In 2019, internet influencers and wellness gurus were all about ‘self-care.’ Whether it involved practicing meditation, applying essential oils or eating more healthfully, self-care boiled down to taking time to slow down and address your emotional, spiritual and physical needs.
No matter what you think of the concept, it strikes me that paying greater attention to what you need can certainly benefit people with type 2 diabetes. Particularly during the current holiday season, when food temptations and stressful demands can create anxiety, add extra pounds and or cut into exercise routines – all of which can raise blood sugars.
I’m no stranger to these seasonal challenges. Butter cookies I ignore in March call my name from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. Even good stress – buying and wrapping gifts, preparing the house for visitors, rushing to the airport or train to greet older children returning home -- can take a toll on my glucose levels.
So how to cope?
In years past, I scoured the internet for ‘tips’ on fighting the lure of overeating and under-exercising during the holidays. Advice ranged from “wear something really tight” to holiday parties (the idea was to keep you focused on your waistline rather than the buffet), to toting baggies of low-call veggies to distract you from Aunt Janey’s killer gingerbread. Others urged diluting every alcoholic drink with sparkling seltzer or sipping on a glass of H2O between every glass of wine. Double your exercise! Chew gum! Meditate!
None of these tips were bad – and all of them may work.
But when I dusted off this well-meaning and plentiful advice, I saw – maybe for the first time -- how punishing they were. They made me mad. Why should I have to sandwich myself in my tightest dress – or stand fifteen minutes in the powder room line to atone for all that water – just because I have a chronic disease? Did I really need to double my already intensive exercise?
And that’s when I remembered the concept of ‘self-care.’ To put yourself first and attend to your needs.
Maybe, I thought, rather than wearing tight clothes or gnawing on carrot sticks, it might be interesting (and scary) to stop whatever I was doing this December to take a second or two to breathe, to look around, and to deeply consider what might be best for me.
For example, what might be good self-care at a holiday party? Well, maybe it meant carefully picking out foods that I like in reasonable portions. Or maybe I’d eat before the event and treat myself only to dessert. Or maybe it meant nursing a full-strength drink. Or leaving a little early to get some much-needed sleep.
And what about exercise? Maybe I’d take a slow nature walk two or three days a week, not for exercise (although it would mean extra steps) but to while away stress. Or, maybe I’d start a new yoga or weightlifting class now, instead of waiting for the new year
I realized that whatever tweaks I do decide to make during the holidays are less important than giving myself the time to figure out and choose what suits me best in light of my health and happiness and future A1Cs.
Embarking on a ‘self-care’ regimen during the holidays may seem impossible. And, it may be. But if you can find the time to slowly start to identify and get in tune with your needs, you might be giving yourself the best gift you ever received.