A Better You, One Step at a Time
by Tracy Freeman, M.DIn this day and age, women are wearing multiple hats at home and in the workplace. We have mastered the juggling act of nurturing our families and providing for others. Yet, we often engage in self-neglect. As a working mother, I am guilty as charged in this case. It is somehow easy for me to be sure my children are engaged in activities, eating well, and thriving in school than it is for me to spend a few minutes a day on myself. In the mornings, for instance, I have gone as far as making breakfast for my children with the intention of making my breakfast after I get them situated. The problem: there is never a perfect moment to focus on myself despite my efforts to the contrary and nothing will ever be completely "together." The lesson I have learned is to include myself on my own never-ending "to-do list" that nags me in my mind.
I know I am not alone in this journey; I see it in my female patients. They too have the best of intentions with regards to self-care, but somehow manage to forgo every opportunity to be kinder to themselves. A rational mind serves to remind women that without them the ship called a home sinks- and as a result even self-care springs from a need to care for others. Nevertheless, motivation from any source works.
What have I seen help others in my integrative medical practice? I am a firm believer in the Emotional Freedom Technique. This is a method rooted in the Chinese meridian system that works to heal emotional blockages and the best part is it only takes minutes. I refer my patients to YouTube to learn how to do this method and patients report they feel better, as a whole.
I am a firm believer in "baby steps". We all likely think meditation is a good idea, but carving out the time is a hassle. I recommend meditation apps that only require a few minutes a day. Everyone can find five minutes—there is no excuse. With the likely realization that a better person emerges as a result, the time allocated can be increased slowly.
There are studies on the benefits of gratitude. It has not only mental, but physiologic rewards. At bedtime, just think of things things to be grateful for. Consider making it a bedtime ritual with your children, so they can get in the habit of seeing the good in their lives too. Eventually, you may want to write it down, but just thinking about things you are grateful for is a good start.
One of the best tools for creating a better you--the smartphone! Use it to set reminders or keep a gratitude journal. I realize I have to work at staying encouraged. I have apps that send Bible and motivational quotes that pop up a few times a day. I schedule reminders that show daily affirmations on my smartphone. Every morning at 7 a.m., a reminder says "Best Day Ever." At first I just read these things without intention or purpose, but I have learned to take that one minute to really think about and absorb what is on my screen.
The best remedy of all has been eliciting the help of family and friends. Last year, myself and four family members started a weekly call to focus on health and well-being. We send each other updates via text on things like how much water we are drinking or how much time we spent exercising. At the beginning of 2017, I asked a friend to be my "accountability partner." We had a slow start because we created a laundry list of goals that were too many and too large to be accomplished. We learned to establish long-term goals while encouraging each other on the monthly bite-sized actions needed to accomplish them. Together, we created a vision board to help focus our intentions. These relationships don't require much time, and a phone call, email or inspirational text will suffice.
In all cases, we succeed sometimes and not others. The journey can be convoluted while still ascending. For women especially, it is about honoring a journey that sometimes requires movement in small, achievable steps.
Tracy Freeman, M.D. practices integrative medicine at National Integrated Health Associates and has developed a patient-centered practice that incorporates conventional medicine with natural therapies for the optimal health of the patient. See for more information, nihadc.com/Health-Programs/Holistic-Primary-Care.html.