Natural Self-Care: The Lighthouse List
First of all let’s talk about what a “lighthouse list” is. The Lighthouse list was an idea I came up with while working with my patients at my integrative/natural medicinal clinic here in Portland Oregon, Terrain Wellness. The list addresses this idea that human being need to find a way to get back to basics. This could be on a daily basis, or when you are trying to find center after living with a chronic illness for a long period of time. As a naturopathic physician and acupuncturist, I often begin by teaching patients about establishing natural patterns within their minds and bodies to attempt to return to a state of parasympathetic response or a “rest and digest response.”
I begin by inviting my patients to become acquainted with the things, responses, and experiences that they do to re-center themselves when stress or chaos arises in lives, as it inevitably does. The lighthouse is a symbol of a beacon in the storm. The lighthouse will guide you “home” to your foundation when things feel out of control.
Here is the 4-Step Process for beginning to build your lighthouse list:
1. Begin by sitting quietly with a pad of paper for 5 min. Breathe deeply in and out. Allow the air to fill the lower portion of your belly.
2. After the 5 minutes of deep breathing, write down all of the things and experiences that have brought you joy in your life.
3. Next write down any dreams or aspirations that you may have had in your life.
4. Finally write down things that you do to take care of yourself.
These 4 steps will create the space to evaluate what you value in your own life. In our podcast The Resourced Adult, we talked about the foundations of health that are a great consideration to include in your lighthouse list.
• Bathing- It is never a good idea to go into your daily battle feeling dirty. A nice hot shower goes a long way. Kim and I talked about using baths and showers to process the day, take alone time, sing and reset through bathing.
• Sleep- We need sleep in order to replenish, renew and repair. A restful night of sleep (ideally 7.5-9 hours of sleep) can help us heal from illness, loose weight, reduce anxiety and depression, alleviate chronic pain.
• Eating- Unstable blood sugar is at the heart of many chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, anxiety/depression[i], bipolar disorder, thyroid disorders, and ADHD. One of the first aspects of health I assist patients in restoring blood sugar imbalances. Sympathetic or “fight or flight” responses are driven by continual drops and peaks in the blood sugar throughout the day cause the body to feel as if it were under duress which can trigger a survival response. Stabilizing the blood sugar is one of the number one things I work on with my patients. One pro tip I can share is starting your day by eating within the first 30 minutes of waking. Usually a meal with at least 20 grams of protein and green vegetables is one of the best breakfast choices to help normalize your blood sugar after a long night of sleep. Eating a low glycemic meal within 30 minutes of waking sets you up to REDUCE sugar cravings throughout the day.
• Breathe- Belly breathing resets the vagus nerve, which runs through the diaphragm and resets parasympathetic responses. Ground your feet to connect your kidney meridian, re-set your postural response and move toward a more connected space. In acupuncture we use the kidney meridian to restore energy levels, and to reduce the emotion of fear within the body. Kim mentioned in working with kids in her practice that the belly breath is a “safety breath” where we can play and learn. The body takes this deep and grounded breath as a cue that the surrounding area is safe and calm. Safe and calm mental states allow the brain to use the logical mind to make decisions as opposed to the primitive “survival” mind to make decisions.
• Laugh- Life is too serious. In Chinese medicine we talk about the emotion of joy belonging to the heart. From an acupuncture prospective, creating opportunities from joy can also benefit the heart. Have you ever heard of a person passing away quickly after the death of a spouse? Heartbreak is a real thing. Laughter not only helps boost your immune system[ii], but it can also help heal a broken heart. One research study found “One research study found “the act of laughter can lead to immediate increases in heart rate, respiratory rate, respiratory depth and oxygen consumption. These increases are then followed by a period of muscle relaxation, with a corresponding decrease in heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.”ii
• Movement- moving for at least 30 minutes a day can help with stress, anxiety, depression, weight loss, lower cholesterol, and open the sweat glands to help with a mild daily detox.
Incorporating these seemingly simple recommendations into your daily awareness and routines can make up the foundations that will allow you to spring forward into becoming a “resourced adult,” a grown-up who can not only handle the day, but can learn to live a balanced and fulfilled life.
Consider starting your own lighthouse list and use it daily as your own beacon in the night.
[i] Anderson, Ryan J., et al. “Anxiety and poor glycemic control: a meta-analytic review of the literature.” The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine 32.3 (2002): 235-247.
[ii] Bennett, Mary Payne, and Cecile Lengacher. “Humor and laughter may influence health: III. Laughter and health outcomes.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 5.1 (2008): 37-40.