Self Care Is Safe Care
Dr. Michael D. Thomas
Most of us have grown up with a certain attitude toward our healthcare.
We have been told that only the “experts” can understand the workings of
our bodies. We have also been told in many, many ways that when
something is troubling us to take a drug and it will go away. We have
not been encouraged to sense the rhythms of our bodies. At the first
hint of pain we take an aspirin or tylenol or ibuprofen or whatever is
being vigorously marketed this season. If a few doses haven’t made the
discomfort go away, we head to the doctor. The doctor quickly tells us
what to do. Its okay to ask a couple of questions but not too many.
Very rarely do we question what the doctor tells us to do.
There is a comfort in having a parent-child relationship with the doctor.
We all like to be taken care of. There is, however, a greater comfort
in taking control of your own life. Practicing a skill results in
improvement in it’s accomplishment. Perceiving of one’s body as a
“black-box” and giving up personal control is disempowering and
frightening. Self knowledge is empowering and encouraging. No one can
ever know your body and how it feels as well as you do. Physicians are
certainly experts in their field of intervention, but you are the expert
on you. We all need deep friends and mentors to help guide us through
life. The very word, “doctor” comes from the Latin, “to teach”. But
when the healthcare industry has inserted themselves between you and your
health, it is time to re-examine the relationship, both between you and
the “experts”, and you and yourself.
First and foremost, you must begin with a feeling of trust. Though most
of us live “in our heads”, we all have feelings too. We all have a sense
for the “rightness” and “wrongness” of issues in our life. When you are
interacting with someone who you do not trust, when you are asked to do
things you do not feel are right, you must act on what you feel. Do not
go to a doctor you don’t trust. Our feelings are a link to the deep
wisdom inside us. It takes practice to listen to it. Many people call
it “listening to their heart”. We are more than “meat-machines”. Our
thoughts and feelings are vitally important to our health.
This leads us to the power of our own thoughts. We now know that every
thought and feeling produces specific chemicals called neuropeptides.
These chemicals are distributed to every cell in our bodies. The
accumulation of thoughts and feelings, day after day, month after month,
year after year builds the person we are. One of my teachers noted in
this regard that “our biography becomes our biology.” Consistent
positive thinking has a profound impact on our health. Some people
deride this as “pollyanna-ish” but people who study such things have
found that “Pollyannas” live longer and happier lives.
Our nervous systems can be divided into two parts, the sympathetic and
the parasympathetic. The sympathetic part activates us for emergencies.
It increases our strength and quickens our reflexes. It slows digestion,
and rebuilding and repair of cells and tissues. It’s survival mode. The
parasympathetic part is the recovery side. It stimulates digestion of
food, tissue repair and sleep. It is important to maintain a balance
between these two parts but in today’s world many of us stay to the
sympathetic side. This increases adrenalin and cortisol (stress
hormones) in our systems. It interferes with digestion and maintenance
of the tissues that make up our body. It ages us more quickly and
predisposes us to illness.
The simple act of stopping for a moment or two and checking in on our
feelings and the sensations in our bodies can give us information vital
to maintaining balance. What do I mean? Well, stop now and assess your
general sense of self. Are you feeling calm and happy? Joyful and
euphoric? Stressed and worried? Sick and tired? By checking in
periodically during the day, even in a general way, you can begin to
develop a map of your well being. Are your muscles relaxed or spasmed
and jumpy? Are your shoulders up around your ears? Do you find yourself
holding your breath alot? Over time you will find the general trends you
have developed in your life.
Negative feelings, fatigue and pain don’t mean everything is wrong. It
may mean its time to take a couple of minutes for yourself. It may mean
taking a long weekend to decompress. It may mean finding time each day
for yourself, even if its just a few minutes here and there. The
strategies that got us to this point in life have been pretty successful
or we wouldn’t be here. It may just be time for a course correction.
Put your hand on the rudder of your own life and make a one or two
degrees course correction. It may be as simple as realizing you can
soften the muscles of your neck and shoulders and chest and breathe with
your belly the way a baby does. Diaphragmatic breathing is familiar to
people who sing. If you don’t know how, ask your choir director or watch
a little baby.
Real health isn’t expensive or difficult. It is our birthright. If you
pay attention to yourself and don’t spend the day, every day, covering up
your feelings with thoughts of self denial, you will find that you will
eat when you are hungry. You will get the sleep you need because you are
aware of how you feel when you don’t. Get outside everyday and notice
the sky and the plants. Put your feet on the earth everyday. We are
connected to our world and the disconnectedness people feel is part of
the sickness of our times.
Mom’s and dads have so much to do today. Work and kids and house and
yard maintenance and social obligations and the myriad of other pulls on
our lives can deplete even the most hardy among us. That is why it is so
vital to pay attention to ourselves first. It isn’t selfish. Another
teacher once told me, “You can’t give from an empty tank”. Once
depleted, you are of little use to anyone else either.
The doctor always remains a vital and necessary friend. But ignoring the
messages of our lives and then dumping our broken body onto the doctor’s
lap and passively accepting whatever is recommended is a recipe for
disaster. Develop a relationship with your own self and then develop one
with a network of people, doctors, therapists, exercise teachers,
nutritionists, and many others who can advise you and help you. It is a
partnership, and you are the senior partner. Put your hand on the rudder
of your own boat and steer your life. Happy sailing!