This is part 2 of a two-part series. Find the first part here: Poor, Sick, Fat, Exhausted: How To Fix It – Part 1
6. Go outside. Get sunshine on your skin. When Fred and I were first married we couldn’t afford an automatic drier. We had a washing machine and a clothesline. I felt richer than Midas because I had my own washer. My entire life, up until that point, I was accustomed to going to the laundromat. The convenience and luxury of my own washer was like waking up on Christmas morning, every day of the week. I wasn’t accustomed to a clothesline though. I had helped my grandmother hang clothes on the line as a girl, but had never been in charge of doing it without supervision. I did the best I could. Sometimes I did better than others. Sometimes the clothes fell off the line and into the dirt. I kept trying. Every night I would wash a load of laundry, and in the morning, before breakfast, I would hang the clothes on the line. Over time I noticed that the days I hung up clothes I was cheerful and energized while I prepared breakfast. There was no cloud hanging over my head. The work was easy and I was happy to do it. On days that I didn’t hang up clothes Fred frequently asked if I had gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. I was tired and cranky and I have to admit that breakfast wasn’t always very tasty on those days.
Around the same time I was going through some old patterns I had found at yard sales and was tickled at all of the patterns for sundresses that were popular in the late 1930’s through the early 1950’s. One of them advertised “Sundresses For Radiant Health!” I looked at that pattern, with a picture of a young mother in a homemade, ruffled sundress, playing with a toddler while a stylized sun shone down on them both, and I cackled.
I had a few home economics books from the same era and as I read them I realized why the mornings I hung out clothes went so smoothly. Those old books informed me that spending time in the sunshine each day would help my body manufacturer it’s own Vitamin D. They told me that spending time in the sun would make me more cheerful and give me “Radiant Health.” That must have been a popular saying at the time.
Later I found out that modern science agrees with those old books. Simply exposing our skin to the sun increases our Vitamin D. It boosts levels of serotonin which makes us feel happy and energized. It reduces the effects of stress, helps us with depression and makes it easier to sleep at night too.
Our bodies need natural sunlight. We need to go outside and let the sun shine onto our skin for a minimum of 15-minutes a day. Even on cloudy or rainy days the sun can still reach us through the clouds. Even on cold days the sun can still reach our faces. Especially if we’ve been suffering from depression, spending time in the sun every day can give you hope. It can make things a little bit easier for a while. It may not seem like something so simple can make such a big difference but it can. It does. If you are very fair, or will be out in the worst heat of the day be sure to use sunscreen. Trust the wisdom of our grandmothers. Every day you can, spend time in the sun, because even through sunscreen, it can do us all a world of good.
7. Move your body. Physical activity is like water or oxygen or going to the bathroom. It’s a biological necessity. We have to do in order to live. I used to think that exercise was something people did when they wanted to lose weight. I thought it was something that some people did after they divorced and wanted to look fit in order to get back into the dating game. I’m happy with my husband. He’s happy with me. Why should we have to exercise? Who were we going to impress? We were already impressed with each other for being happily married for so long. Eventually I understood that exercise is not just going to fitness clubs to ogle potential dating partners. It’s not just walking around a track like a gerbil in a wheel. Any physical activity is good for us. It doesn’t matter if we can officially label it “exercise” or not. Hanging the clothes on the line, scrubbing the floor or the bathtub on our hands and knees, bending and stretching to clean out a closet or changing the sheets on the bed, simply moving my body instead of sitting or laying down. All these things count as physical activity. Our bodies are designed to be used. When we stop using them, they simply don’t work as well as they could.
My favorite exercise is walking with a friend. It’s free, accessible and requires no special equipment. Since we do it together we are accountable to one another so we are more likely to get our butts up out of the bed. When I do it by myself, with no one to hold me accountable, I am less faithful. All too often I choose to stay in bed instead. It’s not pretty, but it’s true.
My friend and I walk several days a week. We walk outside, to get the sunshine. We talk and laugh, fellowshipping with one another so we don’t feel isolated. We move our bodies so we can reap the benefits of regular exercise. Our simple morning walk has lots of benefits. Sleep is improved, we get the serotonin and dopamine hits that fight depression and make us happy, cheerful. It reduces stress and increases energy throughout the day. We feel less tired all the time. It helps with weight control. Plus, all those chronic diseases that plague western culture are improved. Diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, heart disease, arthritis and depression are all improved simply by moving our bodies.
The type of physical activity we choose isn’t important. Probably walking and stretching are cheapest the most readily accessible to the most people. What we wear and where we go isn’t that important. Walking around the block in my rattiest sweat suit is better than not walking at all. What is most important is that we simply begin.
If you have been sedentary for a long time then start small. Walk for 10-minutes at a time. Do it twice a day or twice a week. Increase gradually. Get the kids involved. Take the dog with you. Find a friend to walk with or invite your spouse. It’s hard to make ourselves take that first step, but each consecutive step is that much easier, and puts us one step closer to wellness.
8. Get enough sleep. Sleep is healing. We really do need at least 7 to 8 hours a night. People who regularly get enough sleep have less pain, improved immunity and are able to think more clearly. Sleep rejuvenates our bodies. It reduces stress, and enables us to handle waking stress more efficiently. It settles our minds, allowing us to dream and process the day’s events. People who regularly do not sleep have higher rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Getting enough sleep makes us feel alert, strong and clear minded.
If you have trouble sleeping at night there are some things you can do. First off, stop drinking caffeine. It’s murder on our ability to sleep. If you can’t quit all together, then stop drinking any caffeine at least 6 hours before you go to bed. Eight hours is better. If you go to bed at 11pm then don’t have any soda, coffee or tea after 5pm. Stopping the caffeine at 3pm is even better. It takes a long time for the effects of caffeine to leave our systems, especially if we drink it all day long. Switch to water in the afternoon and your ability to fall asleep will improve by leaps and bounds. If you drink caffeine all day long, you won’t be able to sleep well at night. It’s a simple truth, but one we don’t always want to admit to ourselves.
Other things that help include things already listed in this article, such as getting enough sunlight, breathing deeply, walking, using a multivitamin and taking your medications on time, and as prescribed. I read my bible before bed. It helps me relax and gives me something positive to meditate upon so I’m not plagued by the day’s events while I’m trying to drop off into dream land.
I also want to mention that it’s easier to sleep when the sheets are clean, sweet smelling and the bed has been made. When you have a new baby it’s easier to sleep if you put the baby in bed with you and you nurse the baby instead of using a bottle, which is a terrible hassle in the middle of the night. If your pets are not good sleep partners, then you can lock them out of the bedroom. If your spouse snores it helps to wear earplugs (I speak from experience). When other people in your home are sleeping, respect their sleep. Don’t wake them up unnecessarily. I hate it when I’m woken up out of a deep sleep, so I work really hard to never do that to others. Simply respecting the value of sleep can go a long way to making sure we get enough.
9. Improve your diet. This one is complicated. When we’re poor we can’t always afford to eat better. When we’re sick and exhausted we don’t always have the energy to prepare the foods we know we’re supposed to be eating. When we’re depressed we’re not always motivated to do anything about it because we’re just setting ourselves up for failure. With so much working against us, why bother? We’ve tried in the past and nothing changed. We made the effort, dutifully starved ourselves, didn’t lose any weight and may have even gained some for our efforts. Lemme tell ya sister, I feel ya.
I’m not talking about a diet though. I’m not talking about starving yourself. I’m not talking about joining any groups or making any grand symbolic gestures. All I’m really saying is that the next time you’re at the supermarket buy a bag of carrots and a bag of variety lettuce (not iceberg lettuce). Over the week, have a handful of carrots every day. When you eat lunch, pour a few leaves of variety lettuce into a bowl, top it with your favorite dressing and eat it before you eat lunch. Do it for a week. See if you feel any better.
If you do, then the following week try it again. Also buy some bananas and apples. Have a banana as soon as you wake up. Have an apple before you go to bed at night. Keep eating your carrots and leafy greens. At the end of the week, see if you feel any better.
If you do, then the following week try it again. When you’re in the salad dressing aisle read the labels on the salad dressings and choose one that only contains ingredients you can understand and pronounce. Don’t worry about the calories. Just make sure it’s real food instead of chemicals. Also choose a bag of frozen broccoli and a bag of frozen mixed vegetables. Eat your carrots, salad, bananas and apples like normal. Use your new salad dressing. If it doesn’t taste good, then decide to try a different one next time. One night of the week fry the broccoli in a little vegetable oil and eat it along with your regular meal. Another night simmer the mixed vegetables in a little water and top them with a small pat of butter or margarine. Eat them along with your regular meal.
At the end of week, see if you feel any better. If you do, then it may be time to read my article Top Ten Ways To Get The Most Nutrition For The Least Cash! If that’s too much work, then just continue to try to eat more fruits and vegetables each day. Simply by adding more servings of fruits and vegetables to our diet, we are improving it. Our bodies need good nutrition to heal and thrive. If we are feeding our bodies crap, then we will feel like crap. The only way to permanently feel better, stronger–to fill ourselves with vim, vigor and vitality–is to eat better. We do not have to go hungry. We do not have to stop eating fat or meat. All we really have to do is add in more fruits and vegetables and learn to prepare the foods we do like to eat, so that they are better for us. A homemade hamburger on a whole grain bun, with all the fixin’s, carrot sticks and a green salad is a nutritious meal. A supersized combo meal from the local fast food joint is a recipe for sickness.
We all have choices. We can choose to buy the fast food combo meal. Or we can choose to save the cash, improve our health, and feel better about ourselves by making the healthy alternative at home. It’s not rocket science, but it is reality. We can deny it for as long as we need to. We can pretend that our diet has no affect on how we feel for as long as it takes. When we’re ready to face the reality that our diet really does affect our sickness, our exhaustion, our financial status, our weight and how we feel about ourselves inside, then it’s time to take action. There’s no need to start before we’re ready. When we are ready, the process will not be as hard as it seems.
10. Practice your preferred religious tradition. Pray. Read your bible. Go to church. As individuals we are made up of 3-parts–body, mind and spirit. Our physical bodies need care. Our emotional wellness and mental health need care and our spirits need care too. When we ignore any one part of our whole selves, we open the door for sickness. If we don’t get enough rest or water or oxygen our bodies don’t work very well. When we are overstressed, depressed and lonely our minds don’t do very well. When we don’t take time to practices the presence of God, our spirits don’t do very well either.
This is not a bunch of mumbo jumbo. Scientists have done a lot of studies on the health and wellness of people who pray and go to church. It turns out there are a lot of long term health benefits. Church goers have longer life expectancies, experience less depression, more joy and satisfaction in life. We have less stress and better coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. Our immune systems work more efficiently, we have lower blood pressure and lower rates of suicide. Prayer really can help us to heal, and recover more quickly from illness. Our relationship with God is a two-way street. We pray to communicate with Him, and then read our bibles to hear what He has to say to us. When we go to church our spirits are uplifted. We avoid isolation and involve ourselves in a community that can provide support and friendships to keep us involved in life.
Most of us who are poor, sick, fat and exhausted are simply experiencing the cumulative effects of bad habits. We get out of the habit of taking care of ourselves and spend more time taking care of others. We put our own needs at the bottom of the list, and place other’s needs ahead of our own. To really fix things we have to switch things around.
If you’re ever flown on an airplane you have heard their safety speeches. Mother’s are instructed, in case of an emergency, to place the oxygen masks on themselves first, before placing them on their children. At first it seems counterintuitive. Shouldn’t we help our children first? Don’t their needs come before our own? The answer is no. We put the oxygen masks on ourselves first so that we are strong enough to help our children. If we help our children first we may not have the time to strength to help ourselves. Our children need us to help ourselves first, so that we have the ability to help them next.
Self-care is like those oxygen masks. We have an obligation to our families to take the very best care of ourselves that we can. We help ourselves first, making ourselves as strong and healthy as we can, so that we have the strength and the energy to help others. If we put others first all the time then our own needs go unmet. We lose strength, wear ourselves out, literally make ourselves sick. We become unable to care for others because we made our own self-care such a low priority. The only way to fix it is to identify our own needs and take action to meet them. The more of our own needs we meet, the stronger we become, the more energy we have, the more health we are able to restore. In order to be of the most service to others we must first care for ourselves. Hopefully this list of ideas will be able to help you get to where you want to be.