When you were first diagnosed with a chronic illness, did you feel like your world was crashing down? Like a performer juggling plates, did you begin to lose your balance and watch the plates drop and break, one by one, as you lost relationships, a career, physical strength, and eventually even your dreams for the future?
This is usually the point when people come to me in a panic, desperate to find out what they need to do to patch together those broken plates and start spinning them in the air again. The problem with that approach is that it will only lead to another crash in the future – one that will be even harder (if not impossible) to reverse.
The truth is that there is no quick fix, no superglue that can permanently repair the damage caused by chronic illness, but there is hope for change.
The answer lies, not in patching together a former, defective way of doing things, but in creating a new, more balanced approach. A skilled juggler knows that he must turn his attention inward to build a stable and grounded core if he will ever succeed in keeping those plates safely in the air. What does this mean for you?
We live in a modern society that is more insulated from nature than any previous generation. Women (and men) are out of sync with seasonal changes, monthly cycles, and a daily circadian rhythm. Their bodies are a mystery as they misinterpret basic signals for food, water, and rest.
When suppressed for long enough, the body’s cries escalate and signs and symptoms of serious disease begin to develop until they can no longer be ignored.
We are living in a culture that places emphasis on working hard and pushing through the pain. You are judged by your accomplishments and your productivity. The busiest people are rewarded the most and uttering the word “No” is often an unforgivable offense. This has resulted in a world that is stressed, sick, and discontent, despite significant technological, medical, and spiritual progress.
How to Break the Cycle
Notice how your thoughts and words define your reality. Before you tell me, “But I don’t have time for self-care!” ask yourself if what you really mean is, “I haven’t made self-care a priority.”
Can you afford to not make yourself a priority anymore? How has this choice affected you in the past? Do you really believe that your health, your happiness, and your life aren’t a priority?
By paying attention to the moment you are in right now, by taking note of your external and internal environments, you are focusing on the present. As many spiritual practices would agree, the present is all you really have. “Each day has its own anxieties,” says the book of Matthew. Reflecting on the past and planning for the future have their place, but excessive amounts of either can lead to depression and anxiety.
How to Practice Mindfulness
The practice of mindfulness in its purest form is not about emptying about the mind, but it’s about directing the mind and choosing what you pay attention to in this moment, preferably only one thing at a time (a stark contrast to the “multi-tasking” mentality that has been so popular in recent years).
It is time to shift your focus. Rather than tuning out, it’s time to tune back in to your own mind and body. It is a process that will require your wholehearted time and attention, but the goal here is progress, not perfection.
How to Set a Daily Intention
The intention you choose at the beginning of the day will set the tone for the rest of it, so choose wisely. An intention should not be confused with a goal. It is not something to which you will attach an expectation or evaluation. Rather, it is a purpose you choose to commit to for the day.
For example, rather than saying, “I will work out at the gym for 30 minutes” (a goal), you may say, “Today I will treat my body kindly.” Create an intention that is in alignment with your personal thoughts, values, and perspective by asking yourself such questions as:
- What matters most to me?
- What would I like to build, create, or nurture in my life?
- Who would I like to forgive in my life?
- When do I feel happiest?
- When do I feel proudest?
- What fears would I like to release?
- What makes me feel grateful?
Here are some suggestions to get you started, but be sure to create an intention that resonates with you personally:
- Give and receive love
- Create joy
- Find peace
- Maintain balance
- Open my mind and heart
- Stay calm and focused
- Act courageously
- Embrace change
- Allow myself to be vulnerable
- Demonstrate kindness
How to Prioritize Tasks
After you have set an intention for the day, it is time to steer your attention away from your endless to-do list, and instead make mindful choices about how you will spend your precious time and energy for the next 24 hours. You’re likely familiar with the illustration of a man who tries to fill a bucket with large rocks, pebbles, and sand. It won’t all fit unless he starts with the largest items first and then fills in the leftover spaces with the smaller particles.
Similarly, you must choose the one “big thing” that must be accomplished each day so that you can go to bed at night feeling accomplished. This “large rock” comes first on your list, followed by two secondary tasks, the “pebble,” that are also important steps towards your goals. Anything else is extra “sand” and only to be addressed if you have the time and energy.
Be honest with yourself. If you find at the end of the day that you were overscheduled and paid a heavy price with your health, make a note of this and try a different approach the next day.
This week’s assignments will help you to build an effective morning routine and improve your stress management skills. The goal is to approach the rest of your day’s activities with a mindful attitude, preferably focusing on only one thing at a time.