Stay Well

Stay Well

Are you taking care of yourself?

The Practice:
Stay well.


[Note: This JOT is adapted from Mother Nurture, a book written for mothers – focusing on typical parenting situations and gender differences that are experienced by many, though not all, mothers and fathers, and by parents in same-sex relationships. Parenting is a complex subject, plus it intertwines with larger issues of gender roles and the long history of mistreatment of women; obviously, society should do a better job of supporting families in general and mothers and fathers in particular, but meanwhile, there are things they can do for themselves; alas, there is no room for these complexities in these brief JOTs; for my discussion of them, please see Mother Nurture.]

Most mothers say that parenting is one of the most fulfilling experiences of their life – as well as the most demanding, stressful, and draining. Studies show that bearing and rearing children is commonly disturbing and depleting to a woman’s body, especially over the long term, past the postpartum period, after a woman falls off the radar of the healthcare system.

No mother wants her experience of raising children to be shadowed by fatigue, nagging aches, pains, or emerging health problems. Not only is it a shame, but it’s also harder to function at a high level at home, at work, or in an intimate relationship when running oneself into the ground. Many mothers have more or less resigned themselves to this condition, but the fact is that with some simple, common-sense practices, most mothers can reclaim a strong sense of health and vitality.

The moms who stay energetic, avoid illness, and keep some reserves in their “health bank” do these essential things:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat right.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Avoid health hazards.
  • Have regular checkups.

Sure, easier said than done. But at least you can do what you can, whatever is realistically possible for you, in this direction.

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Get Enough Sleep
There’s an old saying: The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and the journey to health starts with sleep. Most people need at least seven or eight hours of sleep each day; a person with a hardworking, stressful life-like a mother-often needs even more, and it is vital to make sure you’re getting enough. Insufficient sleep can lead to gastrointestinal troubles, a weakened immune system, and slow repair of strained or sore muscles acquired through routine activities like hauling children out of car seats. It also causes poor concentration and memory, lowers mood, and shortens a person’s emotional fuse.

To get better sleep, do what you can so that you are able to do mentally restful activities during the hour or so before bedtime, like reading casually, watching TV, or taking a bath. Don’t pay bills at night-or talk about them with your partner, and agree to table until the following day any potentially difficult discussions. Keep a pad and pen by your bedside to write down any thoughts or reminders for the next day, so you can get them out of your head. And if you meditate, a self-compassion meditation a few minutes before bed can help open the velvet trapdoor to sleep.

Eat Well
There are basically two ways to shift a diet in a healthier direction: (1) make sweeping changes all at once, or (2) work into it. Whichever path is chosen, it’s important to stay on it until the result is truly mother-nurturing nutrition. Slip-ups happen now and then, so just get back on the path at the next meal. Optimizing nutrition often takes several tries, but each time something improves. Even small changes in the right direction add up as the years go by.

Every day try to eat: eight to twelve ounces of protein; five to seven servings of fresh vegetables, and one to two fruits; unrefined oils and essential fatty acids instead of refined or hydrogenated oils, or trans-fatty acids; two to five servings of unrefined; varied whole grains; organic foods whenever possible; high potency nutritional supplements (to make up for the deficits of micronutrients, especially minerals, in the real world of most people’s actual diets); and zero or little refined sugar.

Exercise Regularly
Any good fitness program balances the development of aerobic capacity and strength. The goal is to work up to keeping the heart beating fast (but not more than 140 times a minute) for at least twenty to thirty minutes, three or four times a week. No matter how out of shape one might be, or super-busy, there’s always a way to get the blood moving. (Of course, adapt these general suggestions to your own body and any vulnerabilities it has.)

You can try going for a walk or run, riding a bike, taking an aerobics class or using the equipment in a gym, going for a swim, exercising in the comfort of your home, or doing yoga to exercise your mind as well as your body, and/or strength training.

Avoid Health Hazards
Health also means not exposing your body to hazards like environmental toxins, smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, or excessive weight: these wear on health at a time when moms can least afford it, like trying to run a marathon while carrying a couple of bricks.

Have Regular Checkups
Depletion starts at the molecular level in your body, and it can go a long way before becoming really obvious. To stay healthy, it’s important to catch little things before they get big: putting off checkups until illness occurs is like searching the stable for clues after the horse has run away.

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Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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