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Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

Two years ago we strolled down Hughson Ave, moving through the bustle and heat of the revived Fruit and Nut Festival. Chatting with vendors, considering trinkets for the children, shaking bags of cream into a sweet confection, I paused in front of the Hughson Chiropractic Center for some shade. Thinking of my spinal curvature (scoliosis) diagnosed at age 12, I laughed to myself at the model spine on display in their booth. Claudia, a massage therapist at the Chiropractic Center made her pitch. She saw I was great with child, there was no mistaking that, and encouraged a prenatal massage. Only $20 for the first time visit, the offer read weekly on a sign on the sidewalk outside the little house of chiropractic.

In a friendly and easy manner, she kept up the pitch. I was torn. In my life, I experienced two massages from which I received no benefit. This pregnancy weighed on me. Back pain made walking difficult and limited my exercise. When my husband encouraged me to pamper myself, I gave in. Only $20 for a gift certificate, I purchased it and could schedule later. After my first massage at the Hughson Chiropractic Center, I was hooked. This indulgence gave me a moment of freedom from the physical burden of pregnancy and supported me in the stress of events following that pregnancy.

There are many ways to approach anxiety. Cognitive approaches deal with the way our thoughts contribute to anxiety. I try to capture those automatic negative thoughts that arise without my willing them, reframe them to something more balanced and realistic. Life is often not as black and white as our instincts tell us. Anxiety and stress activate an interior flight or fight response. Adrenaline and cortisol surge in order to put our bodies on high alert and prepare for action. When the setting does not call for this, as in generalized anxiety (an increasingly common experience for Americans) we become hyper-vigilant, edgy or antsy. Exercise can help relieve some of that tension created by these hormones. It can also keep our bodies calmer for the rest of the day or evening. Even with those two approaches, reframing thoughts and releasing energy, the body likely still needs a calming intervention.

Deep breathing is the go to exercise anyone can learn. Breathing in through the nose, slow enough to count to five, holding for a second and breathing out through the mouth, 1…2…3…4…5. Progressive relaxation is a technique that targets muscle tension. Massage is another option to help work out the cumulative effects of hormones signaling muscles to contract and prepare for action when there is no action to take, when we experience anxiety.

It is part the whole concept of self-care. American are notorious for needing self-care, neglecting self-care, or over-indulging in self-care (and subsequently avoiding self-giving). Life in this society is not naturally structured in a way that encourages the balance relationships and life require. Our gathering spaces are in our backyards, fenced in with five-foot privacy fences. We work 8 hours a day with an hour of driving, or stay-at-home with children, with the self-imposed pressure that comes from Pinterest-perfect fantasies of housekeeping. We have no communal siesta time, no holiday when work ceases, no time for afternoon chai. Everything requires going and doing. This structure requires us to be intentional about rest and leisure. Our brains need time to recharge. Children start to go a little wild when overscheduled. Adults do the same, but it comes out in anxiety, anger or depression, rather than hyperactivity and defiance.

What do you need in order to create more balance in your life? If the concept of self-care that includes massage or an afternoon nap is too indulgent, consider what is right for you. What are the obstacles? Self-care should not come at the expense of our life and our relationships, but appropriately build into them. If that seems impossible, maybe some intentionality is missing. We must learn our limits, create the boundaries we need, and prioritize the sigh of relief that comes from feeling good again. It is part of being human. It is part of the balance needed to live the good life.