Shortly after college, I began working with a homeopathic practitioner in the hopes of resolving some long-term health issues that my western doctors hadn’t been able to treat. As part of my healing protocol, I avoided pharmaceuticals and instead opted to use traditional medicines including herbs, medicinal foods, and physical healing practices like breath work, yoga, and massage to achieve deep health as opposed to simply masking over symptoms with pills. All was going well and I seemed to be seeing positive shifts in my overall well-being, until I was hit with a pretty gnarly cold. I had a sore throat, chills, and was experiencing some pretty powerful fatigue, so I called my practitioner to inquire about what I should do to treat it.
She told me that my body would heal itself if I simply took a couple of days to sleep, drink lots of water, and avoid processed foods.
But sleep was most important, she said. So I called into work and told my boss that I was sick and would need to take a couple of days off to recuperate.
Without skipping a beat, my boss asked me if I really needed to take time off and if I couldn’t just “take some Dayquil and tough it out.” I took a moment to consider her request before respectfully declining and making the necessary arrangements to take a couple of days off. While the interaction might not seem particularly extraordinary, I can look back now and see that my decision to put my health first was actually quite revolutionary and the starting point of my personal mission to create a cultural movement of self-care and wellness.
If you look at the animal kingdom, you’ll see that all creatures from birds to mammals and even insects practice self-care instinctually. When they’re sick, they eat plants that heal them. When they’re tired or injured, they rest. If they’re social animals, they seek connection when they need it. But somewhere along the way in our evolution as a species, we learned how to override the needs of our bodies and minds, and eventually even built a culture around doing just that. Almost everywhere we turn, there’s some sort of messaging that encourages us to push ourselves to our limits, to hustle, to grind, to work hard, and to play even harder. But where does rest factor into this equation? At what point did self-care get deemed self-indulgent?
Most of us know that our greatest wealth is health. There’s no amount of money that can buy happiness if we’re suffering mentally or physically, and yet, social pressures, both implicit and explicit, make it incredibly challenging to make choices that support our wellbeing. We forgo using our sick days. We pull the long hours, fueled by sugar and coffee. We sweep our mounting stress levels under the rug with alcohol or food.
We use busyness to avoid being present with ourselves because if we stopped and stood still, we might feel the full weight of the overwhelm we’ve created in our own lives.
So the question is, how do we shift? How do we grab the reins and steer our culture to a place that is more supportive of our most basic needs?
By honing in on one person, one choice, one small, revolutionary act at a time. We all have the opportunity to look at our own lives and get honest about the ways in which we are not caring for ourselves. We can start conversations that promote awareness of the importance of both mental and physical health. We can model unapologetic self-care, and in doing so, give permission to those around us to do the same.
In my work as a Holistic Health Coach, I encourage people every day to take whatever small steps they can to put their wellness at the top of their list of priorities. Sometimes that means scaling back on social commitments to create more space for truly restorative downtime. Sometimes it looks like swapping out boozy happy hours and brunches with friends for gatherings that allow for more nourishing forms of connection.
Maybe it’s as simple as committing to getting a full eight hours of sleep each night.
Are these simple shifts revolutionary? In the context of a culture in which so many of us feel that our worth is determined by our levels of productivity and exhaustion has become a badge of honor, I would argue that they absolutely are. And I think it’s high time we set the movement on fire.
Photos by Valerie Denise