As we grow older, our bodies constantly remind us that they need attention: an ache here, a tightness there, something in the blood work, difficulty with a flight of stairs. It’s easy to pay attention to our physical bodies, since with every pang our bodies make their demands known. But what about the non-physical aspects of our lives?
Although not as demanding as a nagging pain, our health includes four other aspects that need attention: our emotional health, our psychological well being, our relationship to our surroundings (our home and community), and our spiritual vitality.
How do we listen to these other parts of who we are? Each “talks” to us in a different way:
- Our feelings tell us about our emotional health.
- Our thoughts and attitudes reveal our psychological well being.
- Our ways of keeping our living space and how we relate to other people indicate the health of our relationship to our community.
- Our contentment and peace of mind reflect our spiritual vitality.
We constantly hear about exercise, diet, and medical check-ups for our physical health – but how can we take care of these other kinds of health? And if we find areas that need attention, what kind of attention are we talking about? Just as you exercise and feed your body, it is time to learn how to exercise and feed your mind, your emotions, your connections to your community, and your spirituality. It is much easier than it sounds.
For instance, you know exercise is good for your body, so you could go for a walk. However, walking with a friend in a park adds so much more: a sense of community with another person plus the beauty of nature. If you both talk about your thoughts and feelings, you each add to your emotional health, as well. Try going to a yoga class at a community center, volunteering to oversee children playing at a playground, touring a cultural museum with others your neighborhood – each of these are nourishing to your whole being.
Putting it all together
The key is to be aware of every part of you and have a plan to take care of all of you. Make 2019 the year of total self care by reviewing this checklist every day:
Physical: am I eating well, exercising, taking my medication, getting enough sleep, doing fun activities, taking time to be sexual? Keeping both a daily schedule and a calendar for activities outside the home will help you stay aware.
Psychological: am I pausing to think about my attitude towards life, noticing what makes me happy or sad or fearful? Am I writing in a journal, sharing my thoughts and feelings with others, saying “no” to stressful activities or situations, saying “yes” to new and engaging experiences like a museum visit? Every day ask yourself, as Mayor Koch once did, “How am I doing?”
Emotional: am I finding and doing things I love, telling myself “I love you,” expressing how I feel to friends, sharing my concerns with local politicians, re-reading a favorite book, re-watching a favorite movie? Before you go to sleep each night, ask yourself “Is there anything bothering me?”
Communal: am I in touch with others in person or social media, am I a member of any interest groups? Am I keeping my living space clean and comfortable? Have I invited a friend to visit, or learned a new skill that can add value to the world? Check your calendar daily for the last time you got out of the house and participated with others – and the next time you plan to.
Spiritual: am I reflecting on my contribution to the world, experiencing nature, participating in a community, meditating or praying? Am I helping others, being hopeful and optimistic, contributing my energy and time to something I believe in? As you settle yourself at the end of each day, ask “What am I grateful for?”
Some people find keeping a journal or calendar helpful to meet these goals, others like the encouragement and support of groups like those at Senior Planet or similar locations. A check-in with yourself can turn any bad day into a good one in an instant: try it when you awaken, at mealtimes, and at bedtime, plus whenever you are feeling out of sorts. Whatever avenue you choose, by enlarging your concept of your health beyond the physical, and taking actions to care for all these aspects of your life, you can have a better 2019 than you ever imagined.
Note: Join us at the Senior Planet Exploration Center in Chelsea on 1/22 at 1pm for a small group talk with guest contributor Tom Magnus about self care to make 2019 your best year yet!