I say it all the time: Self-care is not self-ish.

It’s a premise that’s easy to grasp and even easier to shrug off if we’re the type of people who tend to just buckle down, work harder to get the job done, and take care of other people regardless of how depleted we are — until our bodies force us to re-examine our choices. If you’re still shrugging off self-care as a nice but non-essential notion, perhaps this story will change your mind:

A young woman I love recently suffered a major loss — one of those unthinkable, heartbreaking events that draws a “before” and “after” line across a life, changing it forever. I won’t go into the details, as it’s not my story to tell. But in her process of sorting out her shock, grief, loss, pain, anger, fear, and whatever else, she noticed something remarkable and surprising: her own tremendous resiliency.

This formerly Type A woman used to internalize a ton of stress. She worried a lot, and had the frequent debilitating migraines, rock-hard neck and shoulders, insomnia, overall sense of unease, and hormone imbalances to prove it. But she wrote to me yesterday:

“I am now not only waking up every day feeling like there’s still beauty in the world, but helping other people cope with change in a healthy way as part of my job. The mere fact that I’m able to not feel completely overwhelmed by my own life changes but can use that to help others find grace in change is incredible.”

Indeed. I am in awe of her strength, her ability to reckon with what came her way, and to bounce back.

How did she build these muscles of resiliency?

Unwittingly, gradually, and using the same self-care tools she used to treat the migraines that first brought her into my clinic for acupuncture. In addition to getting acupuncture and taking herbs, she was willing to change how she showed up in the world. She downshifted. She stopped treating her body like a machine. She dared to do less than she was capable of. She cultivated a relationship with her breath and her body through breathing qi gong and yoga. She took the time to seek out things like acupuncture and massage to remind her nervous system what’s possible. She got over her yang addiction. None of this was easy, as our society tends to reward overwork and over-service, and to really do it differently is tough on the ego. But the debilitating migraines provided compelling motivation.

“The idea of self care and slowing down and finding the quiet was never a part of my world before I met you. I have so much gratitude for the time I got to work with you and the routines and structure for caring for myself that you helped me to build.”

The bodymind practices and self-care routines that she put in place years ago now serve as the foundation of her resilience. And as she continues to employ them, she is role-modeling this self-care for her daughter, as well as for the people she works with, and for me. She is being the change, Gandhi-style. Kinda the exact opposite of selfish.

 

Here are my 3 tips for becoming resilient:

 

  • Start with taking 30 minutes a day to yourself, away from any input from screens, other people, work, etc. Write, go for a walk, stretch, take a bath, get out of your head.
  • Develop a relationship with your breath (if you haven’t already grabbed my free breathing meditation, get it now)
  • Learn a bodymind practice like qi gong, meditation or yoga (my learn-from-anywhere qi gong class can get you started)

 

Like going to the gym, building up resilience takes consistent time and effort. But over time, you will be stronger than you ever thought possible.

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