At the beginning of last summer (and two years after the birth of my youngest–medically-fragile–child), I experienced a “crash” of sorts. I had been running on empty for too long. I had slept less, eaten less, worried more, and exercised harder than ever before with far too little results. My sleep was restless. My weight rarely budged. I felt jittery. I constantly stopped to catch my breath after even the easiest tasks. I was exhausted. I ate on the run, drank coffee to stay awake, and exercised even when I felt like I couldn’t lift my limbs from my bed.
I visited my doctor and discovered (through blood work) that I was severely anemic and deficient in Vitamin D. I realized that self-care was missing from my life, so like I do with everything in my life, I approached “self-care” like a project to be tackled through research. For the next six months, I researched. I followed self-care experts on social media for observation and read all the books. I read four books on female hormones, six books on nutrition, two books on adrenal fatigue, two books on exercise, and every book Gretchen Rubin has ever written on happiness, habits, personality types, and so on.
My social media research led me to one conclusion: millennials have made self-care so confusing and excessive that no one could possibly follow an expert’s self-care recommendations without blowing their life savings, quitting their jobs and divorcing their families in order to find the time to practice all of these asinine habits. I unfollowed all of the “experts,” along with their sponsors, and resolved that the industry of “self-care” marketed to millennials would find no hook here.
Interestingly, though, my book research findings were all consistent and in sharp contrast to the social media tune. All the books suggested that true self-care is not complicated, expensive, or even time-consuming. I learned that sleep is king, exercise is medicine, and food is fuel.
Sleep became my #1 health priority. My husband surprised me with a FitBit Charge 2 so that I could track my sleep each night (there are inexpensive iPhone apps that can track your sleep as well). I discovered that my deepest sleep occurs between 8pm-12am every night. By going to bed after 10pm, I was missing out on the deep, restorative sleep that aids in physical recovery and brain hygiene. I also learned that I spent more time awake than I could possibly have imagined. Now, I go to bed at 8:15pm and wake up at 6:15am, and it’s the same on the weekends so I can keep a consistent circadian rhythm. I spend around 1.5 hours awake each night due to noisy home-health nurses and having small children who make noises. After one week of this new schedule, I began feeling like I was coming out of the fog I had been living in for years.
Overall, I have found that I’m able to fight off sicknesses better and I am consistently in a better mood. (Please note that I currently have an unusually high sleep need – likely from wracking up a ridiculous amount of sleep “debt” over the past two years. A 10pm-6am sleep schedule will work for most).
After sleep, moving my body that correlates to my energy level became my second goal. I stopped using a certain weight or number of visible abs as my fitness goals. My goal became to work out in a way that wouldn’t stress my body too much, but would be enough to send fresh blood to my brain (this is critical for any age, but becomes even more critical as you get older) for thirty minutes every single day. I don’t take any prescription meds, particularly anxiety medications, and I attribute much of this to the fact that exercise is medicine for my body! Some days my exercise is walking on the treadmill for thirty minutes. Other days my exercise is lifting light weights or yoga. Whatever it is, I do it every single day. Not to lose weight, not to grow my biceps, but to keep my brain and body young and thriving.
Finally, I ditched the scale, the calorie/macro calculators, and guilt when it came to food. I searched on Pinterest for Paleo or whole food recipes (bonus points if the recipe is Instant Pot friendly), made a weekly meal plan full of delicious, healthy food, and then PLANNED for margin. I made healthy meals for Saturday-Wednesday night; planned for leftovers on Thursday; and then scheduled a Friday night, guilt-free pizza night with ice cream for dessert! Planning for splurges made the splurges feel less like I was “blowing it” and more like having BALANCE. Now, we eat five, whole food, nutrient-dense dinners each week (six, including leftovers) and one delightful fat-filled, sugar-heavy, full-of-gluten dinner. This plan certainly won’t work for every family, but for us, it looks like a budget-friendly, family-friendly way to incorporate healthy foods, without being too rigid. And because I know that the majority of food I am putting in my body are healthy and WHOLE, I can trust my body to manage the rest (no fancy adaptogenic herbs or expensive micronutrient supplements necessary).
I am still digging my way out of this ditch of being burn-out, but I feel like I now have the tools to dig a little faster. Consistent, good sleep, good exercise, and wholesome food can work miracles if we let them!
– Meg Apperson, Springible Contributor