Thursday, January 11, 2018

How To Take Care Of Yourself: Basic Edition

Would you believe me if I said I had an epiphany while drinking kombucha? I wouldn't if I were you! I was on the train happily slurping away at my Trader Joe's kombucha* contemplating my next moves. Kombucha is one of those health drinks that I kind of dared myself to try, from an intellectual curiosity point of view. It is a strange flavor combination of fizzy vinegar and mild fruit juice (VERY low sugar taste), and if you're a real militant fan, spicy cayenne pepper or ginger. It is NOT for everyone, I must stress this, but if your stomach can take it, and you are conscientious about rinsing your mouth out afterwards to protect your teeth, there are a chock-full of benefits to drinking kombucha. For one, it is a fermented cultured drink, made with beneficial bacteria that is a literal gut-check, if you get my meaning.

Don't be scared of the sour fizzy drink. Do brush your teeth afterwards, or rinse with water.

I'm a big fan of an ounce of prevention being worth more than a pound of cure. The facts are that "good"/beneficial bacteria in the stomach balances the production of bad or harmful bacteria which contributes to so many issues. We need balance, and not just in our stomach.Your stomach is the seat of your body's immune system, and not only serves to break down your food into the vital nutrients you need to survive, but affects your energy levels, how your hormones function, and whether those favorite pair of jeans will fit tonight better than this morning.

People either don't remember or ignore the importance of the stomach. At least once in your childhood, you learned not to mess around with what goes in your mouth, as it eventually will end up in your belly. They bad-talk their midsection, throw all sorts of unbalanced junk down there, and have no regard for its happiness and humming functionality until the sharp pains or the bloating starts. Then they throw more questionable stuff with uneven effectiveness, and fall victim to so many of those dreaded "side effects" we hear droned ad nauseam ad infinitum in those daunting prescription advertisements. Some will argue that for serious and chronic illnesses, you must take the good of these pharmaceuticals with the bad. Ok. I don't live your life, so if you have been advised thus (and, hopefully, are satisfied with the second and third opinions you sought), be at peace and take care.

I used to have what my mother calls "a nervous stomach". It was almost chronic, and added to my tendency to fold in on myself when feeling stress, internalizing a lot of confusion, anger and overall exasperation at my lot in life. from my tweens to maybe two years ago, this condition contributed to bouts of insomnia, what felt like chronic throat and lung infections, and feeling like I was losing my mind and control over my body. I remembered the time that I got a UTI when I had no health insurance, and went through the regular process to get antibiotics to cure it. Aside from reeling at the medical bills, I was angry that I did not know cheaper, supportive ways to prevent or at least alleviate the damage of certain commonplace illnesses that plague the commonfolk regularly. Why did we have to be beholden to a limited socially acceptable approach, when there was a wealth of information that can safely and more consistently reduce the instances of what ails us, across the board?

I don't call myself an expert and am not a doctor, licensed dietitian or counselor. I write from my perspective, and you, dear reader can use a sprinkle of salt and adjust the recipe as you see fit for your own life. I read, I write, I listen and I continue to learn.

Adulting is hard; I mean everyone from age 18 to 55 (and beyond that, bless your long life!) find it legitimately daunting in one way or another. Since I am squarely in the middle of this demographic, I feel acutely keen to address this long-haul period of our lives. Things tend to pile up on us from the time we are a legal adult (in America and many other parts of the world), and the compassion quotient unfortunately does not keep pace. We beat ourselves up and it seems like society beats us down further still. There are taxes and bills to pay, statuses to maintain, jobs to do, children to raise, peaces to be kept. Many times, these things are at polar opposites of our individual realities, leaving precious little space for us to BE.

I started doing a lot of #kitchentherapy posts on Instagram last year. This is not a lie. It's about more than the eating of the pie.
I will outline here a few measures I've taken (or others I know swear by) to ease some of my stress and manage the fears of daily living.  This list is something I came up with as a way to remind myself, as well as remember my younger self and the advice I wish I heard years ago when I first moved out and started living on my own and working my first "real" job as a young adult. This list is not for everyone. If you feel that you have a handle on life and don't need my suggestions, great for you. Send it to someone else that you care about that may need to see/hear another way than what you can provide them with.

1- Drink more water. Duh. I'm gonna sneak in eat more veggies and fruits and fiber for good measure. Back to the water. You've heard this before. Less diet soda, more water in between your glasses of wine. Sparkling with fruit, Hint, whatever. Try filtered, if you are bottle-averse. Save yourself, save the environment, push out those sugary, calorie-ridden drinks.  Your cells in every organ in your body needs to be hydrated, especially if you live in a wintery region like New York City right now. It will help your hair, your skin, your sleep, your digestion, your breath!

2- Learn how to breathe again and practice regular deep breathing exercises. If you are frustrated with hearing this, there are free apps online that will guide you through it. I'm not saying you have to launch yourself into a whole meditation ritual (although it will probably help). Baby steps is the name of my basic game. If you are a human being, you need to breathe.

3- Try not to panic: try to prioritize your worries. Give them some structure instead of allowing them to blob all over your brain unchecked. Who am I to tell you don't panic? I still panic sometimes. But I put this one third for a reason. Whatever the reason is that you THINK you are panicking, practice taking a step back from your current state, drink some water, take some deep breaths, and then steel yourself to face the issues at hand. Which issue can you handle now? Which one can be put on a shelf until something else happens? We are all adults here, so we gotta deal one way or another.

4- ASK. FOR. HELP. How can taking care of yourself not include this action? My best friend put her two cents in on this one. We both have a tendency to struggle alone, quietly, while all our friends and family around us are none the wiser. It is a bad habit. Many women do this, and many more men fail to publicly admit that they do this, but then turn around and commit more suicides** (or murder-suicides, ahem). No man is an island. As an adult, we must realize this and acknowledge that we need help, even if our instinct is to say "no" when asked. Find something specific that the person offering can help you with. Remember, your friends and family don't really know what's going on inside your head unless you tell them. Plainly. With all the will and directness that you can muster without burdening said relationship with unrealistic expectations clouding the issue. They may be working from a skewed perspective that you're super-resilient when you're struggling, which may speak to how you yourself project to the outside world. Own it. On the other hand, friends that know you well enough may also be intuitive enough to reach out when others may not. We often assume that our friends can't help us, but we may be looking to them for financial help when what they can offer are reliable resources instead. Never diminish the value of opening up to someone and them telling you, "Calm down for a minute; let's talk about ways to tackle it."

5- Know you uppers and downers. I'm not just talking about drugs. Caffeine is a drug that "ups" you for a while. Alcohol is a downer. Both are fairly legal to acquire in America, both are additives in various foods and drinks also legal over the counter, but in large doses can really mess with you in a bad way. If you are an introvert, being around too many people for too long can also be a "downer", in that it drains your energy and makes you want to pull in on yourself. But if you are keen to listening to your body and the signals it sends you, knowing when to reach out to others and engage and participate and when to retreat and find solace in solitude and quieting your mind is very valuable to your self-care routine.

6- Get acquainted with your local library and other free public services that you already paid for with your taxes. Even if you are in between jobs for the past 12 months, you have likely paid taxes towards the maintenance of public services at some point in the past and will do so again when you become gainfully employed. Have faith in that. Also, have pride in this; public access to social medical and financial services is a right that too often is mistaken as a privilege unworthy of its many patrons. I know that people abuse the system, however the scale of how many systems currently abuse major swaths of our population tips the scales for me in terms of decency and dignity. There is no shame in seeking help (see item #4 above), and sometimes, if more people were able to know about and access services set aside to help them, there would be a greater acknowledgment of statistical realities that have yet to be resolved politically, economically, etc. in this country. Sidenote: if you have some hangups about going in public spaces, the internet can still help you access these services, but maybe not as directly or effectively if certain people get their way. New York City has three public library systems: NYPL which serves Manhattan and The Bronx, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Public Library, all with their own cards and websites. If you signed up for the New York City ID card, you can link it to your NYPL card to borrow materials, plus get discounts for so many other events and institutions.

#lookupmore: you never know what you could be missing!
7- Pay attention. If you live in a big metropolitan area like New York City, this suggestion should resonate with you on many levels. For one, #lookupmore, which is a hashtag I started using last year when I did a whole lot of wandering around the boroughs, doing pick-up delivery work, being a creative, and getting much needed fresh air. We have amazing architecture, publicly commissioned art and as city dwellers, not enough people acknowledge nor appreciate this. Looking up more is also a mantra to allow yourself to think more positively (more "up") in general.

Sometimes paying attention is as simple as stopping to listen for a bit. Some #musictherapy by~@SterlingStringsNYC
We have the Metro, amNY, The Epoch Times, and many others (I'll add Timeout New York, since they hand it out free on Wednesdays and many places just give them away). They may have a slant, but they do offer a lot of daily information in more or less real-time. If you are already out and about (don't coop yourself up all day, go outside and get some fresh air!), you might as well scoop up a copy or two and scan them for interesting free or cheap activities going on in your neighborhood. You may find something that helps you directly, or you can be inspired by something you learn, or some way that you can get involved to help others. Be aware of your surroundings, because being aloof and being caught up in your own head are two sides to an unproductive coin, and we are no longer spending that currency. Thank me later.

Yesterday's amNY listings of free or inexpensive activities for the week.

8- Get Busy. Okay, you can only spend so much time wallowing and worrying. At some point, you must will yourself to get back in the game. That can take a year, or a month. No judgment here. There was this commercial I used to hear on the radio years ago for PowerBar, where the guy is basically saying "I'll just eat a PowerBar and go lift the fridge down the steps (or something equally ridiculous yet mighty)." Maybe you completely revamp yourself into a new career, or acknowledging a different aspect of your long-suppressed persona. Maybe you buy a ticket and go abroad or across the country for a new job you've been on the fence about. Maybe you freeze your eggs for possible future babies you're still not ready to have yet. Or donate the man-jelly to a hopeful parent, 'cause you are so awesome.

Maybe you get crafty and open an Etsy store or apprentice with a Master. Maybe you start training for that quarter-marathon, which becomes a half-marathon. Maybe you finally take those tests your doctor suggested "to rule it out." Maybe you just go buy the damn kombucha to see if it really does help your strep throat and other infections for cheaper. By the way, this applies whether you are single or married, childfree or a parent, employed or not. Adjust accordingly.

*- I was not paid nor sponsored for anything that I say here. These are my views, and one of them is that Trader Joe's has a lot of great products for decent prices, and are of good quality. Although I LOVE GT's brand Kombucha, it is sold almost everywhere else for upwards of $4-$5 a pop, whereas Trader Joes sells several flavors for $2.99. And they also stock their brand with other flavors (and a tad bit sweeter) for $2.69. Carry on.
**- I am not one to gloss over the heavy ramifications of not taking care of oneself. Suicide is serious, no matter what gender you identify with or present as; it disproportionately affects several communities in our society, and is quite an intersectional phenomenon. Please reach out for professional help if you are having suicidal thoughts. There is only so much that your friends and family can do. at some point, YOU MUST WANT TO HELP YOURSELF.

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