Taking stock of our lives: Physical health and wellbeing

Consider your physical health and wellbeing; health, stress, sleep, exercise and food patterns….

physical-wellbeingMaybe it’s time to take stock of our physical health and well being, exploring what steps we need to take to enable us to feel more energised, content and happy.

When we think of physical health and well being, many of us focus on our external appearance and forget to tune into our inner health and happiness. Before you read on I would like you to take a few minutes to sit quietly and really listen to (and focus on) your body by tuning into your breathing, your heartbeat and what your body is feeling. Pay special attention to the following things:

• Do you have any aches or pains you have been ignoring?
• Do you feel relaxed or stressed?
• Do you feel well rested or tired?

As women we can be so focused on what we don’t like about our bodies that we forget to appreciate what our bodies do for us. Our bodies allow us to walk, run, swim, ski, cycle, horse ride, make love, dance and many things besides. If we focus solely on our ‘faults’ we can forget to appreciate all that is good about our bodies. Importantly, from this critical stance, it is very hard to truly nurture and care for ourselves.

Reflect on the following questions and make a note of your answers:

  • How often do you look in the mirror and say something positive to yourself?
  • How many times during the day do you say something negative to yourself about your body or your appearance?
  • How much time each day do you spend nurturing yourself; stopping for a refreshing drink or a healthy snack, going for a walk in the sunshine or even just enjoy a relaxing bath?

Health checks

As women we tend to be very good at ensuring those in our care have regular dental, orthodontist or hygienist checks and, if they need to visit a doctor or a specialist, we will make it happen. We tend not to be so good at ensuring that we have regular dental and health checks for ourselves. Take time now to answer these questions (and to look up the answers if you need to):

  • Do you regularly see your dentist and is there any extra dental work that you have always wanted to have done but have never got round to?
  • Are you up to date with all of your well woman screening tests?
  • Is there anything worrying you about your health that you have not yet made an appointment for to get checked out?

Taking time to focus on your health in the same way you would for those in your care can (literally) be a lifesaver. If you are not currently good at prioritising your needs, remind yourself that if we do not care for ourselves we are at risk of rendering ourselves incapable of caring for others.


We all have stressful times in our lives; times when we feel we are under too much mental or emotional pressure and feel overwhelmed, anxious and out of control of our lives.

When we are stressed our body releases the hormone and neurotransmitter Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). A burst of adrenaline can actually be useful (increasing activity, motivation and focus) however, living in a state of constant stress and the consistently raised adrenaline levels that accompany it, can have serious effects on our health.

If you are currently feeling stressed take time to think about these questions and note down your answers:

  • What is it you currently worry about most?
  • Do you feel you have a good work/life balance?
  • Do you often tell yourself that everything will be fine when something happens (e.g. when you have got through this busy month, got the salary raise you need, are feeling less tired, etc?)
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Once we understand what causes us stress and are honest about what we are ‘waiting’ for in order to feel less stressed, we are in a great position to take action. Very often we mistakenly believe we just need to do more in order to cope with things better when the reality is we actually need to do less to be able to enjoy life more.

  • If your stress comes from feeling you never have enough time, what can you either stop doing or delegate to someone else?
  • If your stress comes from finding something too difficult, what support do you need to either be able to do it or let go of it?
  • If your stress comes from feeling financially vulnerable what would need to happen for you to feel secure
  • Do you currently have things in your life that cost you money that you would happily let go of in exchange for having a less stressful life?
  • If this was your last month on the planet how would you choose to spend it?
  • How much time do you actually spend doing the things you’ve just thought of?

When we are feeling stressed (and therefore most in need of it!) we women very often forget to nurture and take care of ourselves. We stop doing simple things such as taking time out for lunch, calling a good friend or booking in a hair appointment. Simple, small acts of kindness towards ourselves go out of the window adding to our feeling that our life is out of control. If we stop and review our routine and start doing small things for ourselves every day we immediately feel more in control and happier.

Sleep & Exercise

All of us function better when we are well rested; waking up and feeling refreshed allows us all to not only manage all that we wish to during the day but also to enjoy everything we are doing. In addition, sleep is essential for healthy cell growth and for cell and tissue repair.

If you feel exhausted a lot of the time it is really good to stop and think about your routine and what needs to change in order for you to feel rested:

  • How do you feel when you wake up most mornings?
  • Do you manage to go to bed at the time you plan to most evenings?
  • If you are currently not getting enough sleep what difference would it make to you to wake up every day feeling rested and refreshed?
  • What (if anything) do you need to do to improve your sleeping habits?

In addition to getting enough sleep, it is important to take stock of our fitness levels. When we are not at our fittest we can feel we have such a huge mountain to climb, so we lose sight of the fact that small changes to our routine can increase our fitness levels significantly and get us to the first plateau.

A crucial factor in whether we stick to a new exercise regime or not is whether we actually enjoy the activity we have chosen to do (or, for some of us, whether it is bearable or not!). Planning to attend the gym three days a week is perfect if you are a natural (even if lapsed) gym bunny. However, if pounding on a treadmill is your personal idea of hell it is never going to be sustainable.

To help you think about the best exercise choice for you think about the following things:

  • When you were a child what activities (individual, team or just for fun) did you gravitate towards?
  • What facilities are there in the area where you now live?
  • Is it important for you to be part of something (e.g. attend a fitness class, join a club with a friend) or are you happier doing things alone (e.g. power walking, cycling)?
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Picking the right type of exercise and prioritising it enough to adjust our routine to allow for it, allows us to incorporate exercise into our life in a sustainable way enabling us to feel more focused, toned and energised.

Eating habits

In my experience there are (sadly) very few women who have an entirely healthy relationship with food. We call certain foods ‘bad’ and feel ‘naughty’ if we make the ‘wrong’ choices, we try to be ‘good’ and chastise ourselves when we aren’t. We treat the scales as revered, all-knowing, all-powerful dictators of happiness; if our weight is where we want it to be we bounce off with a spring in our step, if it isn’t we feel despondent and weak. Luckily, for many, this moment passes quite quickly, but for some the scales can set the tone for the entire day.

If this describes you then I would urge you to make a shift in your thinking which will allow you to be freer and happier. The healthiest way to think about food is that it is your fuel. We need calories to live and to function.

In the Western world we are lucky enough to be able to choose from a wide range of food fuels. We can choose poor quality, cheap fuel that allows us initially to go faster but then (if used too much over time) clogs up our engines making them sluggish and corroded. We can choose quality fuel that allows us to glide smoothly at the speeds we choose with a well-oiled and smooth running engine beneath us.

It is important to recognise that a little bit of the poor fuel won’t hurt us (in fact, there are times when we actually need the boost it can give us) but it is, as we all know, about balance. Having mainly quality fuel allows our engine to purr.

Despite the current economic climate the diet industry in the UK continues to thrive. Every week there are new ideas about what we should or shouldn’t eat and when we should or shouldn’t eat it. The reality is that each and every one of us knows exactly how to lose weight; we need to eat less calories than we actually use. So, if you do wish to lose weight (or just improve your diet), it is helpful to look within to what you know works for you, and then make adjustments in a planned and proactive way so that it becomes not only ‘doable’ but also about caring for yourself.

Think about and note down your answers to the following questions:

  • What is your ideal weight taking into account your height and build?
  • How would it feel to be that weight now (if you are not currently that weight)?
  • What healthy foods do you enjoy?
  • How good are you at thinking about what you want to eat during the week and making sure you have organised that for yourself?
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Losing weight is not rocket science; trust your own knowledge of what works for you, plan what foods you wish to eat and treat yourself as important enough to shop for. This ensures you have all that you need to maintain your new healthy diet.

In addition here are some key common sense tips for maintaining a healthy diet:

  • No food is ‘evil’ and it can be really helpful to allow yourself a small treat every day.
  • We are more likely to crave sugar when we are tired so reviewing your sleep patterns will make maintaining a healthy diet much easier. It has also been shown that we also consume more calories overall on a day when we are tired.
  • We also crave sugar more when we are hungry so it can be really helpful to allow yourself high protein low fat snacks during the day (e.g. a yogurt or a handful of raw nuts). This is particularly true for women; our metabolism tends to be higher when eating many small meals rather that three large ones.
  • If we wish to lose weight it is useful to avoid carbohydrate after 6pm for the simple reason we are not going to burn those calories off in our sleep. So (unless you are going out partying and dancing all night!) it’s best to stick to protein and salad or vegetables in the evening.
  • We very often confuse thirst for hunger so, if you are trying to lose weight, ensure you are well hydrated at all times.

Just like beginning a new exercise regime, healthy eating needs to become part of our everyday routine. After just a few weeks, new behavioral patterns simply become part of our way of being; the effort then is minimal and the rewards are huge.

The best you can be: see it, hear it and feel it…

One of the most powerful techniques we can use when we want to make changes to our life is to focus on our vision of our best selves every day. So imagine now that you are already in the best physical shape you could be; all of your clothes fit perfectly, you feel energised, healthy, toned and in control of your life. When we indulge ourselves in this positive way we set our whole system up for success.

Take time now to answer these questions:

  • What would you hear?
  • What would you see?
  • How would the world feel to you?
  • What would you no longer have in your life?
  • What would it allow you to do that you currently do not?

You are now in a great position to take stock of where you are with regard to your physical well being. Note down your answers to the following goal-setting questions:

  • What appointments do you need to make to ensure you are looking after your medical and dental health
  • What changes do you need to make to let go of the stress in your life?
  • What changes are you going to make to your routine to incorporate enough sleep and exercise?
  • What changes are you going to make to ensure you eat healthily?

As the saying goes, without our health we have nothing. Taking time out to think about (and act on) your needs is treating yourself with respect, kindness and appreciation, which will allow you to have the healthy and happy life you desire.

As George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans) once said: ‘It’s never too late to become what you might have been.’

About Hester Bancroft

I am a BSc(hons) Psych and member of the British Psychological Society, a master practitioner of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and an experienced Life Coach and Therapist. I provide high quality one-to-one coaching for individuals wishing to establish more positive ways of living their lives. I help my clients in dealing with the underlying causes of existing unhelpful behaviours, establishing empowering new behaviours and setting attainable and sustainable goals for the future.