It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
It's time to get real about health - and realistic about change
What does it even mean to “be okay?” And why on earth did I title my newsletter with this query??
Let’s start with the here and now.
Nine days into 2023, many of us have hit a fork in the road. It begs the questions:
Should I keep plugging away at my New Year’s resolutions to [exercise more/drink less/meditate/be nicer to people]? Or
Should I default to factory settings and slog through the days the best way I know how?
As much as we’d all love the New Year to usher in oodles of new-found time, for most of us, life only gets more complicated each year.
January 1 is full of big aspirations and the resolve to “be better.” January 9 is back to reality.
It’s a good time to take stock of our health — specifically what’s realistic and sustainable in the days ahead. It’s a great time to acknowledge our everyday thoughts, feelings, and behaviors — and to recognize their relevance to our health and medical outcomes. Now is the time to recognize that no one is completely “okay” — and certainly not all the time.
In my book, each of us — regardless of circumstance — can always be smarter, wiser, and a little more okay tomorrow than we are today.
Which means that now is the perfect moment to ask ourselves:
What does it even mean to be healthy?
Am I okay?
Why is Lucy McBride incessantly asking me this question?
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I’ll start by laying out my own definition of health right here:
To me, health is more than our blood pressure and weight. It’s not defined by our colonoscopy and COVID test. It’s more than our test results at our check-up.
Health is about how we feel, think, and behave as we move through our everyday life. It’s about access to information and appropriate guidance. It’s about accepting fixed, harsh realities and reclaiming agency in areas we can control. It’s about the 364 days of the year we’re not in the doctor’s office.
Health starts with honesty to ourselves and the people around us. It’s about asking for help. It’s about adding structure and support where we need it the most.
Why? Because getting healthier isn’t particularly sexy. It’s often not very fun. It usually isn’t usually quick, and it never involves a “fix.” In reality, taking stock of our stress, moods, behaviors, relationships — good and bad — is arguably the deepest and hardest work we do.
So tell me, what is your definition of health? And how might it match up to mine?
This is why it’s crucial to take stock of our brain space before dieting, to be honest with ourselves about our past before we tell ourselves we’ll quit drinking “forever,” and to manage our expectations when renewing a gym membership if we spend most of our time on the road.
To me, truth and realism have never mattered more.
So, where should we put our time, energy and resources to be healthy? Should we assign brain space to a low-carb diet? Should we spend energy on a new relationship or building muscle at the gym? Should we buy the fancy weight loss app or allocate that money for therapy?
To get there, we must jettison the cleanses and quick fixes and re-define “self-care” as the time and space to ponder our basic needs — and, ultimately, to meet them.
We can start by assessing four non-negotiables for health (aka “STEM”):
S = Sleep. Our brains and bodies can’t function without rest. Most humans need 7-9 hours. Prioritize it.
T = Talk. To loved ones, friends, a therapist if you have one. Externalize your internal world. Tell your story.
E = Eat. We need protein, fiber, healthy fats, and whole grains. Satiety on a regular cadence is critical for our bodies and brains. Experience it.
M = Move. Walk, stretch, dance wildly and embarrass your kids. Whatever you need to connect with your body, just do it.
Remember that getting healthy doesn’t have to be fancy or formal. Your support team doesn’t have to include paid professionals (think: the Reframe app to maintain Dry January, the Calm app for mindfulness, counting sheep for sleep, walking your pup for exercise).
Plus, honesty, self-awareness and reality checks are free.
As we dive into 2023, ask yourself:
How could I better meet each of these four basic needs?
How can I plant the seeds — the STEM for my proverbial garden — to grow a sturdy foundation for health?
The upshot: It’s okay to not be okay. We’ve been through a lot. So let’s give ourselves the space, time and latitude to ponder what matters — and what’s next.
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