Chany‘s son, Essex, was about six years old as he dove into the Atlantic ocean in 68° weather. They were visiting Fort Lauderdale from California and as I watching him skip through crashing waves of foam in board shorts, all I could think was, he’s going to get hypothermia! Chany, on the other hand, simply laughed the careless laugh that comes only from a parent enjoying her son swallowing life whole.
I ,on the other hand, was too distracted with disbelief that she was letting her son swim in such cold water. Chany explained California waters are just as cold; he goes to the beach all the time; California’s waves are ten times more powerful, the winds relentless; and besides, he is wearing a swim shirt. I was still awestruck.
The second time I reacted similarly was on my visit to San Francisco. My friend Kim’s 5 month old son, Matthew, was strapped to his father’s front-loading baby carrier as we hiked through 50-degree weather in the California Redwoods. Matthew wore a small beanie, a warm onesie with feet, and a little jacket zipped up over it.
Needless to say I was floored that neither Kim nor her husband troubled themselves much about their son’s level of comfort except the occasional attempt to replace his mittens. Funny thing is, Matthew didn’t fuss either. He was so content that he fell asleep several times during our hike. I don’t remember if I questioned Kim; I just remember thinking I would have gotten sick in this weather if I were Matthew.
Some months later, I shared with my mother my shock about these two incidents. All I remember is the tone of her response: a matter-of-fact variation of ‘Yeah, most people don’t have worry about those things, Arlene.’ She urged me not to judge my friends because my childhood was very different. After all, when you have sick children, every little weather shift could be the difference between kids playing happily outside and consecutive trips to the emergency room.
In short, between my brother and me, Mom had to contend with asthma, allergies, eczema, heart conditions, and ultimately my compromised immune system from Chemotherapy. Hence the fading, yellowed photos tell our story through the lens of our health challenges- first day of school in jackets zipped up to the throat; winter evenings at our apartment in sweaters, jeans, and boots; play dates in the snow wrapped in scarves, double layers of knitted hats, and bubbly space-suit looking winter gear. Even in the spring, she made me wear hats and clothing that covered my chest if it was windy.
The reason: our allergies and asthma made us particularly susceptible to getting sick (chest infections, break outs) if we were exposed to certain trees, animals, winds, or cold. Now, how do you control children under ten from coming in contact with those things? You limit where they go, you layer them up, and you frequently check them for symptoms.
I realized two things after this conversation with my mother:
- 1) My Mom needs to be sainted. (But then, I’ve been saying this since I was 15).
- 2) Our bodies all have different needs. And we have to listen to them.
My mom is solely responsible for my success in understanding my limits compared to children with normal health. So my tribute for Mom comes in the form of educating you how to listen, really listen, to your body.
Ladies, let’s be real, we need to know how to treat ourselves with nurturing and care. So here we go…
#1: Learn to read to your body when you feel stressed or overwhelmed.
Headaches: Does stress bring on headaches? Where do they typically occur? Noticing where the headache occurs can tell you a lot about the root problem.
The type of headaches are:
Stomach pain: Do you get indigestion? Reflux? Maybe that sinking feeling in your stomach. These symptoms may be more about how you are handling stressors and less about what you ate for dinner last night.
Heart rate: do you get palpitations? High blood pressure? Anxiety? Notice what kinds of things happen just before you experience a change in pressure or heart rate so you track what may have triggered it.
Pain: Yup, good old fashion pain. Sometimes in random places, for no discernable reason whatsoever. Women are much more likely than men to experience generalized pain. For decades their complaints have been dismissed by doctors and loved ones as simply being “all in your head.” But here’s the rub: Your body will faithfully and consistently tell you when something is wrong. So do not dismiss any pain. Ask yourself if the pain is preceded by some kind of stress.
#2: Learn to understand your sleep needs.
Wait until you get a long weekend or some vacation time where you will have nothing to do in the morning. Track what time you go to bed and wake up. Doing this for several days at a time is more effective, but it must be on mornings where you have absolutely zero agenda. Look for a pattern: how many hours does your body typically sleep?
When I tried this, I was surprised to learn that when left to my own devices, I sleep an average of 9-11 hours. This is a far cry from the typical 6 hours sleep I get on average. (And here I was proud to have increased it from my previous average of 4 hours. Shows how much I know…)
Beware, though. There are two caveats here:
First, not everyone actually needs 7-8 hours. Some people function at their best with only 5 or 6 hours. So stay open-minded.
Second, your body’s required amount of sleep can change, especially during particularly busy or stressful seasons. So don’t tie yourself down forever to the amount you calculated. Repeat this experiment every year or two.
#3: Notice physical responses to emotional upsets.
When our emotions get triggered, a host of physical responses occur. Similar to stress, your body can manifest emotions physically with stomach pains, headaches, heart palpitations, muscle strains, sleeplessness, or even numbness in your limbs.
Sounds obvious, right? What I want to emphasize here is that emotional stress doesn’t have to be tragic, like death, divorce, and car accidents. Emotional stress can stem from small occurrences like a disagreement with a loved one, holding back your frustration with your boss or simply by being dismissed in a conversation. Here is why: no emotion exists in a vacuum. No slight has zero impact on our ability to trust and love thereafter. Each little hurt gets added to your emotional account, which contributes to mindsets.
Therefore, notice things, girl! Notice how being interrupted affects your heart. Notice how comparing yourself to others casts a weight over your shoulders. Notice how suspecting someone lied to you restricts your lungs. Notice if these little stabs cause you to desire validation or confrontation. Does it distract you temporarily or inflict massive loss of focus? This knowledge can direct your prayer, your therapy, or even major decisions for your life, such as breaking away from toxic relationships.
#4: Monitor your coping strategies.
Does life cause you to turn to some form of addiction as coping mechanism? Besides the usual suspects (drugs, alcohol, food), some examples of coping include: binge watching, seeking affection/sex from your partner, or spending money on yourself.
Related Article: Does The Media Control You?
Stay with me here… some of these activities may seem normal, but when you are doing too these activities too much, or doing them to distract from stress, it becomes dysfunctional. Ask yourself if you are doing these activities more than what seems necessary or healthy. Ask yourself why are you doing it—is it for the simple joy of it, to decompress, or is it to blur out the painful stuff. Remember there is a fine line between de-stressing and escapism.
#5: Pay attention to your relationship with God.
Do you seek God when you need something? Has he become your cosmic vending machine? In other words, do you go to God only to unload your problems and beg for relief? How often do you desire to simply be in His presence? What do you do with God aside from structured practices such as church, online messages, or bible study? Do you have a two-way relationship that includes sharing life and doing life together?
Having an ongoing personalized relationship with God is the best medicine. Learning how to be conscious of that relationship’s status helps you to be more aware of your spirit, your emotions, and your body.
Related Article: Mediation Strategies: 3 Ways Jesus Taught “Mindfulness”
I never realized how different my body’s limits were until I watched my best friends parent their boys. They offered a freedom I could never have imagined in my own childhood. In a way, it made me grumble for the thousandth time, ‘Great! Yet another thing that my health problems stole from me.’ But in another way, I felt grateful to my mother for having ingrained in me self-awareness. She did this so well that I didn’t even realize I was being trained to check in with my body, to look for signs of how I feel. This trained my spiritual and emotional ear to sense immediately when something was off-kilter, a sensibility that I have discovered to be quite rare. Highly sensitive people are often seen as high maintenance, but they are in fact blessed with a superpower.
The challenge: In a journal, list some of your symptoms and possible triggers. Knowing your sensitivities is your weapon. Now wield that weapon to do some damage control! As a matter of fact, we are women warriors, so go the extra step… wear that weapon as an accessory. It will make you uniquely beautiful.