In my teens and 20s, health was a given. It was a given even when I pulled all-nighters and ate peanut butter on crackers for days in a row. It was a given when I drank fluorescent-colored drinks made of the cheapest ingredients available and then rose at 6 a.m. the next morning for a workout.
From time to time, I'd read a magazine article or hear an expert discussing aging in one's 30s, advising women to put on wrinkle cream or ask the doctor for extra tests. I would balk, scoff, roll my eyes. Those guidelines, I concluded, were a reflection of our society's oversized fear of aging, or of some beauty industry plan to make women feel old (and in need of many a product) at any age over 16.
Aging happened much later, at 40 or 50, I thought. I was wrong.
Now I'm 32. So is my husband. We're feeling it. Our bodies don't handle neglect--of sleep, exercise, downtime, nutritious food--in quite the same way they did before. We both feel a new, physical craving for downtime, quiet and rest. Things feel subtly but detectably different inside our bodies. A little slower. A little more tired. A little more in need of gentleness, pacing, calm.
Just in case my husband and I were to suspect this was all in our heads, a few gray hairs have appeared on each of our heads to prove the point. Fine lines are starting to reveal themselves too.
Suddenly, I'm interested in health. I'm reading the books. I'm taking the time to find doctors I like and trust. I'm actually going to the doctor, before the pneumonia hits. I've grown into a deep and committed partnership with my sunscreen.
As I've turned my own attention to wellness, more and more clients are showing up in my coaching practice with needs and challenges around wellness too. Here are a few of the tools that are working for us.
1. Paint The Picture: It all begins with a vision. What does wellness look like for you? For the moment, set aside pictures and ideas from magazine covers, from the experts, from your family or culture. Start with a blank slate and consider: what is the wellness you desire? What does it look like? How would it manifest in your energy level, mood, appearance, lifestyle or schedule?
Give yourself a quiet, private space and 10 minutes to close your eyes and see what images and ideas arise. What comes up might surprise or confuse you--that's just fine. Write it all down. More will become clear over time. You'll start working toward that vision whether your conscious mind understands it fully or not.
2. Create Your Wellness Team: Everybody needs a wellness team. Your wellness team is the collection of people you draw on for wellness support, care and information. It includes doctors, nutritionists, exercise teachers and others. It may also include less traditional members, such as the friend that you've asked to hold you accountable around your exercise goals, the neighbor that you often chat with about healthy recipes or your favorite comedian, since he or she probably is a key part of your stress management team.
Your wellness team should include those you connect with directly, but also favorite experts that whose work you read, or who you watch on TV. (Yes, Dr Oz. can be a member of your personal wellness team.) This is particularly important if you don't have much choice over which doctors you see.
Map out your current team. How satisfied are you? Do the people on it help you feel more motivated and empowered to care for your health? Is their approach aligned with your values? What additions or replacements do you need to make to your team?
3. Take Fun Seriously (And Stress Lightly): Most of us are living over-scheduled, constantly-connected, very demanding lives. The truth is, we need to prioritize and then schedule play and relaxation.
What's truly stress-relieving for you? What's authentically joyful? How can you build those activities into your life? What are the "fun" activities you currently do that aren't actually rejuvenating or relaxing? How can you start to cut down on those?
What can you do to mitigate the stresses in your life? The classics--meditation, yoga and breathing exercises--are great ways to begin. Simple practices like cultivating gratitude, re-framing negative situations and managing your own inner critic can also have a powerful impact.
At 30, you know yourself. You have an intuitive sense of what works for you and what doesn't, what resonates with you and what doesn't fit. That means wellness can evolve from being irrelevant or worse, an unpleasant obligation, to being a creative and nurturing process that reflects your passions and values.
This is body you've got. The honeymoon is coming to a close. Time to start working on the relationship.