I was driving when I got the phone call. “Dad has cancer.” Everything around me seemed to slow down. When you get a reality check like this, it can feel like nothing matters except the one thing staring you in the face.
My father was scheduled for surgery a few weeks later, and I stayed with him for two weeks after to help out. My regular daily routine was now turned upside down. While I cared for my parents, I struggled to find time to take care of myself as I was dealing with my own health issue: Stress.
You see – I was like the millions of other women who are taught to be caretakers: take care of everyone else first and take care of yourself last. I was pretty good at getting everything done, so taking care of myself always happened… just, last. But stress in my life had been building, and my father’s diagnosis was the last straw.
I felt constant fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, nausea, irritability, anxiety, weight gain, trouble sleeping, trouble focusing, elevated heart rate, and elevated cholesterol. Come to find out, these are all symptoms of Stress and I had done this to myself.
Stress is not an external thing that happens to us. Stress is an internal reaction to our own reality. When I realized I had caused my own stress levels, I decided – just like everything else in my life- to aim to take control of it. But this time, to do so in a way that serves me and the people around me. I’m going to take care of myself first.
In the past, I had taken an “All or Nothing” approach to taking care of myself. If I went to the gym, it would have to be every day or not at all. I would eat healthy for all my meals, or just dive into a pile of ice cream head on. When I was feeling good, I wanted to do it ALL. When I was feeling down or stressed, I would no NOTHING. In hindsight, I can see how this “All or Nothing” mindset kept me inside a cycle of stress, guilt and shame. I was preventing my own progress of achieving my potential in life. So I decided to break the cycle by putting myself first.
When we feel high levels of stress, we want to make that feeling go away. It’s natural to want to retreat and avoid; i.e. stop doing things that we typically enjoy. Maybe this means we stay at home more instead of going out with friends. Or stop going to the gym as much because, “What’s the point?” But if we just stick to doing the things we know are good for us, over time we’ll start to find enjoyment in them again. In times of stress, we need to give ourselves permission to back off and go easy. For example, go to the gym with the intent of just breaking a sweat and leave feeling more energized than when you came in. There’s no need to go 100% on days you feel low energy.
I changed my mindset from “All or Nothing” to one of “Do Your Best.” If I could not accomplish everything I had set to do on a given day, that I would aim to get some of it done (as much as I could, knowing I had given that day my best efforts.) And then be kind to myself for not being perfect.
To start, my goal was to lower my stress levels by making time for myself. I scheduled 45-minutes in the early mornings as “quiet time”: Time spent stretching, taking my dogs for a walk and maybe doing some reading. In the afternoon, I marked my calendar for gym time: one hour a day with no distractions, working on my fitness.
Some days my fatigue was so strong that I would just sit on my couch for “quiet time” and could barely muster the energy for an easy 20 min walk. Other days, I was taking CrossFit classes. Instead of saying “Screw It” on the bad days, I had to decide to continue pushing forward.
Knowing that I had the choice to decide how I was going to react to each day gave me the confidence to tackle any challenge in life. Where in your life do you take the “All or Nothing” approach? What would happen if you decided to change that mindset to one of “Do Your Best?”
You might start to feel more energy.
You might start to finally lose those 10lbs.
You might start to have more patience with your kids.
You might start to feel more grateful for your family and friends.
You might start to have less stress.
You might start living the life you deserve.
…Isn’t it worth giving it a try to change your mindset, and just see what happens?
– Coach Liliana