Before you continue, take a deep breath.
Now take another one.
How do you feel? It’s a question most of us ask in the New Year. How are you doing? What could make your life better?
We’re not alone in this exercise, and fortunately, we don’t have to be without assistance; Durham is chock-full of professionals who can help you rejuvenate, whether that’s a quick tap of the reset button or a big change.
We asked five experts in a range of fields for their best self-care advice for people with small, intermediate and larger, long-term goals. While their answers reflect their particular fields, two common threads emerge: the willingness to set aside time and the benefits of mindfulness.
Overwhelmingly, the No. 1 practice that our experts mention for simple, quick (and free!) self-care is meditation and breathing.
“We are in such a blaming, judging society,” says Dr. Philip Barr, lead physician at Duke Integrative Medicine, which combines traditional primary care with therapies including nutrition, acupuncture, psychotherapy, yoga and massage. “When that extends to blaming and judging ourselves, the resultant negative self-talk can seriously drive adverse self-care habits. When I explain this to patients and encourage them to take time for self-forgiveness, it seems to really help them relax and get to a core state of healing … from which meditation can be more re-balancing, relationships take on new life, making healthy choices improves and physical symptoms even start improving.”
Beyond that, Jenni Grover, director of nutrition at Lifestyle Medical Center, says, “The central principle is to put aside a specific, non-negotiable amount of your life to look after you and your own needs first. [Create] space in your life for activities that are directly focused on you.”
That protected time could be used for exercise or minding your diet, which can provide a measure of stress relief. “By eating … vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains,” Jenni says, “you can help your body to regulate hormones, relax your muscles and maintain your energy levels.”
While it may seem like nothing really, penciling in time for yourself can be the “quick start” you need to begin making a positive change. It can be as simple as setting an alert on your phone so that three times a day, when it dings, you take a minute to breathe, relax, stretch. On a hectic day, use the minute to get some distance from the craziness. If it’s going well, Meg Poe, an integrative health coach and wellness consultant, encourages you to use the time to “truly savor the moment.” She admits that setting a reminder for herself was “awkward” at first, but “the power of pausing, breathing and noticing is invaluable.”
If time isn’t a big stressor for you, perhaps space is. Coats, paperwork, toys everywhere? According to Katrina Holley, founder of home cleaning and organizing company My Helpful Friend, “visual clutter is stressful because it overstimulates, hinders and prevents us from being efficient in our personal and professional life.” She recommends taking stock of your environment and minimizing home distractions to provide “clarity and nurturing at home so that [you] can venture out into the world feeling prepared.”
When helpful tips and tricks aren’t quite enough to make the changes you’d like, it may be time to consider enlisting a professional. Bull City Psychotherapy’s Dr. Sophia Caudle says that an effective therapist can not only help you identify underlying issues and prioritize what needs tending to, but can also help create “a list of strengths [you have],” which is “an empowering exercise to help [clients] feel confident, capable and safe.”
This emphasis on strengths and giving clients hope is echoed by all of the professionals interviewed. The focus seems much more on illuminating a path rather than pointing a finger at what’s wrong.
Kim Turk is a massage therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine. She says, “I hear everyday statements such as, ‘Oh, I thought I would have to live with that pain … forever. I was told nothing more could be done.’ The best thing I can do for my clients is to give them hope that someone deeply cares and will work hard with them, their doctor, personal trainer, psychologist, hospice coordinator [and/or] family, to ease their pain in some way.”
Sophia notes that when things begin to improve, “people begin to feel a little better, natural motivation and momentum can take over, and positive change creates further positive change.”
Make Big Plans
If anyone around Durham knows about big changes, it’s Dr. Jim Dykes. A graduate of Duke’s School of Medicine, he managed the inevitable stresses of being a physician with daily practices that included meditation, tai chi in Sarah P. Duke Gardens, and even afternoon siestas when possible.
About 20 years ago, in his late 40s, Jim bought a share of Potluck Community Farm in Person County and began a shift to another lifelong interest: farming. “Now I live and work on the farm,” he says, “and seldom get in a car. I was also able to buy 108 acres next to Potluck Farm that I call the ‘Hundred Acre Wood.’”
As he describes the transition to retirement, it’s clear that the path from doctor to farmer enabled Jim to do what he’d always been doing: re-energizing himself in nature, taking the time to take care of himself and finding his own pace.
Not all of us need (or want!) to retire to a rural farm. But it’s nice to know that for whatever we would want to make better, there are others ready to help out. And the cliché that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step is true. Even the most radical shift starts with finding a center, a place to begin. Kim Turk sums up the advice of so many of our local professionals: “If we can take the crazy world pace most of us have accepted, bring it down a notch, and take real care of ourselves and the people around us, it will all work out.”
Photography by Briana Brough