Retreats vs Real World?
You may think, “How can she even think about writing this at such a busy time of year? Doesn’t she know my life right now?”, but the notion of self-care under duress has been a key feature of my journey this year.
Never before have I been so challenged, repeatedly, over 14 months starting with being in an earthquake in Taupo, my very first here in New Zealand.
Health challenges, accidents, injuries, domestic violence literally on the doorstep, separations, loss of friendships, war and threats of war, the list goes on and on. It's hard to keep oneself regulated and relatively steady under continual duress – I found the constant tension played havoc with my digestion, eating patterns, body size and mental well-being.
So how can one support oneself during these times?
Firstly and most importantly – self-kindness.
It’s not something we instinctively reach for when faced with multiple demands on our time, our thoughts and our energy. I found these statements so helpful, “But of course, this is triggering. But of course, this is upsetting.” They didn't change what was going on around me but they helped settle me a little.
In the midst of one particular crisis, my GP “prescribed” some retail therapy to get a new dress. I’d been living at the hospital for over 1 week in the same set of clothes due to covid being in the house and a quick decamp to a local motel. The hastily purchased, lurid orange nightshirt was doing nothing for my sleep or well being and wearing the same clothes day in, day out with a wash overnight was draining. The GP was right – a new dress from an upmarket shop – was what was needed to strengthen me and make me feel a more together member of society, even although it still felt as if my whole world was crashing down around me.
And this got me thinking. We are sold the idea that holidays, rest, retreats, juice retreats, holistic time out in sacred spaces with sacred practices are all that’s needed to reset a dysregulated nervous system. I’ve learned that yes these are awesome but when you can’t leave – for whatever reason – how do you take care of yourself, how do you support yourself in being the best representation of you that you can be in that moment?
Protein is your ally. I missed this in all of 2023, till September when my own naturopath asked about my diet. A Doh moment! Grabbing snacks, treats, on the go food which is high in wheat, sugar and a little fat but often very low in protein, was a contributing factor to weight gain and anxiety. Low nutrients equals low sustenance beyond an immediate "fix".
Eating where places have limited foods or after regular hours makes it hard to access nutritious foods that might sustain you well. The challenge is then to be kind to yourself and ask how can I best support myself beyond grabbing the “fast-food” or carb laden snack? What do I know to do? Healthy, sustainable, accessible nutrition is what I tell my clients but under duress I’ve learned, this isn’t always easy. Breathing, chanting, praying, exercise is not going to resolve a body running low on key nutrients, or make it feel safe. You need supportive foods first and foremost.
So, the quickest way – especially if like me your digestion goes into fear mode and hates eating under duress – are protein shakes. Low carb protein shakes with a goodly dose of EVO olive oil or flaxseed oil for sustenance. At the start of the day. It matters then not whether you can access morning snack as it will see you through to lunch. No other additives like bananas, berries, milks or anything else “yummy” – you will just overload your body with sugar and then comes the sugar crash later in the day.
Protein at lunch and dinner is really hard in my book if under stress and access to healthy veges and salads can be even more challenging if time is an issue to prepare and/or consume. I found that every day became easier the more I cared for myself intentionally.
What else did I learn for myself in 2023 and Self-Kindness care.
Not only is protein your ally but there are others who walk alongside you in times of distress and anxiety. Those who lend you their strength just by being there, who listen without judgement or advice, who ask of nothing of you in those times when you are lost, bewildered, adrift. Allies – the seeds sown in friendship, often over years, come to fruition in times we least expect and in ways we need but didn’t know, with gifts and talents they have to offer.
Allies – such a strange word. The Cambridge English Dictionary describes allies as “someone who helps and supports other people who are part of a group that is treated badly or unfairly, although they are not themselves a member of this group”. Allies are not always friends – they are those in our community who see a need and set up to support, redirect, engage and validate the experiences of those who are hurting.
Allies are valuable. Allies make you go from feeling you are doing this solo, to finding your feet in an altered reality and a new way of being. Allies make the journey a little less frightening. Allies offer you strength and wisdom at your pace. They see the bigger picture and they hold you in that picture.
Allies are more than friends. Allies understand their purpose in your life in times of need or distress. We are herd beings, people who thrive on social interactions and engagements. Friends come through these interactions, but allies are those who go beyond the feel-good times and offer of themselves, their time and their knowledge when called upon.
Self-kindness is about letting allies help you. It makes a huge difference.
An overloaded nervous system finds it hard to reset without space to do so. Injuries, trauma, setbacks, family demands, extended family concerns, work, community all take time, effort and energy, and much like the athlete going full pelt at all times, injuries do and will occur if time is not taken to rest and reset. Overtraining weakens the body making it prone to illness and infections as well as injuries. Repeated demands on a nervous system struggling to reset has similar effects.
The key is finding a way that honours the need for time out with balancing the ongoing needs and demands of life. Sometimes the self-help meditations, exercise practices, and visualisations are great. Sometimes the need for complete withdrawal for several days is required.
In “olden times”, convalescence was practised where the injured, whilst not needing full medical care, needed time to fully adjust and reset away from the realities of daily life. It might have been mental reset as well as physical resetting occurring over weeks, often in a place of great beauty and open space. Convalescence isn’t easy, it doesn’t just happen, it is a process of allowing, by downing tools for a period of time, and letting life just be as it is. Of being present in the moment, often with incredible pain and uncertainty. It is often hard to sit with this uncertainty, to sit with the uncomfortable and downright scary emotions that swirl around us and within us. With time and with great tender care of self, by self and by others, we can come out of the uncertainty and pain with a more cohesive nervous system. Our allies in this time are family members who see us struggling and who care, co-workers who acknowledge the need to retreat and are willing to carry some of the extra burden, friends who pick up the childcare slack, personal trainers and natural health facilitators who adjust our exercise and health expectations to those we can realistically and safely achieve.
A retreat does not have to be yoga, in Bali, with healthy foods and programmes all the time.
A retreat can be a time spent in a beautiful hotel, solo, with a big bed all to yourself. No demands on eating times or schedules, no programmes, no talks or being talked with, of being solo, alone, able to feel all emotions and knowing that you are held. The space is a hotel – it doesn’t ask you to go deep, it doesn’t ask you to cure yourself, expose your deepest flaws or expect you to leave a ‘better person” than when you arrived.
It offers you a place of rest. Deep rest. Food if you want it, when you want it. It asks nothing more of you.
It offers you rest. And when your nervous system is so “on” it cannot find the off switch, this offer of rest is the greatest gift you can give yourself – for one night, two nights or even three.
It is all about honouring your nervous system and what is needed for your self-kindness care.
For some it may be hotels, or Airbnb, lodges, camping, tramping, sailing, trekking – the aim is to find what will support you at that point in your journey.
How do I know? Because this is exactly what I did in October this year. Three nights at an inner city hotel – with rooftop pool and small gym – but with no compulsion to avail myself of the facilities unless I was ready and able to. Close enough to be home if I needed but without the hassle of airports, travel, people and upheaval. Local, easy, straightforward.
I went prepared – protein powder for shakes and protein bars, healthy foods to store in the mini bar, my own teas and teapot and cup, my own blankets and mats, my own books to inspire and uplift across a multitude of topics from the library if the inclination to read took hold.
It took me 2 nights to unwind, to find space within myself to let be. I opened up to new experiences in the city I have called home for 17 years, seen as if a tourist. I walked. I observed. I ate. I drank tea. I swam. I stretched. I read. I slept.
I returned. To me, to my body, to my mind, to my being. And then I returned to my husband, my family, my work, my friends, my community, my life.
The stillness within me I re-found. I held her gently and lovingly and acknowledged the trials and tribulation of these past months and thanked myself for holding it together. Together, we walked out of the hotel and back into the chaotic world that is 2023/2024.
So, my call to you is this – what are the allies you have around you to support you now? I wonder if you can open up to seeing who they are and allowing them access. Protein and nutrition, people and allies, rest and recuperation. I wonder where your retreat might be? I wonder if you can think differently on supporting yourself in times of upheaval and uncertainty?
For Part Two of what my actual time out looked like, stay tuned because some beautiful natural flower essence remedies have stepped forward to offer support to me and those who feel called to use them as we move into 2024.
If you want to know more or book a session with me if this resonates with you, please get in touch - email@example.com.