown that many essential oils have strong antiviral and antibacterial properties. Diffusing oils into the air will purify the air and help relieve stress or boost your mood. You can also put a few drops of essential oil into a glass spray bottle filled with water to make your own sanitizing spray. Some great oils to choose for this purpose are Thyme, Lemongrass, Melaleuca (Tea Tree), Lemon and Rosemary.
Allison Blaisdell, MSTOM, Lic.Ac. is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist in private practice at Fitchburg Acupuncture, and also at Massachusetts General Hospital. She offers Acupuncture, Hypnosis, Nutritional Response Testing, and Frequency Specific Microcurrent, as well as online holistic health coaching and consultation. Her mission is to educate and empower her patients to achieve their best possible health.