Eleni Vardaki IB Schools Workshop Leader for teachers and school leaders

Health Is No. 1

WHAT’S THE ISSUE: In theory, we all know that taking care of our health is very important. The difficulty lies in trying to fit self-care into our everyday life. We sometimes fall into the trap of trying to do too much and run ragged, which leaves us with no energy left for meaningful self-care. Conscientious parents, in particular, can sometimes feel like they’re not a good enough mum or a good enough dad, because they feel like they aren’t doing enough. Trying to be all things to all people comes at the expense of your emotional health. You can find yourself getting stuck in a constant state of stress and overwhelm trying to be the “perfect” parent, the “perfect” daughter, the “perfect” (fill in the gap). But there is no such thing as perfection. And there are ways to minimize stress, no matter how busy life your life is. It’s during these busy times in life that emotional self-care routines (whether they be daily or weekly “appointments” with yourself, or with a specialist) matter, more than ever.


While there’s a lot of truth in the proverb, “When life gives you lemons, made lemonade”, the fact is that it takes time to transform something bitter into something sweet.


We all have the power to transform our emotions (which is completely different from “to suppress”; suppressing means ignoring, pretending that the emotion isn’t there, pushing down, either with food, alcohol, workaholism, over-exercising, or what-have-you, in order to avoid feeling the painful emotions).


It’s certainly possible to process painful emotions so that they can transform into more positive, confident, loving, light, joyful ones. But it requires believing that your emotional health is important enough for you to commit to your appointment with yourself, or with a specialist, where you can turn your belief that “Health is No. 1” into action.


Think about it. If you’re making fresh lemonade, you need to take the time out of your busy day to squeeze the juice out of the lemons, boil some water, make the syrup using sugar, let it rest and cool down, mix it all up and leave it in the fridge to chill for a few hours. It takes times.


The same applies to transforming bitterness, worry, stress, overwhelm, into something more positive. It takes time to transform this energy into something more constructive, more productive, and more helpful (both for yourself, and for others).


You can only go so far by trying to push through a gruelling, never-ending to-do list, before the body says “no”.


The body can say no in all sorts of ways. You can experience exhaustion that, if left unchecked, then leads to burn out. You can experience a constant headache that keeps coming back. You can suffer from lower back pain, or have a knot in the pit of your stomach that comes and goes throughout the day. You can have trouble falling asleep sleeping, or you may keep wake up at 4am or 5am each morning, due to stress. 


At some point, the physical self with start knocking on your emotional self’s door in some way of another, as if to say: “Helloooo!!! I’m here. I also have needs. Look at me! Listen to me! Take care of me!”


Next time you try to wave these warning signs away with a dismissive, “Oh, it’s just stress,” or “The doctor said it’s just stress,” or “It’s psychosomatic”…and then proceed do nothing (meaningful) to de-stress, consider this: It might be time to change this old pattern of ignoring, dismissing, or minimizing your body’s warning signs. Maybe it’s time to get out of your comfort zone, and try something new. Because what you’ve been doing up until now clearly isn’t working.


What I’ve noticed when I work with parents to help them de-stress, is that they’re always glad they did it, whenever they commit to take that time to feel all of their suppressed emotions, so that they can release and transform them (when you take the time for your own self-care, when you stick to your appointment with, or for, yourself).


Because deep down, you know that the body keeps the score.


You know that when you can take better care of yourself, you can take better care of other people.  


There is a difference between activities that promote emotional health and activities that promote spiritual health are two different things.


Of course there can be an overlap between the two. Physical exercises obviously helps you improve your emotional health. But there are also clear boundaries between the types of activities that promote emotional health, because they are specifically designed to help you processing your suppressed emotions, that go beyond the basics of “If I take care of my physical health, and go on holiday to clear my mind, then my emotional health is covered.”


What I’m talking about here is activities that are specifically designed to promote emotional health. It’s not surprising that mental health problems have become so common, because most of us were never taught how to take care of our emotional health, in school.


Here are some examples of activities you can do that specifically focus on taking care of your emotional health and wellbeing:


These are all activities you can do to improve your emotional hygiene. Of course, if you’ve neglected your emotional hygiene for so long that a lot has built up over the years and you’ve now developed a mental illness, it is essential that you find a good psychologist who you can trust to help you get your mental health back on track.


Some people feel so much shame, because they have an old belief that “going to a Psychologist is taboo”.


(Ironically, these are the types of parents may be perfectly happy sending their child to a Psychologist to “fix their brain”, but they’re not willing to do any emotional work themselves. Because in their mind, everyone else is the one that’s so-called “crazy”, and they believe that people who go to a Psychologist are “crazy”…)


But these are old beliefs. They are closed-minded, limited views of the world, based on caring more about what other people think of you, or how other people perceive you, than about taking care of your health. These beliefs date back to a time when we all used to live in villages. This village mentality is fast becoming out-dated and irrelevant; villages are not what they used to be, they no longer exists in their original form.


The world is changing. We now live in a globalized, interconnected, international world where out identity and our community is far more colourful and complex than what it used to be when we spent all of our lives in a village.


Even people who have spent all their lives living in a village have been stimulated by external influences, from tourists or foreigners of from their own travel experienced, that have opened their minds up to new ideas, different languages, different cultures, different ways of seeing the world. So to stick to the old village mentality of “What are people in the village going to say”, when there IS no village, in the stagnant way that you knew it to exist, means that you’re either stuck in the past…or you care more about avoiding being judged than about taking care of your own emotional health.


It’s one thing to say that you believe “Health is No. 1”, but it’s another to strive to be a role model for your child(ren), by doing the difficult job of actually getting the emotional or psychological help you need, when you need it, to feel better again.


If someone was having a heart attack, you would call an ambulance and get them to a hospital where they can receive specialist help, ASAP. So how come when someone having a suicidal thought (which is the equivalent of a serious health crisis in terms of emotional and psychological health), the response you see can be to withdraw behind a curtain of secrecy, silence, and a to adopt a dismissive, passive attitude to the problem?


Telling someone who is suffering from clinical depression that “It’s all in your head.”  or “You shouldn’t think that way” or “You should just…(fill in the blank)” Doesn’t help. It’s like telling somebody who’s suffering from a stroke or a heart attack, “You shouldn’t feel this physical pain. You should just keep going, as if there’s nothing wrong with you.”


This ignorance towards emotional and psychological pain needs to stop. The age of ignorance is over. We now have the ability to develop our knowledge in the area of emotions by simply reading a few books, or taking part in workshops or conferences, so we can no longer make the excuse of “I’m not good with emotions.”


As long as we have a Growth Mindset, and a willingness to learn, and an openness to trying new things and getting out of our comfort zone, you can learn how to improve your Body Intelligence, and your Emotional Intelligence.


You can learn how to take better care of your emotional health. Age is irrelevant. Mindset is all that matters.


We weren’t taught how to take care of our emotional health in school. School was all about the academics, with a bit of physical education thrown into the mix. That’s it.


It’s up to us to make our health our number 1 priority, and to educate ourselves on how to do so. Now, as adults.


The opportunity to develop our knowledge of emotional health has never been greater. We live in an incredible time in history, when we can learn pretty much anything we want to learn, online, at very affordable cost.


I find it absolutely amazing that I can sit here, in my home office in Greece, and have access to learning about what the latest research is on stress and stress relief..simply because I made a commitment to participate in an online conference in order to expand my knowledge of emotional health.


I don’t need to have the budget to be able to pay for a hotel and for the buses/trains/planes I’d need in order to get myself over to the conference venue and increase my knowledge. All I need is to put money aside so that I can pay for the training experience itself. E-learning means I no longer need to depend on an employer to pay for high quality personal and professional development training, because it’s so much more affordable now for me to take my learning into my own hands.


Thanks to the technological and information revolutions, I’m currently in the middle of consuming the incredibly fascinating content of the June-July 2020 Virtual Trauma Summit conference, where all the greats in the field of trauma therapy have come to share their theoretical and practical knowledge of what works and why.


For me this is how I develop my knowledge of emotional health and the latest research in this area, because my professional development requires that I continue to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in the field of stress management, and to deepen my understanding of Psychology and energy work, as my field of work requires that I am trauma aware.


If you’re a parent who’s currently at the beginning of this journey, and looking to develop your knowledge of how to improve our emotional self-care habits, it might be that you decide to read a book with practical activities for taking care of your emotional health, like:


  • The Healer Within: The Four Essential Self-Care Methods for Creating Optimal Health, by Roger Jahnke.
  • Or you could have a look at the excellent activities in Paul McKenna’s famous book, Control Stress.
  • Or you could do the activities in Nick Ortner’s The Tapping Solution for Parents, Children, and Teachers.

Alternatively, it might be that what you need is to make a commitment to take 2 minutes of your day, every day, to apply on of the techniques you learn in one of these three books. You might be at a stage where you’ve done a lot of research into exercises you can do to take care of your emotional health, and you’re now at the stage where you’re ready to turn the theory into practice.

Or you may be at the stage where you want to experience activities that are designed to support our emotional health through a live, educational workshop, in which case you could check out my upcoming Parent Workshop.

The possibilities are endless, and it all depends on where you’re at in your journey of emotional health education and self-care habit implementation.

If you already have a lot of theoretical knowledge, and you know what to do, it might be time to create a daily morning routine that includes doing a simple exercise for your emotional health.

We all know the importance of taking care of our physical hygiene. We wash your teeth every morning. We go to the dentist once a year. We get your blood tests done on a regular basis. So why do we go on to neglect our emotional hygiene? Is having a glass of wine, or going on holiday, or going to the beach, really enough to clear the emotional clutter that keep piling up, on a daily basis?

Imagine what would happen if you stopped brushing your teeth for a couple of days, weeks, or months. Now think of how many days, weeks or months is been since you took care of your emotional hygiene. Is it any wonder that the stress and emotions start building up, to the point where the only way out is through an outburst (that you later feel guilty about, or regret)?

As long as you’re doing something that challenges you to get out of your comfort zone of your usual routine in how you expand your knowledge of emotional health, as long as there’s movement, you know you’re taking a step in the right direction. Because you’re putting your beliefs into action, by making your health a priority.


I’m passionate about emotional health, and about educating parents about the importance of emotional health, because this is an issue that doctors and the medical profession often don’t really talk about.


A doctor will often say that you’re problem is “stress”, but they won’t actually teach you how to take care of that stress. How to release, transform or transmute stress. They might give some practical advice like “go for walks”, or “try to take it easy”.


But a doctor is not a teacher. It’s not their job to teach you tools and techniques for how to reduce your stress. And it’s certainly not their job to change our self-care habits for you. That’s your job.


We’ve been trained to put so much faith in the hands of mainstream medicine, to go to the doctor and wait to hear what they have to say, that we sometimes forget the profound wisdom and power that lies within us.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for the medical profession, but I also believe that there comes a point when you’ve also got to empower yourself to become an expert on your own body, to increase your body intelligence, to get better at listening to what your body is telling you.

Because no one knows you, your life, your body, your daily routines and habits (good habits, bad habits), better than yourself. You are the expert on your life. You know better than anyone else exactly what you’ve gone through in your life, what you’ve experienced, what you are going through right now, what your habits are that you’d like to change. 

Our habits can have a profound effect on your physical health, and your emotional health.

This is why it’s important to step back, once in a while, and self-reflect. Ask yourself: 

  • Am I doing everything I can to take good care of my emotional and physical health?

  • Do I incorporate emotional self-care into my morning and evening routine?

  • Is there a part of me that feels there is more I could do to take better care of myself right now?

  • Are my daily routines and habits adding more stress to my life than is necessary?

  • Might it be time to start taking my emotional health and emotional needs more seriously?

  • What would this look like, if it were easy?

  • Do I want to continue living in a state of stress, fear, worry, burnt out, or exhausted? 


It’s up to you to take your emotional health into your own hands. It’s up to you to educate yourself, to look within, to reflect on your emotional habits, your patterns or worry, anxiety, and stress. It’s up to you to make the changes in your life that you need to make in order to reduce the stress in your life. It’s up to you to figure out how to incorporate self care into your schedule, when there’s so much going on. It’s up to you to make space to figure this out.


This is your life. You’re in the driver’s seat of your life (even if it doesn’t always feel like it, because you’re so used to living on autopilot…!) You get to choose which path you take, from now on. And the only way to know what you want to create in the next chapter of your life, is to look within yourself.


A common objection I hear from conscientious parents who want to improve their emotional self-care habits is this: “It’s really hard to figure out how to incorporate self-care into the day, when there’s so much going on”.


Do any of the following ways of thinking sound familiar?


  • “When my kids graduate from high school….I will look after myself.”
  • “When I finish cleaning/decluttering the house…I will have time to do things for myself.”
  • “When I free myself from this or that obligation/project/responsibility…I will do this for myself.”

In a nutshell, it’s a “When I’ve sort eeeeverything out…when everything is perfect….when the time is right…(oh, that ever illusive ‘when’!), then I will have the time and space I need to take better care of myself.

But responsibilities and ‘things to do’ never end. It’s up to us to set a boundary and say, “That’s good enough. I’ve done enough for today. I need to do this for myself, now.”

It’s up to us to set healthy relationship boundaries.

It’s up to us to say: “That’s enough. Stop. Pause. Breath. Rest. Take a break.” 

It’s up to us to make time to reflect on whether what needs to get done could potentially be done in a more efficient, effective way than the way we’ve always done things.

It’s up to us to decide how we spend our time, and whether we make our Health No. 1 (In practice. In action, Not just in theory, in words). Actions speak louder than words. Every minute, every hour, every day is a new opportunity to choose to do things differently, to find a new way of doing things that pays respect to your human needs. Baby steps. Little by little.

It’s never too late to turn things around, but it’s up to us to make it happen. 

Or in the words of the classic Bon Jovi song: “It’s my life, and it’s now or never, cause I ain’t gonna live forever. I just wanna live while I’m alive. It’s. My. Life.” 


Eleni Vardaki Youth Mentor and Workshop Leader

Eleni Vardaki is a Youth Mentor for Stress Relief. She also offers workshops to parents and teachers. She believes that if you care about student wellbeing, it makes sense to also care about the wellbeing of those who care for them. Click here to register for Eleni upcoming Parent Workshop on releasing stress and overwhelm.



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