Guest Post: By Laren Watson, CHHC
I was at the top of my game. I was physically fit, eating lots of veggies, no dairy, very low sugar, occasional clean meats, detoxing seasonally—really walking my talk as a health coach, helping others to keep major illness at bay. But on the inside I was stressed, overworked, juggling too many commitments, and setting impossible standards for myself to be a Super Mom, a Successful Entrepreneur, a gourmet Healthy Chef, and, and, and…
Then one day I felt a lump on my neck and all the balls I had been juggling crashed to the ground. I could no longer juggle anything but one ball and that one ball was surviving cancer.
Have you ever thought of your health as a three-legged stool encompassing Body, Mind, and Spirit?
Your Health as a Three-Legged Stool
In nutrition school I learned about Primary Foods—the concept that the other areas of your life beyond the foods that you eat including the health of your relationships, how satisfied you are with your career, your level of creativity, expressions of joy, and even your finances—actually are of primary importance to your physical health. In my coaching program for cancer survivors, I have distilled this concept down to a three legged stool analogy of the body, mind and spirit. If any leg of the stool is weak, it affects the strength of the whole stool, and may hinder your ability to keep major illness at bay.
I learned this lesson the hard way when I was doing everything “right” in the body leg of the stool but was weak on the mind and spirit sides. What I learned in my cancer journey is how much the mind and spirit affect the body. It may seem like the mind and spirit legs are separate and wouldn’t affect the body much, but let me tell you, even if you are physically in great shape like I was, if the mind and spirit are chronically taxed, eventually the body leg of the stool will crack and fall. And often the impact is significant like a heart attack, or in my case, cancer.
That first cancer was unbelievably followed by another and I ended up spending the next three years treating and recovering from two aggressive, deadly cancers. I’m not saying that stress caused my cancers; I believe cancer is caused by many factors at play in the body all at once that create an environment where it can grow. But stress is definitely one of those factors.
And although I felt betrayed by my super healthy lifestyle, I also credit my otherwise great health for my ability to survive (plus excellent care from my amazing doctors). After I was diagnosed, I looked hard at those other legs of the stool and decided to make some significant changes. I added practices that support my mind and spirit and I continue to closely watch my stress level. There are so many things I learned surviving cancer, but here are three tips that will help your three-legged stool stand strong:
3 Tips for Keeping Your Three-legged Stool Strong
1. The Mind Leg: Create quiet time
In today’s society, it is go, go, go. We run from one appointment to the next, cramming as much as we can into our days trying to be as productive as possible. If we don’t allow time to quiet the mind, this can lead to chronic stress. Stress raises your adrenalin and cortisol—two hormones that take care of us in dangerous situations but are meant only in small doses. So even though stress starts in the mind, if it is left unchecked, those hormones will negatively impact the body leg of your stool by compromising the immune system. This can lead to chronic infections like bronchitis, flu and pneumonia. And since the immune system is also in charge of seeking out and destroying abnormal cancer cells, I’m pretty sure my stress helped create an environment in my body where cancer could grow.
Because stress is part of our modern world, it is important to figure out how to manage it. One way I recommend is to take periods of quiet time throughout the day. I like to start my day with meditation and quiet time while I drink my morning tea. If you start your day running, consider getting up 15 minutes earlier and adding quiet time and see how you feel.
Morning is great, but it’s likely you need periods of quiet time throughout your day as well. Taking even 5 minutes periodically where you turn off your phone, close your eyes and take deep relaxing breaths, focusing only on your breath going in and out, can make a huge difference. Your nervous system will relax and those stress hormones will go back to normal.
I also recommend having quiet time before you go to sleep at night. Establishing a night-time ritual where you shut off all screens (phone, computer, TV) and have a nice bath or read a book, drink a relaxing herbal tea, has been shown to aid in getting a better night’s sleep. And bonus, sleep itself is also a stress reducer!
2. The Body Leg: Reduce Sugar
And eat more vegetables…you probably already know that. Yes, you should eat lots and lots of vegetables because not only do they have fabulous vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and micronutrients, they are what your good gut bacteria like to eat too. And with 80% of your immune system residing in your gut, you want to keep those gut bacteria happy.
But what I want to focus on here is how overdoing it in the sugar department can have serious effects on the body leg of your stool. There are a ton of reasons to avoid sugar (email HappyWellLifestyle for your FREE e-Book Kick Your Sugar Habit Before Sugar Kicks You!) so for the sake of space, let’s focus on how extremely inflammatory sugar is.
Inflammation is a natural part of the body’s healing response and is fine when in response to an injury. But when your body is in a chronic inflammatory state, it can lead to arthritis, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. So when you are eating donuts for breakfast, and soda with lunch and then ice cream after dinner, you are giving your body continuous doses of one of the top foods that cause inflammation in the body. This will, in time, create a chronic inflammatory state, which is a precursor to virtually all of the big, bad diseases.
So the best thing to do is greatly reduce sugar. ASAP. It’s important to read labels because sugar is in almost everything. Add up the grams of sugar in the foods you eat and try to keep it under 24 grams per day, which is equal to 6 teaspoons. Your body will thank you!
3. The Spirit Leg: Connect with people
A recent study from Harvard showed that human connection is the number one indicator for living a long life. We are so isolated in our modern world that loneliness is increasingly prevalent. Yet, people’s spirits are lifted when they have a sense of community.
If you are feeling isolated or alone, seek people who have similar interests to yours. Volunteer at a non-profit that you care about, join a church or spiritual center, join a weekend club doing something you enjoy. Whatever you choose, make sure it is somewhere you can connect with others. Turns out that those connections help delay both mental and physical decline.
Pay attention to all the legs of your three legged stool— your body, mind and spirit—and you will give yourself the best odds to live a long and happy life. And if you’re a cancer survivor, please visit the Permanent Remission Project for more tips to live a cancer-free life and keep major illness at bay.
Please leave a comment to share your favorite mind-body-spirit tips, so we can all learn from each other!
Laren Watson is a board certified holistic health coach, author of WTF?! I Have Cancer?, and Founder of The Permanent Remission Project, an online space where cancer survivors can find community, get support and coaching to create the most inhospitable environment for cancer possible in body, mind and spirit. You can follow her on all the social platforms @larenwatson or @permanentremissionproject. Her weekly blog and website is www.larenwatson.com