“But, what are the costs if you DON’T care for yourself?”
A new colleague asked me this question recently when we were having lunch for the first time. I’ve been pondering it ever since, particularly in light of how many people tell me they cannot afford the time and money needed for self-care. I turned to reflecting on my own self-care journey for insight.
Seven or so years ago, I remember being desperately sick with the winter crud — for six weeks. My body, couldn’t seem to heal. I’d get a little better, and then another secondary infection would lay me flat again. It honestly wasn’t surprising that I was so sick at the time. This round of illness came at the very end of my mother’s life, which came after two and a half years of emergency visits to hospitals, filling out reams of paperwork for nursing facilities and rehab centers, countless hours spent talking to doctors and nurses.
I did have a yoga practice at the time, which probably kept me from being worse than I was, but I was definitely not in peak shape. I was overweight, frequently had sleep disruptions, and had started to show signs of hypertension. The stress and the time associated with managing my mother’s end-of-life care often kept me from taking care of myself (even though I did try). My mother’s mental illness and resulting emotional warfare during her health decline layered even more toxicity on this already dismal and chaotic situation.
But this extremely low mental, physical and emotional moment of my life, echoes statistics I found in the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” study. Here’s some examples of what stress does to our bodies:
- Musculoskeletal Pain
- Respiratory Distress
- Increased risk of hypertension, heart attack or stroke
- Chronic fatigue, metabolic disorders (e.g., diabetes, obesity), depression and immune disorders
- Pain, bloating, nausea and other stomach or bowel discomfort
- Negative effects on the reproductive systems of both women and men
- Stress on the nervous system, which impacts all of the above
I believe it. I have experienced all of these things at one time or another. I bet you have, too.
Everyone has particular seasons of their life in which health and well-being decline. (Don’t even get me started on what graduate school did to me.) We often make decisions that prioritize others’ needs over our own. Our culture strongly reinforces these choices by devaluing time spent on rest and renewal by calling it lazy and selfish. I’ve had to learn repeatedly to make the choice to put my oxygen mask on before I help others to do the same.
What IS the cost if you do not make the difficult, counter-cultural choice to care for yourself? The symptoms start to add up in time and money: You have some unexplained pain in your body so you buy over-the-counter pain relievers for $10 and 20 extra minutes stopping at the store. You start to experience insomnia so you buy melatonin to help you sleep, again that costs $10 and another 20 minute trip to the store. Let’s say that the stress finally causes hypertension. According to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the costs of treating that issue can cost $2,000/year or about $166 per month for each person, not withstanding the extra hour or two spent going to the doctor and filling prescriptions.
There are the less quantifiable impacts of stress: You are shorter tempered with your spouse, children, friends or co-workers; You are sluggish at work because you’re not getting enough sleep and your performance is affected; You have to miss a child’s sports game because you have to go to a doctor’s appointment; The money you spend on prescriptions and doctors prevents you from spending it on stress-reducing activities like vacations, gym memberships and hobbies.
What does it cost you NOT to take care of yourself? Only you know the answer to that.
Here’s one antidote to the toxic health spiral: Set the intention to make one decision a day to prioritize your own well-being. Do 15-20 minutes of mindfulness practices. Get up a little earlier so that you can make yourself a healthy lunch to take to work. Sit out one of your kids school events so that you can sit around and stare out the window. Whatever seems doable to you.
Do you need a supportive community to help you set this intention? I bet you do. Because we all do. None of us is built to go it alone. My upcoming online retreat will give you weekly downloadable guided meditations, simple prompts for journaling and reflection and, most importantly, a community of support who can celebrate your success at these new practices and encourage you when you aren’t living into your intentions.
Don’t go it alone. Join with friends along the way. Register by Feb. 24.