Start Where You Are: Being a wellness leader, when I wasn't well, and how it has shaped my wellness perspective.
I have contemplated the direction that I want to take this blog and, after lots and lots of thought, have decided that I want this to be a space where not only do I share my favorite recipes as well as wellness & pediatric sports nutrition info, but I want it to also be a place where I am real and share a little bit about myself and my own experiences as well. I want to do this because deciding to study nutrition and focus on wellness and sports nutrition did not make me who I am today. It was growing up, my experiences as a young athlete and who I am that made me and continue to propel me to study nutrition, focusing on wellness and sports today. Understanding who I am may help you understand my love for this field and my commitment to providing the best, most current and science-based information that I can. I'm going to share more with you and would, of course, be thrilled to have you share with me.
So, I'm devoting today's post to Wellness. I want to get a little deeper and talk to you about something that has been on my mind lately. I want to share with you something I went through, a little bit about how I dealt with it, how I came out of it different than when I went in, and how this impacted my wellness mentality.
Let's look at this idea of "wellness". We see "wellness leaders" all over social media. They post fancy recipes, workout plans in super cute workout clothes and talk about how much water to drink and how much sleep to get at night. I'm not putting them down in the slightest. This is great and inspiring and, as a wellness leader in my community, I certainly have posted my fair share of recipes and articles on hydration and getting fruits & veggies & the importance of sleep (although not so much workouts in snazzy workout clothes b/c fashion isn't my forte :/ ). However, what about when life gets tough? Like, really tough? When it throws you a curve ball so hard it smacks you in the face and knocks you flat? What does wellness mean then? How do we stay well at this point? More importantly, how do we continue, as wellness leaders, to promote a culture of wellness to those around us? This could mean in our workplace, in our community or in our home (I see this applying to moms and dads in charge of children in the home or leaders at work, church or the community as much as I see it applying specifically to defined "wellness" leaders). I've found through my life experiences that, in these tough phases of life, wellness can start to look a little different.
Part of my story goes a little like this:
Almost 2 1/2 years ago, I woke up to a phone call from my dad, telling me that I needed to come home because my mom had passed away during the night. There was absolutely no warning. She wasn't sick and her physical a few months earlier had come back completely normal. That morning as I stared blankly at my roommate in disbelief, tears welling up in my eyes, trying to get the words out to tell her what had happened, I was overwhelmed by the sudden realization that life had changed. In one second I felt like my life had turned upside down. I immediately flew home and took time off from work to help organize her funeral and spend time with family. The Monday after her funeral was my 30th Birthday and the Sunday after that was Easter. If felt like the punches kept coming. However, the office doesn't take a time out and so two weeks after her funeral, the week after Easter, I was back at work where I found my wellness responsibilities waiting patiently for me, right where I had left them. The thing about a wellness role is that it's not really a job you can hide behind your computer and feel sad, angry, confused, or whatever mood you are feeling that day, in that moment. In my mind, I was supposed to be creative and inspiring, upbeat, smiling, mingling and actively encouraging others, looking to see how we can help employees and how we can continue to make Wellness programs better. But, how do you pour into others when your tank is empty and, really, what you need is others pouring into you? There were days after returning to work where I thought, "how the heck am I going to do this?" Those past attitudes and actions that came so easily were suddenly so difficult. I walked around smiling and encouraging when what I craved was to be alone, to process, to grasp this new life - a life without mom, a life without her laughter and a life without her weekly random but upbeat and always encouraging text messages. Days were exhausting. Not only was I drained from trying to push back feelings all day and being something I wasn't, but it threw me that what came so easily for me before, was now so difficult. I felt guilt and frustration over what I told myself I should be doing in my job (based on what I was previously doing) and what my body and mind was telling me it needed. This went on for a very exhausting year.
So, why am I writing about this? Well, what I discovered through this is that wellness can mean different things and look differently at different times in our lives. The most important wellness practices to me before my mom passed away were quite different from the most important wellness practices to me after she passed away. Of course we still need plenty of water and sleep, fruits & veggies and exercise (sorry guys, that will never change :) ). But what about alone time? What about giving ourselves grace? What about self-care? My need to be with good friends or reading my Bible or talking to my dad on the phone trumped the need for having meals prepped for the week. Being there for another friend who was going through something just as tragic far surpassed my need for a long run or exercise class. During this phase of life I learned what self-care really meant for me and how crucial this practice is for our own personal wellness.
During this time I learned that:
- I needed more sleep than normal (which was really hard for me b/c if you know me, you know I'm typically up with the birds and ready to go)
- What stress can physically do to you. My muscles were so knotted up from stress & tension I was getting a massage weekly b/c no amount of meditation or stretching was working them out.
- I needed more time to journal and process.
- I needed lots of 1-on-1 time with close friends, which fortunately they gave me without asking because I would have never admitted that I needed it :)
- Some things aren't as important or "stressful" as I originally made them out to be.
- Some days I just flat out wasn't ok. I was sad or down or confused and there wasn't any getting myself out of it.
- I wasn't always energetic and enthusiastic but that didn't meant that I didn't care about my job and purpose of serving our employees. I actually felt more compassion and more empathy in my job and my desire to help those around me was greater. I was just expressing it differently.
- Most importantly, I learned what it meant to give myself grace and what it looked like to practice that daily.
Not only did I learn these things about myself, but I also, more importantly, learned to be ok with them. I told myself that it's ok I don't feel 100% today, or that, today, I can't find my "go get 'em" attitude. It's okay that I need more sleep this week, and that I don't have the mental capacity to go to that huge group function tomorrow night. As I practiced this, and stopped beating myself up for not feeling how I used to feel or how I thought I "should" feel my smile, my genuine laugh, my motivation and all of those other things previously familiar and natural to me started to come back. And, today, while I'm not the same wellness leader I was three years ago, I feel stronger and just as confident, equipped with a slightly different mentality grounded in self-care.
I think many people, including myself 3 years ago, look at wellness as solely fitness, eating the right thing, and getting your yearly physical as a means to keeping your labs in normal range and feeling good. While I still think and know these to be very important, I now also see the practice of self-care as one of the top wellness practices, if not THE top wellness practice, there is. The thing is, I realized that I do not see it frequently focused on or talked about. To me, self-care, which can kind of blur the line with stress management, is the root of so many of our wellness goals whether that's achieving a healthy weight, having more energy during the day, or getting our blood pressure and cholesterol to a healthy level.
I want to challenge those of you reading this today to pick one month where self-care is your focus. Maybe it's this month of August into September as school begins to start (if you have kids) and the holidays are approaching. It requires listening to your body and determining what you need that day, that week or that month. Now, I don't mean extra cocktails or skipping really important commitments or extreme emotional eating that leaves you feeling worse (some degree of emotional eating can be normal and natural though). I'm asking you to do what will make your body and mind feel better long-term.
How did I lead a Wellness Program when I wasn’t well, myself? I did it by learning about another side of wellness, the side that’s about self-care, self-compassion, and grace, and spending time in it. I allowed myself to be where I was that day and not be hard on myself for it. I acknowledged the fact that I still had the same end goal in my wellness programs and plan but that my means of helping others and carrying out my responsibilities and goals may have looked a little different on some days. I now saw wellness in a new light, from a different angel, and wanted to achieve the same results in a slightly different way.
Do you allow yourself grace and practice self-care during harder times? It’s extremely freeing and, I believe, a key player in the realm of wellness. It can rejuvenate you and get you back to yourself, which ultimately improves your health and the culture around you. This month or one of the months to follow, figure out what self-care means for you. Practice it. How does it affect you? How does it impact your health goals? Comment if you would like. I would love to hear feedback on this and learn what your form of self-care is. We are always learning from each other!