Self-Care: Living Gluten-Free with Gusto
I started writing this post at a time of immense frustration. Even though I’m much healthier now, I still battle with a body that doesn’t always work the way I want or need it to. In this community, I’m sure I’m not alone in this frustration. In an effort to turn this frustration into an opportunity to be positive, I thought it would be helpful to remind myself about the basics of self-care.*
I first learned about the concept of self-care during my training to become a social worker. Due to the emotional intensity of the work, it was recommended that social workers create a self-care plan to prevent burnout on the job. Self-care is not a concept unique to social work—chronic stress of any kind has the potential to negatively impact a person’s quality of life and can, therefore, be helped by self-care activities.
So why am I writing about self-care on a blog about living gluten-free? In my experience, living gluten-free can be chronically stressful for a variety of reasons. At first, the stress comes from learning how to live gluten-free along with having to make difficult (and sometimes emotional) changes to major aspects of daily living. Over time, anxiety, perhaps about making a wrong food choice or getting accidentally glutened, starts to become the main stressor. Additionally, managing the effects of being glutened (hopefully, only occasionally), which can be quite severe for some folks, can take both a physical and emotional toll.
The Importance of Self-Care
Self-care is the umbrella term for a variety of activities intended to lessen or eliminate the effects of chronic stress. The efficacy of a self-care plan will hinge on its ability to actually provide stress relief. As with just about every aspect of living gluten-free, activities that work for one person may not work for another because every person’s experience with stress and stress relief is different. Unfortunately, this means I can’t tell you how to get rid of your stress. I can, however, provide examples about how I practice self-care in hopes of inspiring you to check in with yourself about what activities may work for you.
For people with sensitive dispositions (like those with food intolerances), chronic stress wreaks physical and emotional havoc. I have become much more attuned to my own stress “tells” since I started living gluten-free. The amount of conscious effort I put into planning and preparing safe meals and minimizing risks of gluten contamination in my environment has also helped me pay closer attention to how my body and mind react to things like nutrition, regular exercise, and adequate sleep. Once I saw first-hand how drastically my health improved when I started living gluten-free (no prescriptions or other remedies necessary), I have become more mindful of seeking out and utilizing natural ways to improve my physical and emotional health.
Over time, I have learned what self-care activities work best for me. It is important to note that my confidence in making educated decisions about how to keep myself healthy has waxed and waned in the 8+ years that I have lived gluten-free—as I have encountered new challenges (usually accompanied by new life stages), I have altered my self-care activities to fit within new boundaries of practicality in everyday life. For instance, I had great systems worked out when I was single and finishing college. Then, I got married (to a wonderful, non-gluten-free man who has committed himself to learning as much as he can about living gluten-free) and started working full-time.
Then, I had a baby…
and then a toddler…
and then a preschooler.
As my everyday life has gotten more hectic, the need for self-care activities has only increased. If you are new to gluten-free living, it may be helpful to prioritize self-care activities, at least at first, to help you manage the extra stress associated with making such a major life change. Likewise, if you have been living gluten-free for awhile, it may be helpful to add in additional self-care activities if you are approaching a change in your lifestyle, such as starting a new job or expecting a baby.
*Yes, it helped.