What is a Healthy Lifestyle?
Of course this will have different meanings to all of us and you may well be doing all you can already to keep yourself well and healthy.
For me it means physical, mental and spiritual well being, and its achievement is easier said than done at times.
It is difficult to separate out physical, mental and spiritual health as they are so inter-linked, but I will have a go.
Obviously the fitter we are physically the better it is for healing from surgery, coping with chemo or radiotherapy and generally getting well again. An added bonus is that we have more energy to enjoy life!
The main components of physical health are diet, exercise, adequate sleep, relaxation, having fun and pleasure and reducing levels of stress. I include sexual health in this.
For me this means that we can love and accept ourselves as human beings with all our positive attributes, peculiar traits and flaws. Also that we are able to acknowledge, accept, and safely express all our feelings and needs. It certainly requires self esteem and the ability to be assertive, to accept responsibility for what is within our power and to let go of trying to control whatever is not within our power. Of course the amount of stress that we have in our lives, our physical health, loss and grief, dealing with changes all have an impact on our mental health.
Mental Health First Aid Kit
Learn how to accept and love yourself
Work out ways to de-stress your life.
Learn and practice relaxation and meditation.
Take care of your physical and spiritual well being
Talk to someone, friend, family or counsellor/ psychotherapist.
Learn ways of expressing your less ďacceptableĒ emotions e.g. anger, hatred, jealousy, sadness, fear.
Have plenty of fun and pleasure.
Put your needs first sometimes.
Learn to be assertive.
Get enough rest and space for self reflection.
I donít really know what to say about this as its so personal and unique to each individual. Having some sense of connection to something, be it a god, nature, or the universe does seem to help people manage lifeís challenges. Maybe we just need to give ourselves more time to contemplate what this actually means to us and how we can nourish ourselves spiritually.
Attending to our Needs
Basically however we see our overall health it involves being able to notice, accept and attend to all our needs. at least our illness gives us an opportunity to do this in ways we might not have done before. Many philosophers and psychologists have written about our needs and Iím including a few of my favourites here.
A Hierarchy of Needs
Abraham Maslow,(see www.maslow.com) one of the founders of humanistic psychology researched human motivation and came up with a hierarchy of needs in the 1960s, drawn in the shape of a pyramid in which the layers are defined as starting from:
Body (Physiological) Needs such as air, warmth, food , sleep, stimulation and activity. The Body needs are biological. These needs can be very strong because if deprived over time, the person will die.
Security (Safety) Needs such as living in a safe area away from threats. This level is more likely to be found in children as they have a greater need to feel safe.
Social (Love and Belongingness) Needs such as the love of family and friends.
Ego (Self esteem) Needs such as healthy pride The Ego needs focus on our need for self-respect, and respect from others.
Self Actualisation (Fulfillment) Needs such as purpose, personal growth and realisation of potentials. The point where people become fully functional, acting purely on their own volition and having a healthy personality. Self-Actualisation is described by Maslow as an ongoing process involved in a cause outside their own skin. People on this level work at something very precious, call it a vocation or calling in the old priestly sense. These people are very fine, healthy, strong, sagacious (very smart) and creative. Maslow included saintly people on this level.
Ideas from Transactional Analysis.
Find out more about TA at UK Association for Transactional Analysis or www.itaa-net.org
Eric Berne, the founder of TA wrote about 3 basic needs that we all have:
Structure - We all need some idea of how our time will be structured. We like to make plans, have some routines so we know where we are. When we enter a new situation like a new job for instance we want to know when lunch is, where the loos are, what time we finish, how much we get paid, who all these other people are and where we stand in relation to them. As our stress increases so we usually want more structure.
My normal structure has been totally disrupted since getting cancer as I canít work, eat out, or go swimming and I have very little energy to do much at all just after chemotherapy. I have had to come to terms with this but it hasnít been easy.
I feel angry and sad about having to give up so many things while I have treatment, although I believe it is the right thing to do. So itís important to acknowledge what this means for you and how you come to terms with it. For 10 weeks after my hysterectomy I couldnít go horse riding (one of my great passions, which I only started 12 months before my diagnosis) and I remember crying as I drove home after my last lesson before going into hospital.
However, I refused to let that structure go because as soon as I could I went to visit the stables and feed the horses every week and was very much encouraged and supported by the staff and fellow riders. This has been a lifeline for me and I was delighted when my consultant told me I could ride again 4 weeks ago.
Stimulation - The worst punishment is solitary confinement and people can become psychotic when deprived of any sensory stimulation. We need to have our senses and intellect stimulated in different ways. Again the ways we used to get this need met may have been changed by our illness, so it could help to consider how we get our need for stimulation met now.
Recognition - We are social creatures and we need contact and recognition from others. In T.A. a unit of recognition is called a Stroke. According to Berne if we are deprived of positive strokes our ďspine will shrivel upĒ. Certainly if we were lucky enough as children to get enough positive strokes both unconditionally (just for who we are) and conditionally (for what we do) we are likely to have internalised a basically positive sense of ourselves, able to accept ourselves fully (the good, bad and ugly!. We are also likely to accept our feelings and needs, to be assertive and empathic towards others. Take time to consider how you used to get recognition before your diagnosis and how you get it now.
Different needs when weíre ill.
Another idea from T.A, which was written about by Pam Levin, is about recycling the needs we had when were growing up at particular times in our adult lives. She believes that when we are ill, vulnerable or traumatised in some way we are likely to benefit from being able to acknowledge the needs we have now that are similar to those we had as new born babies for physical holding, comfort, stroking, having people look after us, feed us, etc.
I can certainly identify with this as I have really not wanted to take on my normal role of organising people and I have felt a bit like a new born baby at times during this process. Especially when Iíve just had chemotherapy I just want other people to take over and look after me. I have also visualised a new born baby when Iíve been focussing on healing my cancer and I realise that I havenít always been good at paying attention to my own needs in the past and I find it helpful to imagine caring for this little me inside now.