Alphabet Series - H is for Health
My memory may be a little sketchy on this, but I recall a movie called The End starring Burt Reynolds. There is a scene where he is adrift in the ocean. Things look pretty bleak for him and he decides it is time to rekindle his relationship with God. He asks God to save him and tells God that if he is saved he will go to church every day and be the very best person possible. As he is swimming and seemingly on the brink of death his homage to God increases. Until he sees land. The closer he gets to land the more he starts backing off on his promises to God. Maybe he will go to church every other day, maybe once a week and finally by the time he reaches shore we are not exactly sure how he is going to proceed. I think of that scene as illustrative how at certain times our concerns peak and our focus shifts. We have all heard of the person who gets the heart attack and changes their diet and exercise routine. The diet and exercise routine were available before the heart attack, but they weren't quite so compelling.
Hopefully there is no immediate reason for you or I to double down on our commitment to our health, but let’s take a few moments to think about our health and how we treat ourselves. The Hippocratic oath says to do no harm. That is probably a good place to start. I imagine doing no harm to our bodies is important to all of us, yet I also imagine very few of us will achieve sainthood in this department. I tend to be an advocate for moderation in all things, including moderation. While I certainly think there is a list of things that are harmful to us and I would like us to avoid, I think there is another list that comes with an asterisk - *For occasional use only. Many of us eat things on our birthday or holidays that we might not usually eat because we know they are not good for us. Yet, taken in moderation they aren’t that bad for us. And, maybe a little bad every now and then is good. It is just a matter of who is judging. Ultimately your body is the judge, but in the short term others may weigh in.
I have written before about the concept of “too much” so I don’t want to write too much about it, but I do want to point out something. What is too much? How do you know if you drink, eat, smoke or do anything too much? Certainly your body will eventually let you know, but often before your body claims its reaction others will weigh in. I have to admit I have a cynical view of too much. Let’s say you like to drink. Let’s say you usually like to drink X amount of alcohol over the weekend. My guess is that regardless of what that amount is, it is not too much for you. But it may be too much for others around you. They may be worried about you and wish you would cut back. Yet we tend to think that what we do is acceptable and others who do more than us, well, that is too much. We forgive and accept ourselves, but hold the line just past our boundary.
I don’t know if you are doing something too much or too little. Your health and well-being may know, but they may not be talking very loudly now. I imagine pretty much all of us could be doing something more and something less. Yet, even though we know something may be good for us, it doesn’t mean we can motivate ourselves to do it. That is why the heart attack seems to be a good wake up call for a lot of people. But, how can you get that call without having it be a 911 one?
There is an exercise that many therapists use that I want to suggest to you. It requires you to be by yourself and to use your imagination. Imagine you are having a conversation. Look at an empty chair or space and imagine in that space is your health. Talk to your health and tell it how you feel about it. You might say: “Hi, Health. This is awkward, but I want to talk with you. I have been treating you pretty well. I got you a good night’s sleep yesterday, but I kind of turned my back on you when I had that extra helping of dessert.” Try to talk to your health as you would talk to anyone else with whom you are close. When you have run out of things to say, get up, and move over to where your health was and, speaking as your health, respond to you. You might say “It is good to speak with you. I kind of feel you have been ignoring me lately. Yeah, you got me that good night’s sleep last night, but you have been treating me kind of ragged lately. It would be nice to have some greater consistency. That dessert, I am sure it tasted good, but it didn’t do much for me.”
As I said, this can be an awkward conversation at first, but I think you will find it helpful to you. I am all about relationships. The ones we have with others and ourselves. You can talk to your health, your love life, your work life and your mother, father, boss and anybody else you want. Taking the time to discuss matters with yourself can assist you in getting a clearer picture of how things stand.
Now, I need to give a warning here. This can be a powerful exercise, especially when you start talking to people, places and things that evoke strong emotions. If your emotions are heavily involved, you might want to have these conversations with a therapist in attendance. Whether your emotions are running high or not, taking the time to listen and hear how you feel/think about your health and life ought to improve your chances of taking a more active role in being healthy.