Making the Best of Your Life: The 20s and 30s
In a time with nothing but bad news, pessimism, and doom and gloom around the subject of health, I have decided to lighten things up. Imagine how your life could and should be if you were taking care of yourself and had all the health and life energy you wanted. Of course, there are extenuating circumstances, environmental issues, and factors outside your control that may be preventing this, but what would your health look like at its best? How would this feel? This is not a pointless exercise. Nothing in your life is likely to change until you decide what future you want. I have seen my patients take control of their current health situations and become closer to the ideal picture of what they envisioned their health and their life to be. You can do this at any age and at any time. Envision your life the way you want it to be right now.
Your 20s and 30s
(I may do more posts for different age groups, but if you are older than 40, read this description of the 20s and 30s to get a better idea of how you arrived at your current health.) Ages 20 through 39 is the time of your life when you should be experiencing all things new. You may be in college or graduate school or pursuing a new job challenge. You may be newly married or beginning your family. At this time of your life, your health should be vibrant and your energy abundant as you move and grow and change. In this period, you should be eating a balanced diet of excellent quality fruits and vegetables and lean, organic, non-processed meat, keeping processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar to a bare minimum. You should be exercising 3–4 times a week to keep your energy up and your body in shape and sleeping at least 7-8 hours per night.
Children and Families
This is when many women choose to start families and may go through pregnancy for the first time. Pregnancy should be a unique and amazing part of a woman’s life. A new person is coming into the world! A family is created to bring joy and new little people for the family and the world. Pregnancy should be a time of hope and expectations and a time when a woman cares for herself and her future little one. She should be balancing her work and her family life in a way that brings joy to herself and others. OK, I realize this might sound like a fairy tale! I imagine this is how a balanced healthy life should be. It isn’t how it is or was for most of us, but think how much better it would be if this were the reality. If you haven’t had a family yet, think how wonderful it would be for you to plan YOUR ideal situation and create it! I wish I had. I would have made some changes! During pregnancy, you and your body have exceptional needs. Specific supplementation for moms, recommended by an alternative or functional medicine professional, will enable you to keep your energy up and spot any deficiencies before they become a problem. Pregnancy can be very hard on a body, especially one with a lot of previous stress. Help from a qualified health practitioner can make the difference between a joyful and healthy pregnancy and one that takes a negative toll on the body, possibly even causing future health concerns. After your baby arrives, you and your family are overjoyed. Now is the time for you to pass along the same healthy habits you practice to your new child and family. Eat processed foods, fast foods, and sugar products infrequently, if at all. Use whole foods and natural sugars for baking and in drinks. As you live through your 20s and 30s, you can start to see the fantastic things you can create as a woman, at home, and in your career.
Careers and Success
If you do not have a family, the 20s and 30s are often a time when you are focused on creating a career and a name for yourself in your area of expertise. Ideally, you are sleeping and eating and balancing work and life in a way that gives you joy and fulfillment. If you are in a stressful work environment, take time to balance yourself. Notice the stress you’re under and do something practical to address it. You’ll be more productive and happier in the long term. In this balanced scenario, you’d work hours that allow you to exercise. You’d eat healthily. If you’re in college or graduate school, you’d take care of your body and eat and sleep the proper amount so that you can keep your immune system healthy and robust. College, graduate school, and new jobs can be very stressful times of life, so good sleep habits, healthy food, and specific supplementation to support extreme levels of stress are particularly important.
Planning a Well-Lived Life
Taking time to plan out what a balanced life looks like and how you can achieve it can be a life-changing decision. Looking back on my life, I realize I went into many situations with no planning, knowing I would “handle it” — and in many cases, I was “handled” by the situation instead! Maybe this is the way of youth, but when taking your next big step in life, understanding and seeing—really seeing—what you want your life to be like can be invaluable. I wrecked my health in graduate school, and it took me years to recover. I will always have a weakness in my adrenal glands as a result. What a difference it would have made for me if I had understood that while school was undoubtedly going to put me through the wringer, I would come through the stress with my health intact if I ate whole foods, stopped the junk food and sugar, exercised and slept. Instead, I ate whatever I wanted, with no thought of what it could do to my body. I ate pans of brownies and bags of Doritos and drank extreme amounts of coffee and soft drinks. I had completely unrealistic standards for myself for my grades and my life. I did not exercise, and I constantly stressed about my grades and classes and projects. I was sick after final exams every quarter and lost a relationship that meant a lot to me during this time. These times can and will shape you, and the results of your choices will be with you, perhaps for your entire life. These are the foundational years of your life and your health. Treat yourself well. Know there will be stress. Eat healthily, exercise even if you are stressed—especially if you are stressed. Find ways to handle stress, even if that means taking a quarter off or fewer hours at work if your health is suffering. Finishing college or graduate school quickly or getting that promotion isn’t worth it if you lose your health in the process.
The Danger of Perfection
Being a perfectionist is the way to early burnout. Being a perfectionist is the recipe for unhappiness and more stress. Take it from a perfectionist! You cannot ever be perfect, and if hearing that makes you cringe, you need to take some time right now to realize that trying to control your own life or someone else’s within your concept of perfection will not make you happy. It is a sure route to unhappiness. What I have learned after many years of being a perfectionist is that living that way hurts. It hurts everyone around you, but mostly you. You may never lose that urge to be perfect, but you can learn to love the imperfections. You can let go and let the world and your actions be imperfect sometimes. Yes, you should have high standards, but you have to let yourself fall short of them sometimes without self-recrimination—or for some of us, self-flagellation! As we see the world through our lens, we often see others the way we see ourselves. Expecting a loved one to respond to life the way we do and treating them the way we treat ourselves when we make a mistake is not healthy and puts the same heavy burden on them that we put on ourselves. Relationships with friends or others often can’t withstand this type of pressure. You can choose a different way! Choose the path that creates more sanity and more joy. You can find it because it is in you. Make your plan and include a lot of love and patience for yourself!
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