Many people seek advice from healthcare professionals without realizing that the most potent, most important healing medicine is lying dormant within their own body–mind–spirit. Health coaching is a huge part of my practice. It’s rare for me to see a patient without talking about the power of self-care. Oftentimes my first words of advice to a patient are to practice relentless, self-directed lovingkindness. To ceaselessly direct lovingkindness toward their own hearts in every moment. People’s first reaction is one of amazement: “That would be different” they say. Sometimes patients immediately break into tears at these words, their hearts are so tender and sore from self-judgment and recrimination.
When we walk around in a perpetual state of stress, anger and judgment, whether it is directed at ourselves or others, we are setting up a toxic stew of chemicals in our bodies that affect our mood, our state of dis-ease, and our relationships. Chronic stress, anger and anxiety put you into a permanent state of fight-or-flight. This can raise your cortisol levels making you gain weight; elevate your blood pressure and heart rate; and weaken your immune system. All this puts you at greater risk for the dis-eases of our time: Diabetes, Heart Disease and Depression. It also makes you more susceptible to many other illnesses.
The idea that you can choose your emotions is a new concept to many patients. But it is the cornerstone of self care. Often we feel the opposite, that we are at the mercy of our emotional responses. There is always choice. And treatment often involves a multi-prong approach: acupuncture to reset the neurological stress response; herbs and supplements to give depleted bodies the resources they need to heal; and mind-body-medicine. Of these, the most important factors in healing are the things you do every day: the emotions you choose to cultivate; the way you move; the food you eat; the relationships you nurture.
My favorite ways to use self care to overcome emotional habit-patterns of stress are also the easiest, most gentle methods.
- Emotional Freedom Technique: Self-acupressure and affirmations. Love it.
- Qi Gong, Yoga and other movement meditation techniques
- Stopping once per hour and taking five deep breaths
- Sit quietly for a couple minutes, take a few deep breaths and let your eyes become unfocused. Let a feeling of love, forgiveness or compassion come into your heart. Cultivate that “feeling tone” in your heart for several minutes.
- Walking quietly in nature
- More laughter. Better in a group, but fine to do laughter therapy at home alone.
As you can see, none of these techniques involve strenuous meditation techniques or radical lifestyle change. They are baby steps to purposefully change your biology. If stress is the problem, then self care medicine can’t cause more stress!