There is nothing like spending time in or visiting a hospital to deliver a strong reality jolt about our relationship with our own health.

This past month has not only had me visiting doctors and the hospital for my mother-in-law’s sudden trip to the Emergency Room and subsequent hospitalization for a few days, but also for my own bout with a nasty tonsil/throat infection.

As my husband and I were standing outside my mother-n-law’s hospital room waiting for a nurse to finish up with her, we overheard a conversation in the hallway outside the room next door that still haunts us both.

The doctor was telling the wife and daughter of the 58-year old man in the room next door that all his organs were failing, and there was nothing else they could do for him.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor said gently, shaking his head.

A flood of grief swept over me as I could imagine the powerless and hopeless feelings that came with that news. In an instant—their lives were all changed. They had absolutely no control over what was happening…

Sitting in the ER myself a week later as the doctor ran a barrage of tests to rule out a host of adverse possibilities, I experienced a very small dose of that powerless feeling for myself on of course, a much smaller scale. I felt a complete lack of control. As I sat there with the IV hooked up to my arm, I had the stark realization that in this moment, the one thing that mattered above all else was restoring my health. None of the small things I stressed about daily really mattered at all.

As I further reflected on the images in the hospitals and the people coming and going, I thought of all the people I work with on a daily basis and the things they tell me about their own relationship with their health and well-being:

“I am so stressed out, I keep getting sick.”

“I keep saying I will start an exercise program, but I am working so much it gets put to the back-burner.”

“I am working 60-80 hour weeks and just need some time to take care of myself.”

“I need to lose 30 pounds but when I work so hard I need to reward myself with food that I like to eat”

“When I get through this project, I can focus on my diet and exercise routine again…”

“Everyone depends on me so I can’t let them down but I am drowning in stress…”

For some reason, our own life prioritization choices, our drive for achievement, the expectations of the organizations we work in, and our own personal negligence have all colluded together to place our health in the bottom bin of daily importance.

Stress and anxiety have been accepted as chronic conditions of daily life, and multi-tasking and “doing it all” are heralded as badges of honor in the trade-off. We proudly boast that we function on 4 or 5 hours of sleep, as if that means we are more productive than others who need more.

What has become clear to me is that we are ready for a wake-up call when it comes to the stewardship of our own personal health, energy, and well-being. While we certainly don’t have total control over our health, the container that is our human body is fragile and we can do or be nothing without it. If we neglect it and abuse it, keep our stress hormone levels up in a chronic fight or flight state, fail to get enough sleep, proper nutrition, and exercise, and keep going until we run on empty, then we are putting ourselves in grave danger—by choice.

So how about making a choice today to honor and ensure the well-being of that wondrous vessel that is your human body? Start with an inventory of these questions:

  • How much sleep are you getting? What do you need to shift to allow yourself 7-8 hours a night?
  • Are you prioritizing getting things done at the expense of your own health?
  • What self-imposed stories are you telling yourself about what will happen if you made your self-care a priority over everything else?
  • How much chronic stress are you experiencing? Has the chronic stress state become normal to you? What do you need to do now to change the habitual pattern?
  • How conscious are you of the health choices you are making each minute? Are you eating what you like to comfort yourself, but leaving your body malnourished? What steps are you taking to keep your muscles in shape to support your joints and daily wear and tear? Are you providing your heart muscle with the activity it needs to keep running year after year?
  • Are you keeping your mindset positive and creating joy in your life, rather than fostering worry and anxiety?

While we don’t have control over the unexpected health episodes or illnesses that come our way—we do have power over how we take care of our own personal well-being.   We alone must take charge of the diligent daily self-care we can provide ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. The momentary choices and trade-offs we make about priorities ultimately influence and impact our long-term health. Those choices cannot be reversed when we are powerlessly sitting in a hospital bed.

What changes within your power do you commit to making today?

What boundaries do you need to set to enable those changes?