Back on Track

By Joe Nelson | December 13, 2006 9:53 am

This past week, I have been at a conference called the “Psychology of Health, Immunity and Disease Conference.” This conference is held in South Carolina, on Hilton Head Island. Not a bad spot for a conference—40° warmer than Minnesota, beaches to walk, golf courses, and a connection to individuals who see the world of health care with somewhat different eyes.

Before I went, I was feeling about as crisp as a baked potato chip (that is, a little burnt out). The irony of this, as you can see from my previous blog entries, is that I teach and talk about the ways to hold on to your energy by taking care of yourself. This becomes all the more important when you are living with a chronic condition, and if you are lacking in these skills you in fact may go on to develop more chronic conditions, or your current condition may get worse. This idea is really the overall focus of this health conference. My overall focus was to get some education but also to get back on track with my self-care.


When I looked back at my fall schedule, I found myself blaming the month of October for my burnout. I had eight presentations in addition to writing and seeing patients that month, so it seemed logical that after that I would need some extra sleep and I’d be fine. So in November I slept more, ate more carbohydrate, watched a bit more TV, skipped some meetings with colleagues, generally avoided anything that looked like stress, and didn’t exercise. I gained weight, felt more tired with each passing day, and began to remember that I have been here before. This is my default mode of operation. In other words, if I’m not conscious of what I am doing and the decisions I make, I find myself back in the same world of lethargy, looking for some quick means of feeling better temporarily. It is clear to me that it takes far more energy to choose the positive action than it does to automatically reach for the Cheez-Its.

Here is what I suspect happened to me. I get used to the level of stress I have in my life and develop an expectation that this level is my normal. I generally run on high, so even if I am doing the things I want to do as far as self-care goes, I am still operating at a slight depletion of energy when each week ends. So when October hit, I was already a bit depleted, and the extra effort that that month took meant I had less and less to do more and more. It seems that if we need more energy to make positive choices, I simply didn’t have it, so I went into default (old habits) mode.

This past week, I meditated twice a day, walked the beach with friends and dolphins, wrote each day, hugged a lot, ate well, had my brain stimulated, and laughed more than I had in the previous six months. I returned with a commitment I have made to myself several times before: I will take better care of myself each day!

I have made this commitment before, but I am only human. I know that I need to do this to have the energy I need to make good choices, and I also know that it’s unlikely I will always remember this commitment. What I think is most important is that I care enough about myself to resume my positive self-care before I allow the old default mode to take over permanently.

Do you have a self-care plan? How do you battle with your default mode? What helps you get back on track taking care of yourself?

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Joe Nelson: Joe is a psychotherapist in private practice in Minnesota, where he specializes in the psychology of chronic disease and sexual problems and works with couples, families, children, and teens. He has been a Licensed Psychologist since 1985 and has earned a master’s degree from St. Mary’s College Winona, a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota, and an associate’s degree in human services from the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

Joe has worked with troubled youth in Chicago and Minnesota and on a special project on Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. He was the first social worker hired by an affiliate of the American Diabetes Association. He worked at the International Diabetes Center for 20 years, directing psychological services there for 12 years. A Certified Sex Therapist, Joe co-developed the Sexual Health Center at Park Nicollet Clinic.

Having practiced meditation for over 30 years, Joe offers instruction in mindfulness-based meditation to patients in groups and as individuals. Joe is married, has a 23-year-old daughter, and enjoys scuba diving, motorcycling, golf, and being outdoors doing almost anything.

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