How many of you out there are tired all the time? Or have upset stomachs? Or a permanent crick in the neck, or ache in the back? Or any other low-grade, chronic problem? I’m willing to bet most of you can say yes to at least one of the above, if not multiple. I, personally, suffer from chronic neck pain, digestive issues, fatigue, headaches, and general irritability. Does that sound like a happy, healthy person to you? Me neither. And yet if you were to ask me if I felt happy and healthy I’d say, “yes!” It’s only when I look at myself from the outside that I spot the signs of disorder in myself. How can that happen?
It happens because most of the things I described accumulate gradually over time. I didn’t just wake up one morning with neck pain and stomach trouble. If I had you’d better believe I’d be at the doctor’s office trying to figure out what was wrong and how I could get better. But when it happens gradually I adjust to the trouble and it becomes “normal.” When I got a headache in the past I’d just take aspirin and forget about it. Every time I got a headache that was the solution. Because I had a solution to the problem I didn’t notice when the headaches became more frequent. It wasn’t until my father pointed out that I was taking an awful lot of pain medication that it even occurred to me that I had a problem. By then I had a pill box attached to my keys so I always had ibuprofen with me in case of a headache. Once my dad brought it up I realized he was right. I looked into it and it turns out that the act of taking so much ibuprofen might have even been contributing to my headaches. I stopped cold. It wasn’t fun but eventually the frequency of my headaches decreased. I discovered muscle tension and poor posture also contributed and I addressed those issues so I could prevent the headaches and not take so much medicine. And it worked for awhile. I felt good and didn’t get so many headaches. But I’ve noticed they’re creeping up again and, once again, my initial reaction is to take pain medication. It’s somewhat akin to the story about cooking a frog: Throw a frog in boiling water and it’ll hop back out. Put a frog in lukewarm water and gradually increase the heat and it’ll cook before it knows it’s in trouble.
Just about all of my health problems are like that. They’re just things that started small and were ignored until they grew to a point where they couldn’t be ignored any more. Even my neck problems. I have constant tension in my neck but I consider it “normal” unless it flares up and causes a problem. Then I work on stretching and exercises to get rid of the pain. Once the pain goes away I stop. The problem is, even though the pain is gone, the problem isn’t. The muscle tension is still there and still causing trouble, just not enough trouble to make me do something about it. My neck is NOT healthy. And when I step back and look at myself like an outsider might, I realize that lots of areas of my life are like this. Despite what I may think I am not healthy, and it’s damn near impossible to be happy when you’re unhealthy. You can only deal with so much before it becomes too much, and if I’m constantly dealing with little nagging problems due to poor health then my reserves are dangerously low when another, outside problem comes up. And outside problems come up all the time, especially when you have kids. And then my temper is short and I snap at the kids and generally cause unhappiness all around me. But what if I did the work to get myself in better health? Then I wouldn’t fight a constant battle against my own body. I’d have more reserves to deal with other problems. I’d be less likely to snap at my kids, or my husband, or my friends. I’d have more energy to get things done, so I could do the chores more quickly and have more time for fun afterwards.
In short, if I did the work to fix my body, I would become a happier person and I could spread that happiness around me. But that’s the problem right there: fixing myself takes work, and there is always resistance to doing work. It’s easier to come home and flop on the couch to watch My Little Pony with my girls. It takes more effort to come home and go for a walk or do a session of yoga. It’s easy to open a jar of store-bought sauce and get a bag of frozen meatballs to cook spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, even if I’ll pay for it with indigestion later. It takes more effort and money to buy grass-fed beef to make my own meatballs, and to make my sauce from scratch, but I know it won’t make me sick when I eat it.
Once again I can see that in order to be happy, I have to exert some effort. I WANT to be happy, but I often DON’T want to make an effort. But without the effort I’ll never be happy. My health will continue to deteriorate. My fuse will get shorter and I’ll eventually drive everyone away. So I need to make an effort NOW, to improve my health and my outlook. I want to feel well-rested and ready to face the day. I want to feel energetic when working on a task. I want to be pain-free and flexible enough to play with my kids when they want me. I want to be HAPPY. But it all has to start with me. And I’m going to start now. As with everything else though, if I try to tackle it all at once I’ll get burned out and quit. So I’ll break it down into sections. My issues as of now:
1. Chronic neck pain
1. Chronic neck pain
2. Digestive issues
3. Chronic fatigue
The first issue I want to tackle is the chronic fatigue. It’s the most limiting I think, because often my excuse for not getting stuff done is that, “I’m too tired.” I’m also hoping that if I can fix this issue it will carry over into the others: if I’m less tired I’ll be less irritable. I’ll have more energy to tackle other areas to feel better. So what do I do to feel less tired?
The first and most obvious answer is: sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that someone my age get, ideally, 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but the range could go out to 6-10 hours. That’s a big range so I’ll aim for the middle and try to get 8 hours a night, at least to start with. It’s not enough to lay down for 8 hours, though. I need GOOD sleep. Laying awake or tossing and turning for 8 hours won’t help me to feel rested in the morning. Some recommendations to get better sleep:
1. Stick to a schedule: Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning, even on weekends. I, personally, am a dedicated sleeper-inner on the weekends. But from now until the end of November I will strive to stick to my schedule and see if it helps.
2. Create a relaxing bedtime routine. This is a way to cue your body and mind that it’s time to wind down. Right now my routine consists of playing Snoopy Pop and reading on my cell phone before bed. Both are terrible activities because of the backlight of the cell phone. The light from a TV, computer, or cell phone cues your body to wake up, not wind down. And the game is exciting and stimulating, the opposite of what I want. So if I read it will be an actual book or my off my Nook, which has no light. No more video games. I used to meditate before bed, so that’s an option as well. But from now on, no more TV or lit screens for at least 30 minutes before bed.
3. Keep the room cool, between 60-67 degrees, if possible. Eliminate as much light as possible. This is an issue for me because I go to bed before my husband and leave a light on for him to find his way. An eye mask may be in my future.
4. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and large meals right before bedtime. This should help my digestive issues as well. It’s difficult to fall asleep or to get good sleep if you’re so stuffed you’re uncomfortable. I did this the other night; pigged out on nachos before bed and tossed and turned the rest of the night. Didn’t feel great the next day, either. So better eating habits=better sleep. No caffeine at night is a no-brainer since I drink it to wake up in the morning. You’d think alcohol would help because it makes you sleepy, but the sleep you get isn’t GOOD sleep. So a glass of wine or a beer with dinner then nothing for at least an hour before bed.
5. I read a lot of British fiction and they’re always going on about a “warm-milk drink” before bed. So I adapted this recipe from Daphne Oz’s Sweet Dream Smoothie:
- 1/2 c warm milk
- 1/2 banana at room temperature
- 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (fresh if possible)
- 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. pure maple syrup or honey (optional)
Combine everything in a blender and blend until frothy and smooth, or use an immersion blender to get the same effect with less cleanup!
6. Last but not least, exercise! Believe it or not exercise helps you to sleep better. So I shall strive to get at least 10-20 minutes of moderate exercise every day. Walking is best (and easiest), but anything is better than nothing, especially since I spend the rest of my day sitting or standing at a desk. Worst comes to worst I can walk up and down the stairs for ten minutes while my kids laugh at me. Or I can hide in the basement and do a work-out video, or do crunches for 10 minutes. If it’s just 10 minutes there should be no excuse.
It sounds like a lot, right? How can I get all this into my daily routine without freaking out!? I won’t do it all at once, that’s how. Tonight I’ll start with Step 1: Stick to a schedule. Bedtime will be at 9:30 and wake-up time will be at 5:45. That’ll give me at least 8 hours. And to facilitate actually getting up at 5:45 I plan to move my alarm clock across the room, so I have to get up to turn it off. Over the next month I’ll gradually add in the other steps so I can build on the good habits and see if I get more/better sleep. Then I’m hoping I’ll see improvement in myself overall, and I can start to work on my neck pain, which is next on my list of the things I need to eliminate to make me happier!
For anyone who’s interested, I have a Phillips Sunrise Simulation alarm clock that wakes me up by gradually increasing the light and sound in the morning. It can also simulate the setting sun at night to cue the body to go to sleep. It’s not such a big deal in the summer but it’s an absolute life-saver once the days shorten and it’s dark in the morning until 7:00 AM. It’s bad enough getting out of my warm bed when it’s cold outside. When it’s dark, too it’s nigh impossible. The light alarm makes it possible. I’ve had it for about two years now and I absolutely love it!