Every week, I share important information about taking control of your health. So often, stress is a part of that conversation. It comes up time and again, because we all experience stress – and it’s been proven to have a huge impact on our lives and our health.

I’ve told you stories about patients and women I know, but I think it’s time to share some of my own story with you. Sometimes, people think that because I am a functional medicine practitioner who preaches the importance of self care regularly that I am immune to the impact of stress.

Let me tell you wholeheartedly I am NOT! These past few years, stress has come at me full force, and every time I think things are settling down, Wham, something new hits. Most recently, it’s a major change to my practice.

I co-founded the Women to Women healthcare clinic in 1985 because my partners and I knew that the healthcare field was failing women. We had to find a better way. So we opened a practice solely for women that felt more like home than a medical clinic.

Housed in a fantastic Victorian home, we hit the ground running, supporting women and ourselves. The women who worked there, myself included, brought our babies with us for the first six months of their lives. We encouraged women to think of themselves first, not last. We talked about the vital importance of healthy lifestyle choices, including nutrition, sleep, and exercise. And we talked about stress. Boy, did we talk about stress!

I am so grateful that I have decades of experience and education that allowed me to handle my own stress appropriately. And I want to share my story so that all women know that they, too, can handle whatever life throws their way.

Stress Affects Everyone

No one can escape stress in their lives. It comes from everywhere – work, relationships, raising children, and just existing in the world. It’s physical and mental, and it all has a huge impact on your health.

But this is supposed to be about my story – so let me tell you about these last few months.

After more than thirty years, and many major life changes, I realized it was time to downsize my practice. My partners had moved on, and there was just no need for me to have such a large building as I work on redefining my work life.

I sold the building and began the arduous task of packing everything up. I had to decide what to keep and what to dispose of – and there was SO much stuff! Anyone who has had to pack up a house filled with history knows what I’m talking about. I found so many things that stirred up long forgotten memories. I also had to sift through the debris left behind by practitioners long gone. It was exhausting, but I plowed through, tossing more than I ever imagined I could and moving the necessities to my new office in Falmouth.

Because I didn’t want to leave my current patients hanging too long, I opened my new office well before the work of moving was done. On top of that, I was furiously working to continue providing a weekly newsletter and other articles to my faithful readers. There simply weren’t enough hours in the day, but I persisted, because what choice did I have?

And then the closing was stalled. And then my favorite stress relief plan, ballroom dancing, fell apart when my instructor abruptly left the studio. I felt my inner perfectionist coming out to play – telling me to keep busy with any task I could find. Do more, she tells me, and you won’t have to deal with all this stuff!

Stress Makes Us Do More — When What We Need is to Do Less!

This isn’t a new phenomena for me. I’ve dealt with this woman before, the one who told me that to be successful, I had to do everything. This stress reaction has roots in my childhood, so it’s been with me a long time. But it’s not a healthy response!

Life has a way of kicking us into action. We don’t pay attention to anything but the tasks in front of us, thinking that if we can just get them done, everything will be fine. But here’s the thing — there will always be another task! When we focus our energy on “doing things” we aren’t giving ourselves the space to simply be. We’re robbing ourselves of living in the present. And the present is what matters most!

That’s why it’s so important to examine our stress reactions, and pull back when we find ourselves spiraling out of control. That’s what I’ve done, and I can help you do it too. So many women find that the more they slow down, the better they feel. The more time they take for themselves, the easier it is to take care of others.

It’s not selfish. Trust me when I say this! There’s no need for guilt or shame about acknowledging that you matter too. In fact, you matter most!

True self care can free you from feelings that have been lingering since childhood. It can reverse patterns of stress that are making you physically ill. I firmly believe that having the courage to put yourself first can make all the difference in your life – and in your relationships too!

Related article: 9 Natural Ways to Ease Anxiety

What Does Self Care Really Mean?

What I’m talking about goes far beyond taking a couple of hours every couple of weeks to have a massage or pedicure. Taking care of yourself should be a daily priority, given time and space all its own – not squeezed into tiny spaces around other obligations. It’s essential that you find time to indulge in something that adds energy, passion and joy to your life.

For me, that’s been dancing. For several years now, I’ve danced almost every day, sometimes spending entire weekends on the dance floor. Ballroom dance is my “healthy addiction.” When I go dancing, I’m also connecting with friends. I’m exercising my body as well as my brain when I learn new steps and patterns. Dance energizes and rejuvenates me, leaving me ready to face other obligations head on. That’s why it’s so tough to face the changes at my beloved studio. And so important for me to either find another place to feed this passion, or discover a new one..

Remember, my passion isn’t your passion. You have to find what works best for you. Try several activities until you find the one you simply must indulge. When you do, embrace it!

Does the idea of giving yourself as much attention as you give other terrify you? You might think your whole life will change – and you’re right! If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s that change is inevitable. But this kind of positive change can lead to a healthier, happier you!

Self care is a journey that never ends, and it should never feel like one more thing to simply check off your to do list. Paying close attention to self care can help you through even the most intense stress and change. With all I’ve been facing lately, if I ignored self care, I wouldn’t be able to continue the important work of helping other women.

If you aren’t in the habit of caring for yourself, you may find it difficult to get started. The following tips can help you examine your life and attend to the most important person in it — YOU!

1. Redefine Relationships

Relationships grow and change, and sometimes you find yourself hanging on to people who simply don’t fit your life any longer. If a relationship – personal or professional – brings more stress than joy, it might be time to let it go. If you want to salvage a difficult relationship, be sure to set appropriate boundaries and stick to them. Your needs are just as important as anyone else’s.

2. Listen to Your Body

You can’t care for others if you aren’t caring for your own physical health. Stress has real, physical impacts that shouldn’t be ignored. Get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly. Schedule time for these needs in your calendar, and don’t let anything bump them. Because the type and quality of the food you eat is essential, pay close attention to your eating habits. Proper nutrition is critical, and sometimes hard to get from food alone. Consider taking a high-quality multivitamin – one that is packed with vitamins and minerals you might be missing

3. Honor Your Emotions

Often, the hardest thing to process about change is the way you are feeling about it. When we are too busy, emotions get pushed aside in favor of pushing forward. Doing so only keeps those feelings bottled up, until you simply can’t hold them in any longer. Give yourself the time and space to explore what’s really going on inside, and accept that your feelings aren’t right or wrong. Allow yourself to acknowledge and release these feelings.. Sometimes the first step in setting yourself free is learning what is holding you captive in the first place.

4. Practice Saying No

I understand all too well how hard it is to break free from the automatic yes. We get so used to doing everything people ask of us, and we can’t imagine the chaos that will ensue if we stop. But when you try it, you’ll discover that saying no clears up precious space in your life. If you find this difficult, pause before answering any request. Ask yourself these questions: Is the task necessary? Can someone else do it? Is it something you really want to do? The answers to these questions can guide you away from doing things just because you always have – and towards the things you really want!

5. Make Time for Reflection

No matter how extroverted you are, time alone to clear your mind is essential to being able to process what’s happening in your life. So many women stay busy constantly because they are afraid of what might happen if they stop and listen to themselves for a minute. But facing that fear can show you what direction to head next. That’s what happened for me when I thought about selling the clinic building. I realized it was simply too big to hold on to. To quiet your mind, try meditation, a scenic drive, a long walk, or sitting quietly listening to favorite music. It doesn’t have to be long – even 10 to 15 minutes can give you the space you need to reflect on what you really want.

6. Make a Plan

Knowing what you want is one thing; knowing how to get there takes careful planning. Changing course is never easy, and so many feelings will surface as you do. If you’ve been taking care of others for years, turning the attention back on yourself will be challenging. Designing a clear plan with action steps can help make paying attention to yourself routine. Write it down and post it where you can see it every day!

7. Indulge in Small Pleasures

Even in the midst of huge change and turmoil, allowing yourself to do things that bring you joy is essential to feeling your best. Here’s where a manicure, great new outfit, hike in the woods, or relaxing bubble bath can come into play. Try to do something that brings you joy every single day!

Embrace Change – and Yourself – for a Joyful, Authentic Life

Taking care of yourself can be uncomfortable. It often goes against everything we as women have been taught. Trust me, I know this first hand. Caring for others has been my focus, both personally and professionally, for decades. But I discovered that I can alter the way I care for others to allow time for myself as well — and in doing so, I can care for other so much better!

If you’re willing to push through the discomfort that change creates, you might just find that you are finally living the authentic, joyful, fulfilling life you deserve!

Find some new recipes, make some new healthy meals, take and add quality nutrients to your daily routine, take baby steps and you will be on your way!