No is not a dirty word

An important part of being an adult is being a good parent to yourself. In other words, looking out for your own well-being.

This means giving yourself permission to say no – to anything that doesn’t serve you.

If you’re used to saying yes a lot, saying no might be a bit difficult at first. Especially if, like so many people, you are worried about what others might think of you. Or, if you feel like you are letting someone else down by saying no.

Being a good parent is actually a form of practicing good self-care. It’s about being learning to be kind to you.

Now, if learning to behave in a loving way towards yourself is going to be a process, you’re not alone. I know that I was well-practiced at lecturing myself and pointing out my own mistakes, and it took time to re-learn those habits.  It can take some practice to become a good parent.

The first step is noticing how you typically talk to yourself. It’s all too common for many of us to over-commit, or say yes to things we really don’t want to do, and then berate ourselves for not getting it all done.

Honor what you really want or need: practice saying no.

Saying no to what you don’t want leaves you plenty of time to say yes to what you do.

The Importance of Self-Care

Self-care, or Self-renewal as Stephen Covey calls it in The 7 Habits, is one of the most important and least practiced habits for success. Self-care often ends up on the bottom of a long to-do list, especially for those of us who are busy and goal-oriented.

Covey tells a little story of a man so busy working to cut down a tree that he doesn’t want to stop to sharpen the saw. It might sound funny, but Covey makes a good point. He asks the question, are you too busy driving the car to stop and get gas? So many of us are worried that if we stop working, for even a moment, our goals will be further away. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll even get a little bit lazy.

Covey suggests one hour a day as a minimal commitment to self-renewal. I have to agree. That single hour can do so much to make you more productive during the rest of your work than you might think. Now, this doesn’t mean spending an hour watching tv before bed. It means spending a hour doing whatever feeds you. It could be listening to beautiful music, reading an inspiring book, taking a walk outdoors, practicing meditation, attending a yoga class, or engaging in sports, to name just a few examples.

Self-renewal can be physical, mental, or spiritual, as the examples illustrate. And ideally your weekly self-care time should include all 3 components.

One of my fellow massage therapists has a sign in her office that reads, “When life takes it out of you, massage puts it back.” Now, you can easily fill in the blank any number of ways… with something specific that fills you with renewed energy and commitment.

When life takes it out of you, ________ puts it back. Now, brainstorm a list of words that fill in the blank, and start scheduling an hour each day, just for you.

Forever Young Part II: Back to Basics

In this segment I want to talk a little bit about getting back to two very basic elements of health and well-being that many of us don’t spend enough time addressing. The simple truth is that drinking plenty of water and taking time to relax will tremendously affect the way you look and feel.

Drinking plenty of water is one of the easiest ways to keep looking and feeling young. I know, I know, you’ve heard it all before, right? 64+ ounces of water a day. It’s funny that some of the simplest things that you can do for yourself are also some of the most beneficial. Drinking plenty of water is like making sure you keep enough oil in your car. If you consistently run your car low on oil, your engine develops problems because of it. It would be easy and inexpensive to take preventive action.

Sometimes neglecting the little things has a high price. Take lack of hydration for instance. Not only can a lack of hydration contribute to headaches, muscle cramps and general malaise, but it will also negatively affect your skin. Your cells can literally shrivel up due to lack of hydration, increasing the appearance of wrinkles and making you look older. Of course, drinking more water may take a little getting used to. (Let’s face it, in the practical sense it means more trips to the bathroom! But taking a little down time, wherever you can get it, does a body good.) In the end it becomes a question of priorities: Some of it is what we choose to do, but it’s also how we choose to do what we do.

Breathing. We do it all the time. (In fact, I bet you’re doing it right now.) But we rarely pay attention to it. How could something so simple as breathing have such a huge impact on our well-being? Think of it – a gasp of surprise, or the short, quick breath of excitement. While these are temporary reactions, they are just small examples of the way our bodies are connected to our mental processes.

Taking slow, deep breaths has a calming effect on your nervous system. When you take short, quick, or incomplete breaths, you engage the “fight or flight” part of your nervous system, valuable in helping you escape from dangerous situations – for example, being trapped in a burning building. The potential problem here is that, once you’re safely out of harm’s way, your body doesn’t always respond as if the threat is gone.

Think of it another way. Many of us lead stress-filled lives, moving from one challenging situation to the next. In that sense, for some of us, the fire never gets put out. That’s why taking a personal time-out at the beginning and/or end of each day can be such a powerful step toward reclaiming mental clarity and facilitating physical relaxation. It takes just a few short minutes, but the results are long lasting and far-reaching. (Here’s where those extra trips to the bathroom can also come in handy – I’ve heard many people say that sometimes they feel it’s the only place where they can be alone and have a little peace! And while we may joke about that, I know that on some level, for many of us who lead busy lives with demanding schedules, it’s absolutely true.)

When the fight/flight part of your nervous system is engaged, your body releases certain chemicals, such as adrenaline, and this puts additional strain on all of your body’s organs and systems. This is why it is so important to strengthen the parasympathetic nervous system, to give yourself time to rest and recharge, which will greatly contribute to both looking and feeling great.

Try this for as little as five minutes…

Take a deep breath; then exhale twice as long as you inhale. This calms the nervous system, engaging the “rest & digest” mechanism. Lie down in a comfortable position (try lying on your back, with a pillow under your knees). You could place a book on your abdomen. As you breathe, focus on moving the book up and down, breathing from deep within your belly.

While inhaling deeply through your nose, count slowly to 4 (one thousand one, one thousand two), expanding your belly.

Exhale even more slowly through your nose, counting to 8 (one thousand one, one thousand two).

There are many ways to experience your breath. Find your own rhythm, and don’t be attached to one particular method.

For detailed discussion of practical ways to keep your skin looking great, I recommend Do You Have the Guts to be Beautiful? By Jennifer Daniels MD and Mitra Ray PhD.