We’ve all been there:
You just got a promotion and you’re working late for the second week in a row.
School just got out, and you just spent the entire day shuttling your kids back and forth between music lessons and baseball practice.
Your ailing parent can’t drive anymore, and you are now responsible for groceries, prescriptions, and transportation to and from the doctor.
You know you should be taking better care of yourself, but time is short. Your mantra is, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”
In the face of your to-do list, you are neglecting some of the basics. Sleeping 8 hours. Sitting down for a home-cooked meal. Getting out of the house for a walk.
Self-care is often the first thing that goes out the window when life gets challenging.
Sometimes we can get away with this self-sacrifice in the short term, but long-term this strategy can leave us tired, crabby, and vulnerable to illness or even disease.
Self-Care Might Save Your Life
Does that sound dramatic? It is.
The effects of self-care can be dramatic, and so can the effects of self-denial. Self-care can be the gateway a healthy fulfilling life, but self-denial left unchecked can kill you. (Think anorexia.)
Most of us live in the gray-area in between. We eat food (but maybe not the most healthy), we sleep (but maybe only six hours per night), we don’t work overtime (but maybe our job leaves us in a constant state of stress).
And we see ourselves as generally healthy because our yearly blood-work comes back normal, in spite of the fact that we suffer from bothersome symptoms like bloating, fatigue, migraines, or anxiety.
You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? So I’m bloated a lot. It’s not going to kill me.”
Of course that’s true. Bloating is not life-threatening, and that’s exactly why it’s the type of symptom that we can get in the habit of ignoring. You think, “That’s just the way my digestion is,” and you may even stop noticing it.
So if it’s so easy to ignore, why should you care about it?
Health is More than the Absence of Disease
The problem is this: symptoms like bloating and fatigue are the body’s distress signals, and if we ignore those signals over time, we can end up with weakened internal organ systems, which in turn leaves us vulnerable to disease.
Take the bloating example:
Initiating Factor: Perhaps you have an undiagnosed wheat sensitivity. Or your diet isn’t so great. Or your diet is perfect, but your gut flora has been out of whack since your last round of antibiotics.
Distress Signal: You experience bloating after your meals. (Or loose stools, diarrhea, fatigue…) It’s your body’s way of signalling a problem: gut inflammation.
Chronic Imbalance: Here and there, gut inflammation may not pose a risk, but when it’s happening on a daily basis, it can weaken the function of your digestive system. The lining of the intestines is a delicate membrane that functions as the digestive gatekeeper. It determines which particles are absorbed by the intestines and allowed to enter the bloodstream. Gut inflammation is problematic because it can compromise the integrity of that delicate membrane, disrupting the body’s ability to absorb nutrients while also allowing particles to enter into the bloodstream that shouldn’t be getting through. (Intestinal permeability.)
Disease Vulnerability: This is the point at which the minor symptom of bloating has cascaded into a more serious problem. Because you are not properly absorbing the nutrients from your food, the other systems in your body may not have what they need to function well at a cellular level. And because there are large particles entering your bloodstream that shouldn’t be there, your body will view them as foreign invaders and launch an ongoing inflammatory attack, which can lead to the development of an autoimmune disorder over time.
I’m not saying that a symptom like bloating is cause for panic. And I’m also not saying that all symptoms and health conditions can be solved or prevented with self-care.
What I am saying is that addressing minor symptoms as they arise and practicing self-care can sometimes be what makes the difference between feeling great and staying healthy in the long run—or not.
May I Suggest Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the ultimate form of self-care, because it falls right at the intersection of deep relaxation, symptom relief, and disease prevention.
Relaxation: Acupuncture is deeply relaxing and provides a wonderful chance to rest and de-stress. It also promotes restful sleep, improves digestion, and soothes anxiety.
Symptom Relief: Acupuncture relieves symptoms and addresses their root cause by reducing inflammation, increasing circulation, regulating hormones, boosting immunity, and more.
Disease Prevention: Regular acupuncture promotes optimal organ function and facilitates nerve and hormone signalling between the brain and body, which means that the body is empowered to maintain a state of harmonious health.
If there is still an initiating lifestyle factor that is still regularly triggering your symptom(s), you’ll want to address that too. If you have a wheat sensitivity, you need to stop eating wheat. If you have a terrible diet, you need to make healthier choices.
In fact, sometimes changing a few lifestyle habits is all it takes. But sometimes we have been neglecting our body’s needs for so long that we need some external help to get our health back on track.
Choose to Thrive
When you are busy and strapped for time, devoting an hour out of your week to acupuncture may seem like a big commitment. Even so, you will find that the immediate and long-term benefits far outweigh any inconvenience to your schedule: you will leave feeling relaxed and refreshed, and during your week you will experience fewer symptoms, more energy, better sleep, and a lighter mood. And if you keep it up over time, acupuncture will support you in staying healthy for a lifetime.
But, ultimately, this is about more than being symptom- and disease-free.
This is about thriving.
You thrive because you have used your habits to build a foundation of physical stamina, mental clarity, and emotional contentment, which all support you in living your best life:
When your body is pain-free and robust, you can do your favorite activities or travel without hesitation.
When your mind is clear and focused, you can be your most effective in the workplace and be present in your relationships.
When you feel joyful and relaxed, you can savor your life and live in the moment.
Life is too short not to feel great and do what you love. Now is the perfect day to commit to taking care of yourself.
Julie Johnson is a licensed acupuncturist, board certified herbalist, and the owner of Seven Seeds Acupuncture. She is an NCCAOM Diplomate of Oriental Medicine and a Fellow of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine. She specializes in women’s health and fertility, and she is passionate about self-care and eco-friendly living. She loves combining these passions to help her clients get healthy and stay healthy for a lifetime.