BY MATTA few weeks ago I was reading an article in a popular men’s magazine.
A reader was asking how to tell his son that the son’s favorite toy was recalled as a dangerous item.
The magazine’s writer listed a few suggestions for the father to let his son down gently.
There were all kinds of ideas on what to say and how to say it, but no suggestion for telling the son the truth.
Inside, all I could think was that if my son’s favorite toy was dangerous to him, I would take it away.
If he asked me why, I would say, “It is dangerous and I do not want you to be hurt.”
This got me thinking and noticing how difficult being truthful to ourselves and others really is.
Most of us know how we dance around ourselves.
We say “I know this donut is not good for me, but it’s in moderation so it’s OK.”
Or we say, “I know I should go for a walk right now instead of sitting in front of the TV for another hour.”
Or we say, “I know I shouldn’t lift this because when I lift something heavy my back always hurts.”
Instead we create an elaborate plan that takes time and energy, why not just say and do what we are really feeling?
This tendency leads us away from our health. It affects us on a daily basis and is relevant to our overall wellbeing.
Recently I met a woman who was feeling lousy. She had pain every day. She had stress at home with her kids and husband. She had stress dealing with her parents and friends.
She used food to comfort herself and then felt guilty and stressed about that.
She had a real hard time sleeping and felt fatigued most of the day. Does it sound like anyone you know?
I am not directing it at any “one” person, the truth is I have met this person several times over the years.
I teach my patients the same things I write about. I mention how sometimes the physical pain we have is our body’s way of stopping us to listen and to take care of ourselves.
I explain how our thoughts influence our body’s ability to heal and the more stress we have, the harder it is for our body to do its job.
I talk about how what we eat becomes, literally, who we are. We talk about how important it is to listen to our bodies instead of our old way of doing things. I talk about the fact we could feel well again and that our situation will not be our permanent life situation.
People have said to me, well if I don’t keep going then things won’t get done. Is that really true?
My experience has been that the more stressed out I am the worse my performance. Often I had to redo or undo what I had just done.
Whereas when I am peaceful inside I make much better decisions and don’t have nearly the same mistakes.
So for me the more I stop when I am stressed the more effective I am and the better the quality of my work becomes.
Often I hear, “I feel like I am a bad mother, wife, friend, if I don’t keep going.”
To which I ask, “how good are you at being a mother, wife or friend (I also say father, husband) when you are stressed out.” I wonder if when you are feeling good are you better at being a mother, wife or friend. Invariably the answer is “yes.”
So, if you are interested in being a good mother, wife or friend wouldn’t it make sense to take care of yourself first?
Last week for example, a woman told me she was hurting all over, mentally and physically.
She said she felt guilty about not taking good care of her daughter. I asked her if she was a good mom when she was peaceful inside.
She said she was. I asked her if she was a good mom when she was stressed. She said she wasn’t.
I asked her if she found time in her day to feel good.
She said no she didn’t. I asked why, she said because “I feel guilty that if I take time to feel better myself than I am not being a good mother.”
I pointed out what she said in this way.
• So you’re telling me that you are not a good mother when you are stressed.
• So when you are stressed you make sure you are with your daughter so you can be a bad mom.
• Instead why not take five minutes to find your peace and come back and be a good mother?
• Turn this around so you no longer choose to stay stressed out or add to your stress and be a not good mother?
• Does this make sense?
The way to be a good mom is to stop and find peace.
You will have less stress and treat your daughter much nicer and feel better about being a mom which will make you want to be peaceful more so you are less stressed and a better mom more and more.
She then explained how she didn’t want her daughter to know that she was stressed out all the time. (Even though she was stressed out most of the time). She was trying to pretend and as a result was not being honest to herself or her daughter, which made her more and more stressed.
She was teaching her daughter, by example, not to listen to her body, not to find peace but to stay stressed even though it felt awful mentally and physically. She was teaching what a lot of us have taught ourselves and our loved ones, stress is my priority because I put it first in my life.
I said to this woman, “Do you really think she doesn’t notice you’re stressed?”
It is obvious to most everyone out there when someone they loved is stressed we’re not so good at hiding it. I then said what a great example she would be to her daughter if she stopped and was honest and said “honey, mommy is not feeling good right now, I need to go find peace and when I do I will come back and play with you.” Then when she felt better she could come back and be a good mom, the kind of mom she wants to be. What a great example she would be for her daughter. To me this is being the best mom or dad we can be.
In the beginning this can be difficult and there may be times when you forget or lose your composure. The more frequently you do this the more natural it will become. I started this practice several months ago in my own life. A few weeks ago my daughter got in the car and said “Daddy, I am going to be quiet now so you can find your peace.” Within a few seconds of hearing this my story evaporated and I was peaceful again.
She knows that I am stressed and she has experienced a daddy who is peaceful versus one who is stressed. She would rather have me take some time to find peace than to pretend everything is OK.
Now they know to tell me when I may not realize it inside myself so I can find peace again. I am a better father, husband, son, brother, employer, therapist, friend or person when I am peaceful. It’s so important that it has taken over my life and every choice I make I try to make it from a place of peace.
I want peace not turmoil, and I believe it is essential for a healthy life. It has been shown scientifically that stress affects our body’s ability to heal. I want a healthy life so I practice what works and I feel better and better. It was not easy for me to start and I still have moments where I forget, but I believe with my heart and soul that being honest is a lot easier than pretending a life. I can tell you that the more I practice living a life of peace and health the easier it is to live healthy and peacefully.
One woman told me that she had all she could do to physically sit with an ill aunt and that most of the time she was hurting so bad she could barely hear what the aunt was talking about and most time got frustrated or angry and felt like she was being taken advantage of. Does this sound familiar? Does this sound like someone you would want around you if you were ill? How effective can we be if we feel lousy?
There are some people getting defensive feeling like they are trying their best. Let me say clearly I believe we are trying our best. I am trying to point out a contrast so you can see it from a different perspective. Most people already know there are times they are grumpy and what it feels like inside them and the effect it has on their family. I am bringing it up because it absolutely does influence your health.
Before you think this does not apply to you because you “have been the way you are for 50 years and aren’t about to change for anyone.”
I am not suggesting you change for anyone. I am suggesting you change for yourself, for your own health. If you are resisting, I wonder why?
Imagine you come home from work and feel sore. Your body feels like it needs to stretch, so you (in your head) say, “it takes too much time and energy.” Really? The idea behind stretching is to relax.
Minimal effort is needed. It is something you can do while watching TV.
I am not suggesting that life will be all roses if you do this. In fact life still happens and stresses still come.
I am suggesting that the more often you find peace the more peaceful you will be and the less traumatic life will be.
The more often you are honest with yourself and others the more integrity you will experience in your life. The more you listen to your body the more your body teaches you what to do. The more frequently you practice taking care of yourself the more healthy you will be and the easier it will become to be well again.
The easiest way to be honest is to … be honest even over the small things that “don’t really matter.” The best way to listen to your body is to take a day, a full day, and do whatever your body feels like doing, no matter how silly. Make it a weekly practice. Schedule a day with no distractions.
No TV, no radio, no magazines, no books, just you and your body. If it says walk, walk. If it says lie down, lie down. If you have trouble and your thoughts tell you to stop, instead practice breathing. In fact, take time every hour just to put your full attention on your breath. Don’t even eat out at your normal times. Eat only when hungry and only what your body (not your mind) tells you to eat.
Eat slowly and listen to your body. If you are no longer hungry and you only ate a third of what you normally do … good.
Try it, I dare you.
This is what wellness is all about.
Thanks for reading my columns.
Matthew Goodemote, a Gloversville native, owns Community Physical Therapy & Wellness. His Health & Wellness column will answer your questions and discuss topics that are relevant to your everyday way of life. If you would like to ask a question, e-mail Matthew at firstname.lastname@example.org.