One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my perimenopausal journey so far, is that prioritizing your health needs to be, well, a priority. Sounds simple, but it’s probably one of the most challenging things to actually do in a consistent and meaningful way.
I wanted to share a bit about how I’ve been able to make my health and wellbeing a priority. It didn’t happen overnight. And it’s something I’ll always have to work at, but it is happening. We hope this recap might help your journey in some small way.
Building a Healthy Life
There are many reasons why physical and mental health falls to the bottom of most to-do lists. Most people will include their job, or in many cases more than one job, at the top of their list of reasons as well as family responsibilities.
And frankly, implementing changes when it comes to creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is hard. Just listing healthy habits like seeing your doctor regularly, eating healthy foods, getting more exercise, and better sleep adds to most people’s stress.
We know we should, but we just don’t have the time.
Prioritizing Your Health Requires Time
Creating a healthy life requires time. And most of us do not have any extra time. For anything. I know I didn’t.
I had two little kids, a demanding job, a spouse with a demanding job, sick parents, and I desperately needed to have a hip replacement. And I was privileged. I could hire childcare, get help with cleaning, snow shoveling, and other jobs. And yet, I was overwhelmed.
Then I had a hip replacement.
How To Prioritize Your Health Quickly
Get a hip replacement. I’m kidding of course, but having this surgery kick started my focus on my own health in a big way. I was forced into some good habits. My surgeon said that if I wanted this new hip to last, I’d have to make my physical health a priority.
No more making excuses. Rehab and exercise went to the top of my list. I was able to make that happen by outsourcing.
I hired a lovely high-school student to pick up my kids after school and take them to their activities. I scheduled my rehab and workouts during that time.
Healthy Habits That Last
More than 7 years later I’m still going to physiotherapy to keep things well-tuned and exercising. Admittedly, these habits have lasted because I’m highly motivated to put off having another hip replacement.
If all goes well this new hip could last for 25 years. That’s my goal. When I feel like skipping my scheduled physical activity, I remember my goal.
A Healthy Change in Perception
My hip replacement had a positive ripple effect on my overall wellbeing by pushing me into creating healthy habits. But I also need to acknowledge a shift in perception that happened 7 years ago after reading a book.
While I didn’t agree with everything in this book, and it didn’t change things overnight, it did shift my perception. And that change in perception has been key to creating healthy habits that last.
Good Health Is a Journey
I was back at work with my new hip. Making time for rehab and exercise. And I was tasked with finding a keynote speaker for a conference.
Someone suggested we bring in Laura Vanderkam to talk about her book: ‘168 Hours. You Have More Time Than You Think‘.
The title made me bristle. ‘Pfft. Yeah. I bet Laura doesn’t have two little kids, a crazy job, sick parents, or just had a hip replacement.’
But then I read her book.
We All Have 168 Hours
The premise of Ms. Vanderkam’s book is that we all have 24/7 or 168 hours every week. And most of us don’t really understand how we are spending that time. Or realize that we are often not very efficient.
‘While we think of our lives in grand abstractions, a life is actually lived in hours. In a week there are 168 hours. Where does the time really go? Paying attention to the pattern is a choice.’
I had never analyzed where my time was going every week. I was intrigued.
Then I Did The Math
I was trying to get 8 hours of sleep (although most night’s that wasn’t happening). That’s 56 hours a week. And I was working 50 hours a week, or so I thought. That’s 106 hours. Subtracted from 168 hours, that left me with 62 hours a week. Huh.
Yes, parenting took a lot of those remaining 62 hours, but not all of them. And I realized that I was not using my time as wisely as I could be.
Lack of Planning
I was so tired at the end of the day; I didn’t want to think about tomorrow. I just wanted to veg in front of the TV. Problem is I was often inefficient as a result. I would show up at work in the morning and feel overwhelmed by my calendar.
I would forget to pack my gym shoes. Not realize the kids had dentist appointments. And dinner – nagging at me throughout the day; scrambling last minute to figure something out. Usually feeling badly that convenience would win over the goal of trying to eat a healthy meal.
This lack of planning ahead was adding to my stress and making me inefficient. And I was in a perpetual state of guilt. I was working 50 hours a week, but a lot of my time at work was dealing with the consequences of my lack of planning.
Being Overwhelmed Was a Badge of Honor
I wasn’t purposeful about my time. I was flinging myself at my to do list. And I wasn’t efficient or all that effective. I felt that I had to prove my worth. And the best way to do that was to always appear to be busy.
The problem is that this attitude can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Talking about how busy I was all the time. Having a calendar that was always overbooked. Commiserating with anyone and everyone about always being tired. This behavior meant that my state of mind was perpetually one of being overwhelmed, stressed, and tired.
And I thought that’s what being successful meant. Turns out it doesn’t. All that state of mind did was ensure that I was missing out on being in the moment.
I was always taking on more than I could reasonably manage at work. I was privileged to be in a flexible role, but I felt that I needed to pay for that flexibility by always saying yes.
I also had no boundaries in my personal life. I felt I had to live up to everyone else’s expectations. And give the impression that I was gliding through life with ease. I wasn’t.
The Cornerstone of Healthy Habits
Time. Specifically, how I think about my time has been the key to creating lasting healthy habits. I now choose to do things because they are my priority. Where I spend my time is my choice. This has become a powerful sentence.
To focus on my physical health and my mental health required me to first understand how I spend my time. I then had to become intentional with how I use my 168 hours per week.
A Healthy Lifestyle for Perimenopause
I have had many physical and mental symptoms during perimenopause, including significant trouble sleeping. And building my toolkit to manage my menopausal transition has been a long process. No one thing is a silver bullet.
Much like having a hip replacement, perimenopause has forced me to learn to create healthy habits. I have had to make a series of lifestyle changes over time that include a rigorous sleep routine, cutting out caffeine, eating more vegetables, reintroducing whole grains, and making time for the fact that my energy levels are not always what I need them to be.
Setting Goals Isn’t Enough
The goals I have set to support my wellbeing in perimenopause are the following:
Rehabilitation and Exercise
Eating Healthy Foods
Time With Family and Friends
Important. But goals aren’t enough. As James Clear says in his book, Atomic Habits, ‘You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.’
Create Habits to Prioritize Your Health
Your goals are your desired outcome. You need to set up the daily healthy habits that will allow you over time to achieve and maintain these goals.
Because if you set goals and intend to meet them using sheer willpower and grit, you aren’t likely to get very far or make lasting change.
What are the daily healthy habits that you can incorporate in your 168 hours per week to prioritize your health? Here are some of mine:
Multitasking Doesn’t Work.
Understanding what I do with my time was important. Understanding that doing one thing at a time is more effective is something I’m still working on.
I used to double book things in my calendar. I would never set aside enough time to get something done. Now I am realistic and set myself up for success. When I book in exercise, I book in a realistic workout given the day’s activities. And I plan enough time to get to and from my workout.
I have become intentional about what I spend my 168 hours on. And also realistic about what I can accomplish in 168 hours. I prioritize what is important.
That means outsourcing some things, or that some things just don’t happen anymore. For example, now when we have friends over we often order in instead of making dinner. And you can no longer eat of my floor. I abandoned that standard of clean a long time ago.
I used to think that relaxing would just happen. But by 3 pm on days off, I was often distraught because I hadn’t yet found time to relax. I realized that I needed to figure out what made me feel relaxed and rejuvenated and plan for those things to happen.
Now I map out what my free time will be and book activities in my calendar that I find relaxing. Like taking a walk and listening to my favorite podcast. Hiking with my kids and maybe some of our close friends. Booking coffee with a girlfriend.
Multitasking – One Exception
You may have noticed something in my leisure planning; I’m often accomplishing more than one thing at a time. Turns out there is a spot for multitasking when it comes to exercise, relaxing, and quality time with friends and family.
I just have to be careful not to the let multitasking creep into everything in my daily routine.
Small Changes Big rewards
Creating and maintaining a healthy diet can be tough. But with a little planning, you can create big change. I wanted to get more vegetables and whole foods into our diet.
On Sundays I spend about 20 minutes deciding on menus for the week. In addition to what foods we’re going to cook, we decide what night we’ll have leftovers or takeout.
Then, I or my partner will pop out to get groceries for the week. We try to do this Sunday morning when the grocery store isn’t busy. When we’re really organized we sometimes make meals on Sunday for later that week.
More Vegetables and Less Stress
The time this saves during the week and the decrease in stress is significant. We don’t have the late afternoon back and forth about what’s for dinner. We can continue to focus on work.
My children often contribute or make requests when I’m meal planning. And they don’t complain as much because they know in advance what is on the menu.
We’re all eating more vegetables.
My mental health suffers significantly when I am under slept. So I now have rules for a good night sleep. Yes, these rules get broken. When they do I know that my sleep will likely suffer. And that’s okay. I pick my spots.
No caffeine. No red wine. No screens at least an hour before bed. Reading a good book before I fall asleep. These are just some of my rules.
It took some time to make reading a nightly ritual. Habits in my routine now ensure I always have 2 or 3 great books from the library on hand. Reading a good book before bed makes a big difference. Even if it’s just a few pages.
I need to set aside time weekly to be alone. That might be reading for 20 minutes, going for walk, or taking a bath. But if I don’t get some time to be by myself, I become agitated and stressed. And no matter how good my systems are, they start to crumble if I don’t get some time to reset.
My Time is My Choice
I have traded in my ‘being overwhelmed badge of honor’ for the understanding that how I spend my time is my choice.
Yes, there are things that life throws at us where we don’t get to choose: a flood in your basement, illness, or job loss. But for the most part I now feel like I am living intentionally. And when the unexpected happens, I’m less stressed and able to approach things in a more effective way.
I have also learned to set boundaries. Not easy. This is something that will require continual work on my part. Need some help setting your own boundaries? You might find some helpful tips here.
The most important thing I’ve learned when it comes to the value of time and prioritizing your health, is that I am better able to be fully present.
It doesn’t always happen. I still get caught up in the chaos. My brain is always trying to multitask.
But prioritizing what really matters has allowed me to find more gratitude. To appreciate being in the moment. Allowing myself the luxury of life’s small pleasures. That’s where true health and happiness are found.