Working together in a small office means the topic of health comes up fairly often. If one of us gets a cold, it's almost guaranteed that the rest of us will be sneezing in a matter of days, but we're also each invested in wellness. When we were younger, being "healthy" was too frequently tied to how much we weighed, but now it means so much more—taking time to practice health care and mindfulness, working out for the joy of endorphins and getting outside, and actually taking the time to recover fully from a cold. Here's what "health" means to each of us, and the steps we each take to feel our best:
I'm remarkably fortunate in that I'm in good health, so I approach it based on how I'm feeling overall. I pay attention to things like my energy level, anxiety, my relationships (with both myself and others), how I'm sleeping, if I'm feeling fulfilled, and my general contentment with life. For me, my health isn't something that I see as stagnant or status quo - I constantly work on things, whether that's in therapy or by adding more vegetables to my diet. I find comfort in that even when I'm feeling lousy, there's almost always a small tweak that can make me feel better.
I feel my best when I'm living a balanced life. There's some structure to it, but not to the point when it feels rigid and and confining. I'm sleeping at least 8 hours a night, indulging in my favorite foods while also incorporating some healthy stuff in there as well. But most importantly, I'm happiest surrounded by my family and friends, working on things that challenge and excite me, and having the perspective to realize how lucky I am.
Pretty much everyone in my life would agree that I'm terrible at being sick, so my tips should probably not be followed. I need things in a manageable place in order to relax, which unfortunately means tidying up around the house (lying down in a messy room is a nightmare), making sure all of my work still gets done, all while attempting to be with Sloan without getting her sick. After a nearly 3-week-long chest cold over the holidays though, G has requested that I try it "his way" next time, to see if I'm able to kick it faster. So that means staying in bed, even if I'm technically well enough to do more, eating my go-to sick foods (cinnamon raisin toast with butter, Greenblatt's matzo ball soup, and red Gatorade cut with water), and lots of sleep.
Healthy to me means “not sick” so I directly equate the word with immunity. If I start to feel that I’m coming down with something, I chug copious amounts of water, sit in a hot bath, and make sleep the utmost priority. I also eat the foods I’ve heard are the best at strengthening immunity (salmon, blueberries, kale) at my first sign of sickness. I avoided Emergen-C for a while until one too many friends mentioned it and I began to feel like I was missing something critical to my generation’s well being. So now I also pop Emergen-C. I think it works.
If I do come down with a cold, I drink smoothies and embrace all of the citrus (“Starve a cold, feed a fever.”). If I have body aches and a fever, I buy the same lineup my dad used to buy us when we were sick as kids: Sprite, Orangina, Ricola Honey-Herb cough drops, and Saltines; and then I’ll make chamomile tea with lemon, honey, and ginger; and eat toast with butter alongside chicken or matzo ball soup I also get Ben & Jerry’s pints when I’m ill—it’s a nostalgic thing.
If I’m having stomach issues, whether nausea or cramps, I follow the classic B.R.A.T. diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) that my 6th grade school nurse taught me and immediately stop all coffee and alcohol. It never doesn’t work. It’s gentle, easy food that just kind of re-sets an irritated tummy.
In terms of my sick style, I know some people who believe in “sweating it out” and go for runs or sit in saunas when they’re sick. The concept is incomprehensible to me. I need to just turn my brain off with bad, pleasure-inducing T.V, horizontal, in my bed.
For me, far and away from any other factor, the best measurement of health is a concrete number: how fast and far I'm able to run. I run significantly stronger when I've gotten a good amount of sleep (8 hours), have eaten relatively well (which for me means "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much." and homemade whenever possible), and am happy. Eating a balanced, home-cooked meal most nights and going to bed at a reasonable time is essential, but I've also recently started taking extra steps to combat my natural tendency to be stressed. I've learned to "make plans to not make plans" and that staying in bed to read a book can be just as beneficial as getting up to go for a run. Even on my rest days from running though, I don't feel completely myself unless I'm doing something active, whether that's taking a walk through my neighborhood or meeting a friend for yoga. Most importantly, I believe that it's important not to overthink or obsess over "wellness." You don't need to be drinking organic-colloidal-silver-alkaline-water-peptide-activated-cashew green juice and going to $35 spin classes to glow like Gwyneth Paltrow (but power to you if that's your thing!).
Of course, I say all this as someone fortunate enough not to have had any serious health issues, which is also something I try not to take for granted. My grandmother survived breast cancer twice, but she had to have a double mastectomy. Whenever I think for a moment that I'm unhappy with my body (which is rare now, but was top of mind when I was in middle school), I remind myself of what my mom said to me when I started to get self-conscious of my new curves and chest during puberty, "Just be thankful that everything works." If I ever think anything negative about my body, I remind myself that it's functioning pretty perfectly, all things considered, and that that's amazing in itself. I have so much to be grateful for, health-wise.