When I was in my teens and twenties I loved theater. I auditioned for and acted in whatever theater productions that were available to me. (I wasn’t good–but what I lacked in skill I made up for with enthusiasm!) One of the base understandings that all actors must grasp is that you never wait for a feeling to determine your actions. If you act first, the feelings will follow. One of my teachers used to say “never feel your way into an action—act your way into a feeling.” Over time I learned that she was 100% correct. I have also learned that this is a fantastic paradigm for a first step towards feeling better in therapy: Instead of allowing our feelings to dictate our actions, there are ways we can skillfully act to help ourselves feel better. It is quite possible to act our way into feeling better.
There are 4 domains that significantly impact our quality of life. I call them the “4 Pillars of Wellbeing.” They are: “Eat, sleep, move, breathe.” This is the first thing I explore with all of my clients.
Eat: The food we eat and beverages we drink have a significant impact on how we feel. There is powerful reality to my mom’s old maxim: “We are what we eat.” The more we adhere to a balanced diet of whole foods–fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and lean meats–in a balanced intake throughout the day, the better we feel. Unfortunately the foods that are the cheapest and most readily available are rife with processed carbohydrates, refined sugars and caffeine. An outsized intake of these kinds of foods are akin to using muddy water to fuel a car. At some point we will feel the effects–and it does not feel good! Also, many of us are woefully underhydrated. Beginning the day with a 20 oz. glass of water (and a sprinkle of Hymalayan sea salt to help with absorption) can help counter the dehydration from a night of sleep.
Sleep: We are learning that sleep is the most important of the 4 pillars. Sleep expert Matthew Walker, Ph.D, has found that “the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. The leading causes of disease and death in developed nations—diseases that are crippling health-care systems, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and cancer—all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep.” Lack of sleep also contributes to increased anxiety, depression and the inability for the nervous system to self-regulate. 7-9 hours of sleep per night is necessary for mental, emotional and physical health. One of the most important things we can do is create a “sleep routine.” With my clients I refer to this as “landing the plane.” A sleep routine begins about an hour before sleep and may include a warm bath or shower, stretching, breathwork/meditation and a relaxing activity such as reading (also, no screens, caffeine or sugar at least an hour before bedtime).
Move: The more we move, the better we feel. This does not mean that we have to be training for a triathlon. For example, a short walk (outside, preferably) of 30 minutes does the trick for the day. Other activities such as yoga, gardening, swimming, etc…can provide a significant boost to our mental, emotional and physical well-being.
Breathe: Most of us live in chronic, low-level stress response. One of the markers of stress response is clipped and shallow breathing. By simply stopping three times a day to take 10 long, deep slow breaths can help provide our bodies much needed oxygen, help us focus and help our nervous systems shift from stress to relaxation response.
I know, this feels like ALOT! The best approach to change is to make small changes that will compound over time. So: What is 1 thing in 1 domain that you can act on today? And stick with it tomorrow. And the days following?
If you would like help in not only feeling better, but also experiencing healing of your past, engaging meaningfully in the present and crafting a meaningful future, please contact me or any of our therapists at 615-377-1153.