By Dr. Allyson Brooks
10:46 AM PDT, October 3, 2012
If you want to live longer, healthier and happier, you need to exercise, eat better, sleep well and focus your life around your family, hobbies and interests.
How do I know all this?
Because I don't do these things, either.
As a gynecologist at Hoag Hospital, I dispense advice all day to women who need to hear that their lives are getting in the way of their health.
"You work too hard, take on too many responsibilities and don't carve out nearly enough time for your own well being," I tell my patients.
Then I look in the mirror and smile, knowing that I could use a heaping dose of those same admonitions myself.
Doctors want our patients to make the kind of life choices that will keep them out of our hospitals. But we are just as guilty as anyone else of ignoring what we know is best in favor of what will get us through the day.
When faced with the day-to-day responsibilities of our busy, busy lives, all of us — and I do mean all of us — have a hard time figuring out how to do what's best.
Still, it's never too late to right the ship. And with a little mindfulness and dedication, some of these tips could help:
Commit to yourself. You wouldn't skip an appointment with an important client to take on yet another responsibility. Make an appointment with yourself and treat it just as seriously as you would a business meeting. Whether you use the time to read, exercise or take a nap, carving out time for yourself allows you to be actively managing your life — rather than just reacting to what life throws at you. So, no, you can't volunteer at your kid's volleyball game tonight; you have an appointment. With yourself.
Have a sense of purpose. There is a reason you get up everyday. Maybe your goal is to find the cure for cancer, or maybe the thing that motivates you is your family. Having a connection, a drive or a purpose gives us the spiritual wellness we need to thrive.
Sleep. I see a lot of women who say they are tired because they are too overworked to get enough sleep. Instead, they over-caffeinate or stress out to the point that they can't fall asleep when they do manage to get to bed.
This lack of restorative sleep leads to headaches, body aches and fatigue — all of which impede their ability to exercise. It also affects their moods, eating habits and relationships and usually lands them in the doctors' offices, where they receive myriad tests to rule out things like thyroid disorders.
Beware of pills. You need sleep, but you need the right kind of sleep. Ambien will knock you out, but it won't give you the cycles of sleep you need, and it doesn't address the underlying issues that affect your sleep in the first place. It's like you've fixed the part of the roof that is leaking but the whole roof is still under stress.
Instead I recommend engaging in what is called "sleep hygiene," a daily routine, known to all around you, that signifies you're headed to bed. Maybe you take a shower, change your clothes, turn on white noise, meditate. Whatever it is, your nighttime ritual is yours, and it's prioritized.
Ask for help. Sometimes I'll tell my husband, "I feel like there are a lot of balls in the air, and I know they're not all crystal, but can you help me figure out which ones are so I don't let those drop?"
If that doesn't work, I simply delegate. We need to be accountable to ourselves, as well as to others. Sometimes that means shedding or sharing responsibilities.
Hopefully, these tips can help improve your health and quality of life.
With any luck, I'll follow a few of these myself.
DR. ALLYSON BROOKS practices at Hoag Hospital and lives in Newport Beach.