Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at a conference for healthcare workers. The audience was a nicely mixed assortment of folks who, in one way or another, are on the frontlines of professional caregiving. The conference was intended to remind them of strategies to enhance or improve their self-care, given that they perform stressful tasks and often with or for difficult people.
The overarching intended message of the day was, in spite of the challenges you face working in today’s healthcare system, you can find ways to take care of yourself and feel healthy, successful and engaged in the human-service work you do. And, while there seemed to be genuine appreciation on the part of conference attendees that this day was about them and for them, there was also evidence that we’re starting from a place of deficit rather than strength.
Sadly, as I looked around the room, there were lots of blank faces – the tell-tale sign of a very flat affect, rather than the look of people engaged in learning and living their lives. There was also a great deal of obesity and in many instances, accompanied by complications of an unhealthy gait brought on by hours spent on their feet performing arduous tasks while carrying too many pounds of body-weight. Aching hips and knees were the norm.
It was a bit painful just to observe. As I offered my 45-minute session of practical neuro-science on how to bring calm to the chaos of everyday work-life, I was struck by the notion that I was teaching the wrong message.
What I wanted to do instead, as I stood at the front of the room, was to invite each of them to meet with me personally for a session of health coaching. I wanted to ask them to put the lived experience of their own lives up against a wellness wheel* (anyone’s wellness wheel) and examine their options for better choices, healthier living and stronger mental/emotional well-being. But that wasn’t my role for the day, unfortunately. I was just another speaker offering them tools they would probably never choose to use.
I could only hope that I might be a helpful voice in the midst of their conference experience who reminded them that they do have choices, and that their own lives, their own health and well-being are worth the investment.
The lunch served by the conference planners was wonderful. If only it could reflect the steady choice of health service-providers on a regular basis. But I suspect it was a rare treat to be offered a ready-made salad or a whole-wheat tortilla wrap filled with turkey and vegetables. I imagine that this was an unusual day for most of the people present for the event.
In the middle of my presentation, I mentioned my age. I was talking about the need for gratitude in our daily lives and exhorting them to imagine building a daily practice of gratitude into their habits. I offered my own gratitude practice, walking the Loving Kindness Meditation, as a healthy septuagenarian. I reminded them that it is impossible to be in a state of anxiety AND a state of gratitude, because the one counter-acts the other; it is like changing the channel in your nervous system.
What caught MY attention was the audience response to learning my age, they were astonished. It was as if they couldn’t imagine a 71-year-old woman actively moving about the front of the room, engaged in a presentation, speaking without notes and clearly advocating self-care as a major life construct. I was disrupting their reality just by my presence in the space. Maybe that’s a good thing!
What’s YOUR expectation of life after work? What’s your vision of yourself in your 60s, 70s or beyond? What are you doing now that’s going to promote the possibility of your having health, energy, vitality and mobility as you age?
If you were invited to over-lay your life experience on a wellness wheel* (anyone’s wellness wheel) would you be pleased with what you might see? Or would there be dozens, maybe scores of opportunities for you to choose to live a more healthy, fulfilling life?
What might your self-care practice include? Might there be choices about nutrition and exercise, about financial management or relationship management that could make your life appreciably better? Might you need to look at your sleep patterns, your alcohol consumption or your opportunities to build a healthy social-life in order to enrich your life for today, and tomorrow?
Whatever you imagine as a vision of health for yourself moving forward, I invite you to consider now, this season, where to begin to make those changes. And remember, I’m always happy to help!
P.S. Do you need a Wellness Wheel to use in exploring your possibilities? Here’s one I appreciate: https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/