Susan Steen (2)


“There is no illness of the body apart from the mind.” ― Socrates

Waking up in the wee hours, she moved quietly in the dark, so as not to awaken anyone else —one dog, one husband. The routine was not unusual, and she found her way in both the closet and bathroom, until she was brushing her hair. Something wasn’t right.

Turning on the overhead light, she looked in the mirror but couldn’t quite make out the top of her head. Racing into the bedroom, she demanded that her husband look — was it her imagination? His reaction said it all. There was a large spot of hair missing from her scalp. It would take months to understand what Socrates figured out so many hundreds of years before — an illness in the body rarely occurs on its own.

April has, for several years, been my month of self-care. I make changes in several areas of my life in order to draw into focus what really matters. I believe that physical and mental health are connected, and as Socrates also said, the unexamined life is not worth living.

I began really examining my life when I was having that crisis, and I believe it is a good choice to continue the practice. When my hair fell out, I had just come through several events that had been stressful, and to be honest, I had pressed through without thinking that I needed to do anything special for my own health.

That next April was my first time to set aside a month to help myself. I’ve looked forward to April ever since.

Stress can do a lot of things to the human body, even kill us. Stress is a normal, and often positive, part of life, but sometimes, we have chronic stress, and we need to find ways to help ourselves before our bodies react. In the United States, the top stressors used to be (2014) job pressure, money, health, relationships, poor nutrition and media overload.

Today, they are future of the nation, money, work, political climate and violence/crime. These are things we can’t do much to change on an individual level, so we have to find tools to help us simply take better care of ourselves.

The things you might see in yourself as a result of chronic stress:

Fatigue, headache, upset stomach, muscle tension, change in appetite, teeth grinding, change in sex drive, feeling dizzy, irritability or anger, feeling nervous, lack of energy and feeling as though you could cry.

Any of those sound like things you’ve been feeling? Most of us have experienced at least some of those, and while it’s easy to throw a pill at the problem (and sometimes necessary, truly), we might first consider that changes in our lifestyle could make a difference.

I can’t change the state of my nation, make someone value the things I do when it comes to voting or get people to be nice on social media, but I can limit the amount of news I watch and read, limit my time on social media. That’s what I do in April. I make time to read books, the real ones that require no screen, only a lamp, and I have taken steps to stay away from heated discussions. (I’ll include the political climate change in this category, too)

I can’t immediately change how little or much money we have, but in April I will spend time going through things I have that are taking up space — some things can be donated, some shared with a friend, and some items might be sold for money to put toward bills or a rainy day fund.

I also find this is a good month to look at what I’m spending where and see how I might make changes that would help my pocketbook and not negatively impact my life. I will also file taxes (actually, my husband will).

Though I work for myself, I need clients to provide job opportunities. This is a good time to look at my skills and see what I might be able to do to improve myself. Maybe I will sign up for a class or just watch a video that will explain something I’ve been wanting to learn. It’s also a good time to revisit my resume´, be sure that I am in a position to apply for a job if I want to do that.

I am fortunate that I don’t live in a place where I live in fear of violence and crime on a daily basis, but I think about it a lot because of what I see on the news. The change I make in April is to not stick my head in the sand and instead to investigate ways I could help others — by being aware of what I see, educating myself, and finding opportunities to help those who are at risk of violence.

You and I should be doing all of these self-care items all year long, but life gets busy. Driving thru is easier than prepping and cooking meals, the news and social media are addictive, and our climb up the ladder often results in ulcers and depression. We have to learn to be intentional and care for ourselves the way we do for so many others. The lesson — we need to connect the dots between how we are feeling and how we are living and eating.

That’s exactly what Socrates would tell us.

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