Our Whole Self
Many times when a client walks into my office and sits on my couch, they are seeking help with some “emotional” problem. They are feeling depressed or anxious, their children are acting out, or they are feeling angry. Many times we feel that if this one problem area in our life is “fixed” then things will be fine, we will move on, and life will be drastically improved. While addressing specific issues may improve our lives for the moment and give us some relief, it only focuses on one area, and we are not one-dimensional.
We are human and made up of many components. We are whole beings. We are not defined by our problems, and its time we start focusing on our whole selves. Our fast paced life styles only makes this more difficult. We skimp on sleep to fit more hours in the day instead of going to bed at a decent hour. We live on fast food instead of healthier alternatives because it is faster. We don’t take the time to exercise because it is hard. We skip taking the time to walk in the park or go to church or sit and appreciate nature because we have too many other things to do. When was the last time you spent an hour or two doing something that you enjoy instead of doing something you “have” to do? These are the things we neglect so often. Just like a car though, when one part is not working well it affects how smoothly the whole car is running. When we neglect an area of our life, we are not going to be running as smoothly as we can be.
Sleep is one of my favorite things in life. For me it is a wonderful experience when I get to turn out the lights, snuggle under my covers, and let my body completely relax. For a lot of us though, sleep is just a necessary means to have enough fuel to get through more of the day. It is something we “have” to do, and it gets pushed back as long as possible. According to the National Sleep Foundation, not getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep can affect memory, moods, job performance, health, and safety. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day is important. It helps our bodies to get into a healthy rhythm. So start embracing sleep instead of avoiding it.
Diet is another thing we fight with daily. Junk food, fast food, and just not-good-for-us food is everywhere. There are times when nothing satisfies me more than a bag of Doritos or a Little Debbie, but I can’t really admit that I am my most productive after inhaling them. The old adage “you are what you eat” has some truth to it. I am not saying that you have to turn into a health nut. What I am saying is to take a look at what you put into your body. Are you getting enough fruits, vegetables, and whole foods or does every meal consist of a cheeseburger and extra large Mountain Dew? If the answer is the latter, it may be time to re think your diet. Eating regular meals is also important. Many of us feel we just don’t have enough time to eat and often believe this will help to lose weight. What ends up happening, though, is our blood sugar levels drop and we become moody, irritable, or lethargic. Mentalhealth.org recently put out an article suggesting that our diet directly affects our mental health.
Exercise is something that many (myself included) do not find fun. It is good for us though! How many times have we put off and put off working out only to say “wow I am glad I did that. I feel great” after finishing? Even if you don’t have time to go to the gym daily, finding ways to get more active is possible. I myself have been battling this fight with exercise. I have been trying to do the beach body workouts. Yes, it is a struggle after working a full day, but after I work out, I feel energized even though I did seek out the shortest one available! Smaller things such as taking the stairs, parking at the end of an aisle instead of the closest spot at a store, or playing with your pets provide some physical activity. David Landers of Arizona State University published an article entitled “The influence of exercise on mental health.” In this article he outlined some of the benefits of exercise as relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as positive self-esteem, a more restful sleep, and a positive mood.
Our busy, fast paced life styles in which we “go go go” keep us from stopping and enjoying life. Taking time to pray or sit quietly, to appreciate the beauty around us, or whatever helps us to connect with our spiritual selves is important. Maybe it’s taking a moment to watch your kids as they experience something for the first time and reflecting on this. Maybe its hearing a song and being connected to the lyrics. Whatever helps us to stop and go to that peaceful place inside us can be very healing. Take time to connect, really connect (I do not mean sending a text or Facebook message) to the people in your life. Our lives are complex, not single dimensional. It is time to start treating ourselves as the multi-dimensional beings that we are. Take a look at what you are eating, how much exercise you are getting, and how much time you are really spending with the important people in your life. These things are all apart of who you are. It’s time we stop looking for a “fix” to one area of life and start living our whole lives.
-Melissa Barker, M.Ed., LPCC