Every Health Plan Has Its Ups and Downs
Simple Tips to Deal With Temporary Setbacks
Anyone who has health issues knows the feeling: you’re sensitive to caffeine, and halfway
through the latte you realize it’s not decaf; in spite of going to bed early, you haven’t slept, and you must have 6 hours a night to be functional; your injured knee was almost better, but you overdid it Credit: Shenky on sxc.huand now it hurts like it did the day you fell. You’ve “blown it” health-wise. What do you do?
As someone who has struggled with chronic health issues for most of my life, I’ve "blown it" a lot. I tend to overdo, overworry, and overindulge in great food that I really don’t digest well. I’ve gotten better over the years, but there are still plenty of times when I suddenly realize I’ve had one wheat dish too many, or worked in the garden 15 minutes longer than I can without taking the next day off. I may be more sensitive than a lot of people, but that means I have really honed how to recover when I blow it---here’s what I do:
Develop a plan for your “emergency recovery mode” so you are ready when something happens.
My particular health issues involve problems with energy, pain, and foggy thinking. Once I’ve made a mistake, I sometimes can’t think well enough to fix the problem. So I developed a plan that I can put into action as soon as I realize things aren’t right. I immediately go into the no-starch, high-protein, low-stress, extreme rest mode that I know from experience will get me back on track quickly. I go to bed as soon as I can, cancel any activities that aren’t absolutely necessary, and fix simple food. If your health issue is an injury, keep everything you need to baby it handy—bandages, pain medication, numbers for people to drive your car or deliver groceries.
Anyone with a low “crisis-tolerance” health threshold can keep food items handy that are healthy and easy to fix—frozen veggies you can heat and serve, frozen soups or casseroles you make ahead, and one dish meals that take little preparation.
Don’t beat yourself up.
Every spring, I work in my garden, and I often overwork. Being out in nature is so wonderful that I don’t realize I’ve overdone it until I’m exhausted and sore--for days. I stare Credit: ralaenin on sxc.husadly at my optimistic to-do list, kicking myself for ruining the productive week I had envisioned. I am slowly learning not to waste my time with such regrets.
I’ve realized the only way to see how full life can be is to push the boundaries from time to time. Sometimes the boundaries push back. When they do, I try to yield gracefully. I put my emergency plan in action and take it easy for a few weeks. All of life is about practice—baseball players strike out, violinists play the wrong note, cooks sometimes over-season their food—and those with health issues sometimes overdo. As long as we give ourselves time to recover rather than angrily trying to force our bodies to keep going when they’ve had enough, we will be able to do better next time.
Feeling overwhelmed can make any well-thought out plan disintegrate into overwork, worry, and scattered effort that accomplishes little. In my acupuncture practice, I see many patients battling fatigue for various reasons. I tell them to limit themselves to one-half of what they think is a reasonable schedule. As they put this hard-to-follow principle into practice, their energy will improve over time. When things first start to improve they are tempted to use every bit of extra energy they have. If instead they continue to use one-half of their available energy, it acts like interest on money in the bank—it builds and builds.
The same principle works with any issue—if you overworry, set limits for yourself on what you put into your mind. Don’t check your budget late at night and ruin your sleep if it is not on track. Add pleasant music or a peaceful concert to your day. If you overeat easily, set your portion sizes before you serve your food so it is harder to eat too much. Always, always guard your rest and mild exercise. Any health or emotional problem will show some improvement with enough rest and a mild exercise program, and your mind will remain focused so you can avoid as many potential problems as possible. Setting limits for yourself is not limiting your enjoyment of life. It is giving yourself room to do what is important to you.