The Simple Lifestyle Changes That Healed My Mind and Body

“If you don’t give your mind and body a break, you’ll break. Stop pushing yourself through pain and exhaustion and take care of your needs.” ~Lori Deschene 

When I collapsed that evening while fishing, I was fortunate not to land head-first into the water.

It was April 2018, a few weeks before my fiftieth birthday, and after work, I decided to walk to the local pond and spend the remaining hours of light fishing.

After a short time, though, I started to feel hot, a little lightheaded, and dizzy, and then the lights went out. I only blacked out for a second, but it was long enough to fall to the ground, and it scared the living you-know-what out of me.

The next several months involved working with doctors who ran a number of tests to see what might have caused the event. With no one issue found that would explain the collapse, my primary doctor started asking about my lifestyle habits.

She asked me to describe a typical week.

I told her I got up early Monday through Friday, got to work by 8 a.m., and got home around 7 p.m. Except on nights when I went to visit my mom at the nursing home; then I got home around 9 p.m. unless she was in the hospital again, and then it was later. I’m her healthcare power of attorney, so when she goes to the hospital, I’m always there, too.

On Saturdays, I’d wake up early, do the weekly chores, and run as many errands as possible by dinner time. Then, I’d eat, watch a few hours of TV, and go to bed.

On Sundays, I’d get up early to finish any chores and errands, then spend the afternoon visiting my mom at the nursing home again, have dinner with her, and I would usually get back around 7 p.m., followed by a few hours of TV while doing some last-minute laundry, and then go to bed.

She asked me how often I took vacations.

My answer surprised me because I had never considered it before, but over the past five (or so) years, I have taken no vacations. All of my vacation and personal time accrued at work was either used up for doctor and hospital visits with my mom or because I was sick myself.

She asked me about my hobbies and what I do for fun.

I said I liked to go fishing for an hour or so when time permitted, but other than that, I really didn’t have anything else in my life. To be honest, this was a pretty humbling and embarrassing admission.

She asked about my eating and exercise habits.

My answer again surprised me: I did literally zero exercise, and I mainly ate based on cravings and convenience, which generally included high amounts of sugar and fat. Not to mention, I drink coffee all day at work and at home.

She was polite in her delivery, but her message was stern as she explained the problem and resolution.

Her assessment of the collapse I experienced had less to do with that one incident and more to do with a lifestyle that was more than my current mental and physical capacities could handle.

Through years of neglect, she continued, my overall mental and physical health had declined. Those faculties needed to be built back up, which would require willpower on my part and time so nature could run its course to heal what was broken.

She started listing all my problems, which included being overweight, having high blood pressure and terrible blood work, and feeling stressed out and tired all the time.

I needed to start a daily regimen that included eating nutritiously and doing daily exercise. That did not surprise me.

What surprised me was when she said I needed to fit more personal time for hobbies and activities into my week and more quiet time and rest into my days because both help our minds and bodies heal in different but essential ways.

I nodded in agreement, and for the first few days, I did precisely that, but then the train flew off the tracks.

Life happened, as it has a tendency to do, and I regressed back to my prior unhealthy ways. Instead of following my doctor’s advice, my routine started to center again around work, my mom, and doing chores.

I felt tired, drained, and unhealthy all the time, but I stubbornly pushed myself through each day, somehow thinking (or maybe just wishing) that tomorrow would be better.

Fast-forward about a year and a half, and COVID hit, and like everyone else, it added stress to my already overstressed life.

My mind and body didn’t respond well.

That’s when I started to have anxiety issues, and the associated panic attacks were so severe they landed me in the hospital several times over the next few months. These attacks became so repetitive that I started to have trouble leaving my home to go to work. Eventually, I even had difficulties going to the grocery store.

I couldn’t believe I was so scared of the attacks that I couldn’t even leave home to get groceries.

This was a low point for me. In fact, the lowest.

During this time, my doctor told me point-blank that I needed to either get a handle on my lifestyle or start taking some medications for all this.

As a related backstory, she knew I didn’t want to take medication. I’ve had depression most of my adult life (which, of course, added to all this) and, at one point, took medication to get it under control. I worked for a few years on managing that and was so happy when I was able to stop taking medication for it that I vowed I’d never take meds again (or at least it was going to be as a last resort).

She stressed to me again how this was probably all fixable with some time and drastic lifestyle changes. I needed to stop doing so much each day, get more downtime, learn to be mindful of what my mind and body needed, and then be sure to provide those things so I could start to recover and get my health back.

So I started to prioritize my health and wellness.

First, I slowed down and started working fewer hours while focusing on maintaining productivity. I mostly accomplished this by not micromanaging people as much as I used to and spending less time on distractions like socializing by the water cooler.

I started to prioritize my health by eating clean foods and exercising daily.

I became a student of mindfulness, listening to what my body and mind needed and providing it daily. I tried my best to become a positive thinker, focusing on my own path, and stopped paying attention to others.

My life became more about me, and I was stingy with my time.

I pursued what made me happy, cutting out what didn’t. I reduced the time I spent using social media, reading, and watching the news and instead used that space for quiet time. I learned to use breathing exercises and simple stretching techniques to nurture a positive mindset.

Instead of rushing around multitasking and trying to see how much I could get done, I focused on what needed to be done, ignored the rest, and only did one thing at a time.

I now took breaks in between tasks.

Most importantly, I started with small, realistic lifestyle changes and made only one or two new changes each day moving forward. This approach helped me maintain consistency while also improving and progressing in the following days, weeks, months, and years.

In October 2020, I was more than seventy pounds overweight, I had high blood pressure and poor blood work, and I had trouble leaving my home to get groceries for fear of anxiety-induced panic attacks.

In February 2022, I had lost seventy-five pounds, my blood work was perfect, my blood pressure and anxiety were gone, and leaving home was no longer a problem.

I healed (and then some).

At that time, I sold everything that didn’t fit into my (really nice) backpack. Now, I am slowly traveling Asia full-time as a digital nomad, starting a new career as a freelance writer.

I share this journey with you for three reasons.

First, as the quote at the beginning of the article suggests, if you don’t take care of your mind and body, the collective ‘you’ will eventually break. We are all wonderfully different, so how that plays out will vary, but minor issues left unchecked now can turn into more significant problems that are more difficult to fix later on.

Second, if that does happen, don’t freak out. Just visit your doctor to get the professional help you need. Chances are, you just need to make lifestyle changes to turn things around. Our mind and body have amazing healing capabilities; we just need to get in tune with what they need and provide that daily.

Third, there was a surprising life lesson in all this for me: When you learn to be mindful of providing your mind and body with what they need, you nurture an amazingly rewarding lifestyle.

That’s because the process involves prioritizing what you need and what is important to you and choosing not to be concerned with everything else because they are distractions. This provides ample room for rest, quiet time, and everything else that replenishes and nourishes essential elements in your life instead of depleting and depriving you of them.

What remains is a life filled with only the things you value and need, which, I must say, is pretty awesome.

So don’t wait until things build up and hit you like a ton of bricks at once.

Be mindful and pay attention to the signs that you are not feeling well along your way, mentally or physically, and then slow down to address those issues before moving on.

About Gregg Zambrovitz

Gregg Zambrovitz practices a wellness-first lifestyle and likes to work on websites. GreggZambrovitz.com.

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