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Written by Natasha Zervaas N.P.

If you are the sort of person who always puts themselves last on their list of priorities, there may come a time when your body will literally force you to look after yourself – and you don’t want to get to that point before you do something! 

Many years ago I was working full time in an extremely stressful and demanding job, studying part time for a triple degree, caring for my two small children and disabled partner whilst running a very large household.

I naively believed I could juggle everything myself, do it all perfectly, and never asked for help.  Some days I would start with the best of intentions to make time to shop and cook healthy meals for the family, or do some form of exercise after work, but because I put everyone else’s needs first, I never seemed to follow through with my intentions - time always seemed to be my enemy, and my own needs would end up at the bottom of my ‘to do’ list.  The reality was I would wind up ordering an unhealthy takeaway dinner, then collapse on the couch and fall asleep in front of the tv instead.

The problem with ignoring our own needs for months or even years is, we may start with a little ache or niggly pain here or there and just dismiss it, or ‘soldier on’ by swallowing a few painkiller pills with as little water as possible.

That is until we end up being diagnosed with some sort of degenerative disease or have a major health crisis of some sort.

Because I didn’t prioritise my own wellbeing, my personal health crisis left me literally bedridden and feeling as if I was dying.

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The best way to describe how I felt at the time with an undiagnosed Thyroid condition and complete Adrenal exhaustion was as if my life force was slowly draining away.  I could barely walk from Plantar fasciitis and my legs felt soo heavy - as if they were filled with concrete.  I could sleep for twelve hours straight, yet wake up exhausted.  Other nights I would awaken with a racing and pounding heart, thinking I was having a heart attack (I later learned they were panic attacks).

Because I didn’t listen to my body, I was essentially forced to drastically change my whole lifestyle.  Other conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, type two diabetes and obesity are all the result of not listening to your body.  This is because every single one of these health conditions are what’s called ‘lifestyle diseases’ - and totally preventable.  The warning signs are often present months or even years in some cases before full blown disease makes itself known.  If I could give you any advice, it would be to listen to your body when you get those little niggly aches and pains – they are trying to tell you something is out of balance in your life – and start taking care of yourself!

Self-care really just means taking some time out for ‘me time’ on a daily basis. No matter how busy your day is - you need to schedule this into your diary as a non-negotiable, priority one timeslot, because if it’s in the diary – it gets done!  This is where some discipline is required when first creating a new health habit, but carving out this time for yourself I can virtually guarantee, will benefit your overall health and wellbeing - for the rest of your life!

Self-care looks different to different people, but activities such as journaling, listening to relaxing music, walking in nature, or reading a book are all examples of ‘me time’ activities that fill up your emotional cup. 

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a client say something along the lines of “I don’t have time to meditate – I’m too busy” I would be one very rich woman!  However, the proven health benefits of meditation cannot be ignored - in fact, a 2019 study found just ten minutes of meditation can be equivalent to an hour or more of sleep!  Hence I often recommend starting this wonderful daily practice by just sitting down somewhere you won’t be disturbed and listening to a ten to fifteen-minute guided meditation.

Always remember - self-care is an expression of self-love.  You cannot pour from an empty cup, so if you don’t listen to your body and take care of yourself – who will?

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