“Take care of yourself”. We hear it daily, but what does that really mean?
I think to each of us it means something a little different. This could very well be the most important concept that so many of us are just plain missing in our lives. Our daily lives are filled with places to go, things we feel we must do, jobs, kids, family, appointments, but what about us? What about alone time? Many of you may laugh and think, “I don’t have time for that.” Yet, if you neglect yourself and your alone time, your inner battery often starts to wear thin. You begin to feel tired, worn out, and ragged which can lead to a sense of sadness and even depression. When you get depressed life goes even further down the tubes. You don’t care to see anyone, do anything, nothing makes you happy anymore and you just want to hide in your own little self-carved out cave, which only perpetuates the morbid feeling. How long would your cell phone work if you never put it back on the charger? It’s the same concept.
By taking care of yourself first before others, even your kids, your husband or anyone else, you do not only yourself a favor, but really them as well. You want to be the best you that you can be for yourself and for them.
Doing something nice for yourself each day – these are just a few suggestions.
Taking 15-20 min every day to be still and just breathe or read a book
Take a hot bath
Go for a walk in nature
Treat yourself to your favorite food or a cup of coffee/tea you love
Get a manicure or pedicure – or both!
Take a ride in the car
Go for a bicycle ride
Walk your dog /play with your cat
Dance around the house
Call a friend and just chat
Buy yourself a treat next time you grocery shop
Meditate (you knew I was going to suggest that one didn’t you?)
And the most important one of all? This is a big one…
Saying “No” when you mean no.
This is a tough one for a lot of people. You want to say yes and make the other person happy, and happy with you. It makes you feel good but the double-edged sword on that is that it also makes you feel bad because what you actually mean is “no”. “No, I cannot do that for you right now, I am sorry.”, is what you mean but what often comes out is “ok”.
Try it. Next time someone asks you to do something and your initial gut reaction is no, say, “No.”, and just pause. Sit with it for a minute and see how you feel. My guess is you will feel a slight rush of empowerment. And taking back your power is vital for your happiness and your recovery.
THIS is where true health starts. Happy = Healthy.
People who genuinely love and care about you will accept “no” as an answer. They may not like it at first, they may be resistant to change, but ultimately if they see you are putting your best interests first in order to regain your health, they will accept it. Those who can’t or don’t are likely not truly looking out for you and could be considered toxic relationships.
I know that this seems like a harsh term but in actuality, it’s very fitting. When a relationship, whether it be a friendship, a family connection or a love connection is off balance or one-sided where it’s all give and no take or vice versa, is not healthy for either party.
What do you do? Putting yourself first is new to so many of us that it doesn’t feel natural at first. Guilt may even be associated with it when first embarking on this journey.
There is no clinical definition of a toxic relationship, although we all have some idea of what it means to have a toxic friend. The term “toxic relationships” is useful as a sidewalk definition, says clinical psychologist Clinton W. McLemore, PhD, author of Toxic Relationships and How to Change Them: Health and Holiness and Everyday Life. “Think of a scale — from nourishing on one end to toxic on the other. A toxic relationship is with someone who continually throws you surprises or curves, keeps you off balance, raises your anxiety for no apparent reason, and leaves you feeling badly about yourself.”
Toxic relationships can cause you to become depressed or anxious, warns McLemore. Even worse, repression of emotions does lead to stress which, over time, gives way to dangerous, even life threatening, illness when not faced and dealt with. Here are some signs that a relationship may be hurting you and your health rather than helping to heal you.
1) They put you down verbally, in private or in front of others.
2) They may tell you he/she loves you but behavior shows otherwise.
3) They don’t want you to see or talk to friends or family.
4) They are jealous of the time you spend with your kids.
5) They show up often at your work unexpectedly or open your mail/email.
6) They call you often to see what you are doing.
7) You cry often or feel depressed over this relationship.
8) They think you would have the perfect relationship if only you would change.
9) They prefer you to be dependant on them rather than independent.
10) He or she does things for you and then uses them to make you feel obligated.
11) Your thoughts, opinions, accomplishments or words are devalued.
12) You don’t know who you are anymore without him/her, or how you would survive.
13) Your friends/family don’t like this person or don’t think she/he is good for you.
14) You have changed things about yourself to suit this person, even when it is not your taste.
15) You always go where they want to, like movies, restaurants, etc.
16) They make you feel afraid or unsafe, and you have been afraid to speak the truth at times for fear of upsetting him/her (walking on eggshells).
17) You don’t feel you have control of your life anymore.
18) Your self-esteem is lower when you are with this person.
19) You think it’s up to you to make the relationship work.
20) You keep secrets about this relationship from others who love you because they wouldn’t understand.
21) They make you feel unattractive or stupid.
22) If it’s a love relationship, they may accuse you of cheating and are overly jealous.
23) They can be really sweet to you one minute, and really mean the next.
24) They seem really sweet/loving to you when he/she thinks you are about to leave the relationship, or after he/she has been mean to you.
25) You can’t remember the last time you felt happy for more than a few days straight.
These primarily were written to go with a love relationship, but can apply equally to friendships or family relationships as well. Spending time with other people should make you feel good, energized, and up lifted. If they don’t, you may want to reconsider whom you surround yourself with. Being alone is better than being with someone who brings you down.
Friendships and bonds should be mutually supportive.
Ok, yes – you agree. But now that you have identified these toxic relationships, what do you do about them? You can’t just stop talking to your mother-in- law or husband…. Can you?
Well, it is your life. You are in charge and you can do anything you please. But before banishing them from your realm, here are a few things to try.
First – acknowledge to yourself how this relationship is affecting you. Writing helps tremendously here. Sit down and write a letter to that person telling them everything about how you are feeling and how the relationship makes you feel. You do not have to give it to them; this is for your healing, not theirs. Though, if you feel that they should read it, by all means do give it to them. Always follow your intuition and feelings.
Second – Sit and talk with them. Tell them how you feel (or give them the letter you wrote). They may be unhappy to hear this at first. Don’t berate them or start a fight, just tell plainly how you feel and let it be. It helps to use “I feel” statements rather than blame statements of “you” and “you make me feel” – as no one can actually “make” you feel or do anything and it automatically puts the other person on the defensive as they feel attacked. It will likely take some time to sink in. The most important thing here is getting these feelings out of you. Their reaction is secondary.
Third – Set boundaries. Let them know what will and will not be tolerated. Standing up for yourself is a big step in the recovery of any relationship and in your health. Along with this, stand behind the boundaries you choose. There is no cause for malice or bitterness, just state it as “what is”. It is not the same as an ultimatum. There is no choice to be made here. Treating you well is not optional. Everyone has the right to set how they are and are not willing to be treated.
Example: “I will no longer allow you to talk down to me. If this happens, I will not be able to have you around me as this is detrimental to my health both physically and emotionally.” If it does happen again, tell them clearly, “I love you, but you are crossing my boundaries and I cannot have that.” If it happens again, it is recommended to take a break from the friendship/relationship for a bit. Let them know you are serious. If they love you they will understand and, although they may not like it, eventually they respect you all the more for it.
You deserve to be around people who make you feel good – people who appreciate you as the unique entity that you are. A positive outlook and attitude are as essential as oxygen for your recovery. If they cannot accept your boundaries and continue to push you in a negative direction, it may be your only option to say good-bye for a while or possibly permanently. This is your life on the line here. A life filled with love and laughter should be the goal.
“Laughter is the best medicine”.
We have all heard the phrase, but is there more truth to it than we think? Laughter, as proven scientifically in “Humor Your Humor” by Paul McGhee, PhD. “Laughter in and of itself cannot cure cancer nor prevent cancer, but laughter as part of the full range of positive emotions including hope, love, faith, strong will to live, determination and purpose, can be a significant and indispensable aspect of the total fight for recovery.”
-Harold H. Benjamin, PhD
This is all wonderful in theory, but is there any evidence that emotions can actually have an impact on healing? Can an upbeat or depressive frame of mind, as you heal your body, influence whether or not you survive?
Multiple studies have shown that a positive attitude boosts your chances of conquering all illness. In one study, among patients with metastatic (spreading) cancers, those who expressed greater hope at the time of their diagnosis survived longer. In another study, over 400 reports of spontaneous remission of cancer were reviewed and analyzed. The patients themselves attributed their cure to a broad range of causes, but only one factor was common to all the cases – a shift toward greater hope.
One doctor linked unexpected tumor shrinkage to favorable changes in the mental state of the patient. Examples of such changes include “a sudden fortunate marriage; the experience of having one’s entire order of clergy engage in an intercessory prayer; sudden, lasting reconciliation with a long-hated mother; unexpected and enthusiastic praise and encouragement from an expert in one’s field; and the fortunate death of a decompensated alcoholic and addicted husband.”
The late Norman Cousins described a national survey of oncologists (completed during his stay at the UCLA Medical School) in his last book, “Head First: The Biology of Hope”. Of the 649 who offered their opinions on the importance of various psychological factors in fighting cancer, “More than 90% of the physicians said they attached the highest value to the attitudes of hope and optimism.”
All of this research is consistent with the findings of a recent study showing that method actors asked to generate the emotion of joy within themselves showed an increase in the number of natural killer cells circulating in the blood stream within 20 minutes. (Remember, a key role of natural killer cells is to seek out and destroy tumor cells throughout your body.) Once they got themselves out of this positive state, their levels of natural killer cells quickly dropped again. This gives credence to the old adage “fake it till ya make it.” Put on a happy face and your cells follow suit.
Laughter, in my opinion, is the highest vibrational expression of joy that we, as humans, can experience. After all, it is literal body shaking physical vibration that laughter causes. This is consistent with findings of “The Humor Your Tumor” article mentioned previously, showing that watching a funny video increases the number of, and activity of, natural killer cells.
Having a strong “will to live” has been noted by medical staff and family time and time again. Evidence of the importance of a fighting spirit was obtained in another study of survivors. Cancer patients with a strong will to overcome were most likely to be long-term survivors. Short-term survivors were more likely to show a “stoic, stiff upper lip attitude” and to continue their lives either as if nothing were different, or with a sense of helplessness or hopelessness.
The question, of course, is: how do you go about generating or sustaining hope, optimism, determination and a fighting spirit if these are not qualities you’ve shown throughout your life.
Love and your own spirituality are important sources of this hopeful and optimistic attitude. Another source is your sense of humor. It is no coincidence that so many cancer survivors credit their sense of humor for getting them through their ordeal. Humor helps overcome and work through the trials of each day and when you find a way of laughing in the midst of your problems, you automatically shift toward a frame of mind that invites a hopeful outlook and a conviction that you can beat this disease.
Spend time watching comedies, go to parks and enjoy nature, spend time with animals. Pets are fantastic and if you haven’t got a pet – consider if you are well enough, volunteering at a rescue or shelter. Those little creatures will benefit just as much from you as you do them. Even watching squirrels or feeding pigeons in the park will lift you up. Go to the theater or a comedy show. Make note of TV programs that come on that make you smile and record them all. Turn on some up beat music and sing! It doesn’t matter if you sound like Sarah Brightman or are totally tone def. One of my favorite quotes, though I do not know who said it is “I do not sing because I am happy… I am happy because I sing!” Do the action, the feeling will follow. Explore the world. Do things you have never done.
Start saying YES to life! If you are invited to go somewhere, even if you normally wouldn’t, try saying “yes”. You will be astounded at the new experiences “yes” can bring you.
We are not meant to do it alone.
Having a good strong support system around you is important as well. Having at least one person you feel that you can be your authentic self and with whom you can talk to about anything without judgment is vital. Release of emotions and thoughts is as important as taking in oxygen. Pent up emotion is how you got into this mess in the first place. This person or these people can be family, friends, therapists, clergy, even Internet friends – just as long as they really care and actually listen. Sometimes talking isn’t so easy. Sometimes chatting with people online and not face to face allows you a moment to reflect that you normally don’t experience in interactive face to face conversations. It also offers a more comfortable personal distance and a bit of anonymity. However you choose to express yourself, know that it is positive and life affirming to do so.
Live, laugh, love! This is not the end for you. It is an opportunity – the opportunity to begin again, to recreate your life the way YOU want it – starting today!
Just make it your goal to learn to find something to laugh at every day, and to take yourself a little less seriously, even as you continue to take your illness and your treatments very seriously. Life is a beautiful illusion.
I sincerely hope this information helps someone out there.