Summer is here – hopefully you have a get-away or two coming up. While I absolutely adore going new places and visiting friends and family, traveling itself can be stressful. Plus, trips tend to disrupt the healthy routines I have in place at home.
Recently I flew to Dallas for a 3-day conference. Between airplanes, changing time zones, hotel beds, a packed schedule, and Texas’s reputation as not-exactly-a-hotbed of organic, plant-based eating, I was a little concerned about how I was going to take care of myself.
Here’s what I took with me to help feel my best while traveling:
- My neti pot and some sea salt. When I arrive at my room, among the first things I do is take a shower and rinse my sinuses to rid myself of the skeevy airplane air.
- Lavender and peppermint essential oils. I anoint points on my wrists and neck to give myself my own bubble of germ-killing air on the plane. A drop of peppermint on my neck and shoulders also helps me stay alert, relaxes muscles, benefits digestion, and treats headaches. A few drops of lavender on my pillow or inner wrist comes in handy for relaxation and sleep.
- My breakfast-in-a-bag: Before I leave, I assemble the following in a ziplock bag: 3 TB rolled oats, 2 TB chia seeds (protein), a sprinkling of shredded coconut (good fat), a handful of raisins or goji berries (antioxidants), ½ tsp. cinnamon (balance blood sugar, enhance digestion), pinch of salt, 1 tsp. hemp seeds or sesame seeds (protein and essential fatty acids, plus they’re intestinal moisteners that prevent constipation), a pinch of ground ginger or cardamom (or both) to kindle digestion. I actually multiplied this recipe by 4, one for each morning of my trip. Use the in-room coffee maker to heat water, and it cooks itself in 10 minutes.
- A spoon and pyrex with which to eat my breakfast. They’re smaller and lighter than my Vitamix!
- Some fresh food: A gallon-sized bag of cut up carrots, celery, and cucumber ensures I’ll have the vegetables my body’s used to getting while I travel. A couple of apples and a small bag of almonds make easy, packable snacks.
- Favorite Chinese herbs: I bring Free and Easy Wanderer to help adapt to the changes in routine, Suan Zao Ren Tang for sleep, and some emergency Gan Mao Ling in case I feel a cold coming on.
- A few tea bags of tulsi tea for its stress-relieving and immune-booting properties
- Good walking shoes so I could make sure to take a 15-minute walk during every break in the action. If you’ve ever spent a weekend in a conference room cave, you know how important it is to get outside and move.
- Workout clothes – and I made sure to hit the workout room early each day.
- My meditation and qi gong practices: no packing required, and yet so essential for me to feel grounded and connected to myself
What helps you stay healthy when you travel?
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.
One of the saddest things I hear in my practice is, “I must be getting old.” I hear this from patients as young as 29, and I know the feeling: nothing makes me feel like I’m 85 quite like back pain that I’ve had since I was a teenager.
Maybe you don’t have the energy you’d like. You feel stiff. Maybe your back hurts (or your hips, knees, neck, or shoulders). The world feels like it’s moving too fast. But it’s not true that you have to fall apart before you die (If you have pain in one shoulder, why not the other? – it’s the same age!). You also don’t have to live on ibuprofen and caffeine, or outsource your wellness to your doctor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, or chiropractor. It’s possible to feel younger, even as the days go by.
Little things add up. Ever notice how you get an immediate surge of energy when you get an unexpected visit or email from a dear friend you haven’t seen in years? Notice how a couple days of eating processed food while visiting family makes you feel bloated and toxic? Or how about how not getting up from your desk for 15 hours when you’re under deadline can lead you to conclude that your shoulders are now cemented to your back? These all add up. It’s the things we do every day that most determine how old we feel.
6 things I wish everyone did every day to feel great:
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep a night
- Move your body in a way that feels good
- A body-mind practice to calm your nervous system and reconnect to yourself
- Drink water (half your body weight in ounces)
- Eat whole foods (mostly plants)
- Connect with love
Grab my free ebook: 5 Biohacks to Relieve Stress and start letting it go. You’ll also get other self-care tips and inspiration, just a few times a month.