By Shatyra Williams, MSW, RSW
Published: March 2014
Imagine this: You are laying in a hospital bed and a doctor announces that you have developed an irreversible medical condition. Your life from this moment on will require ongoing medical attention and medications. You ask the doctor “what is the cause of this illness, why me?” The doctor steps aside and grabs a brochure off the wall. He asks you “have you ever heard of this disease?” “Yes” you respond. He proceeds to read the pamphlet and lists a few possible causes for your condition “…smoking, nutritional deficiencies, lack of exercise, high caffeine intake, regular acetaminophen use, and high consumption of trans fats…” You begin to think about each of the causes which apply to you and begin to cry. “I wish I could go back in time” you say in your mind.
This is the experience of millions of people who are diagnosed with preventable diseases every single day due to lack of information, education, and resources. If you are reading this article and are living free of irreversible medical conditions and have access to the information and resources to prevent developing one, then you have a privilege that needs to be acknowledged. Good health is a state that we often take for granted. It is easy to appreciate clear airways the day after recovering from the flu, but the same clear airways are quickly forgotten weeks after you have recovered and have returned to your daily motions.
Prioritizing your health is not always easy to begin. As women, we are mothers, wives, daughters, helpers, and caregivers. We are naturally supportive of others and gain a sense of fulfillment by feeling needed. This article is an important message to all women. Those with many people who depend on them and those with not a single person in their life. Yes, you are needed. You will always be needed. That is because YOU need yourself. You need yourself more than anybody in this world needs you.
If you are interested in exploring ways to better yourself, prioritize your health, obtain true happiness, and build your self-worth, then keep reading. If you prefer to live your life for others without taking any time to care for yourself and cannot foresee any possibility of burnout or self-neglect then this article will serve you no use.
What is good health?
Good physical health can be described as the bodily abilities of an individual who does not experience physical limitations, restrictions, ailments, or issues as a result of preventable
physical or medical conditions. A person in good health feels strong and capable of completing daily tasks with ease, is energized each day, and is able to withstand life challenges and natural stress. Lack of good physical health will impact the state of your mental health - which is why caring for your body is extremely important. Caring for your body is caring for your mind, emotions, and mental clarity.
As you begin to replace unhealthy lifestyle habits with new healthy alternatives you will quickly notice an improvement in both your physical and mental state. Your body will work as it was meant to and your emotions will quickly stabilize. Each of us has our own challenges when it comes to how we care for our bodies. Whether you struggle with food choices, over consumption of caffeine, alcohol, or prescription drugs, a change towards a healthier lifestyle is not only possible but necessary.
How to Work Towards Optimal Health
The first step towards optimal health is prioritizing yourself. Putting yourself first goes beyond striving for high paying careers, university degrees, good relationships, and fun weekends. Of course these are all important aspects of life but if you reach all of these life goals but are too sick, depressed, insecure, or intoxicated to enjoy the moments then you are doing yourself a disservice. Becoming health conscious is a key step towards change. This involves recognizing self-care as a responsibility, learning your body, and knowing your worth.
1. Caring for your health requires you to recognize self-care as a responsibility rather than an option.
Don’t look in the mirror and ask yourself “should I work out today?” If you know your body needs it then ask yourself “What will I do to make sure that I have time to work out today?” Mothers, you would never ask yourself after a long day of work “Should I pick up the kids from daycare today?” So why ask yourself if you should be there for YOU today. Tell yourself you will find a way. Tell yourself to stay strong. Tell yourself you deserve better. Tell yourself you are in control. Tell yourself you can handle it. Caring for yourself is the one thing that no one in your life can do for you. Your spouse can beg you to quit smoking. Your mother can cook you vegetables every night. But if you don’t drop the cigarette or eat those veggies then it is you who suffers, not them.
2. Caring for your health requires you to learn your body.
Irreversible health problems rarely develop out of the blue.When an organ in your body begins to weaken or deteriorate, your body will alert you with physical symptoms. These can include constant headaches, weight gain or loss, difficulties breathing, acne, insomnia, depression; the list is endless and depends on the type of strain you are putting on your body. Learning about your body means to listen to your body’s cries and respond by taking action towards lifestyle change.
A second part of learning about your body is recognizing your strengths and weaknesses.
Your body may be exhibiting signs of weakness towards exposure to certain things which you may have overlooked. Are you sensitive to smoke? Are you intolerant to any food group? Do you suffer from migraines? Are you easily addicted to chemicals, substances, or food groups? Do you have existing medical conditions? These are all examples of your body giving you a clue as to how it needs to be cared for. As we all have our own physical weaknesses we also have unique strengths. Are you naturally athletic? Do you have excellent vision? Can you withstand high stress levels? Do you wake up energized with minimal sleep? Take note of your body’s natural gifts and find creative ways to use these abilities towards your new healthy lifestyle.
3. Caring for your body requires you to know your worth
The most important factor in working towards optimal health is knowing your worth. When faced with the challenge to change our lifestyles sometimes we say to ourselves “It’s not worth it, all these changes and hard work are just not worth it”. By knowingly putting yourself at risk for a host of medical problems and emotional distress, you are actually saying “I’m not worth it”. By turning a blind eye to your own health you are missing out on the opportunity to live a vibrant, happy, medication free, long life. By telling yourself that you are not open to improving your health, you are in turn telling yourself that you do not deserve the benefits associated with such changes. You are telling yourself that a mediocre lifestyle is your full potential. You are telling yourself that you aren’t willing to risk losing comfort to obtain longevity.
What if you were told that you could eat any type of food, use any type of drug, and drink as much alcohol as you’d like and not suffer any consequences whatsoever - However all of the consequences would be directly experienced by your child, spouse, sister, or best friend. He or she would either gain the weight, develop the addiction, require the kidney transplant, develop a disease, have low self-esteem, or become depressed. Imagine the shift in mentality you would instantly feel if you were to see your child sick and helpless because of your actions. You would likely make major efforts to avoid this from happening to your loved one at all costs. You would think to yourself “My child deserves a long healthy life, they have such a bright future ahead of them”. So why not you? From now on see your own bright future ahead. Remember that you are also someone’s daughter, sister, mother, or best friend and even when you don’t see the value in yourself, they do.
Leaving your health care to the hands of the medical system alone is a major mistake. Simply because your doctor takes a two second look in your ear at your annual physical and doesn’t diagnose you with an illness doesn’t mean you are at your optimal health. Becoming health conscious is a preventative approach to managing your health. By ignoring labels on toxic substances or unhealthy food, you are making yourself vulnerable to illness.
Your body is your home. Leaving your front door unlocked every single day is never a big deal - until you get robbed. At that point, you realize how many valuables you truly had in your home. Before the robbery occurred, all of your belongings were just “things”. Once they are gone you begin to recognize the sentimental value of those belongings. That is how many of us treat our bodies. We leave the door open because we are comfortable. We engage in behaviours and neglect ourselves so regularly and feel that there is not much to lose. This mentality demonstrates a lack of self-worth. Learn your value. You were given this amazing body to carry you, cleanse you, and support you. Your only responsibility in return is to maintain the equipment. Your body is not a part of you - it is you. Protect your valuables.
Shatyra Williams MSW, RSW is a Toronto-based Social Worker with a passion for women's wellness. As Program Manager of RWRJ's Artistic Healing Group, Shatyra teaches healthy coping strategies for women survivors of trauma. Through a variety of creative educational techniques Shatyra helps women to challenge themselves, to embrace their imperfections, and to love their journey.
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