Woman on Beach with text - She distanced herself to save herself

What I do every day goes far beyond just nutrition. As I listen to the stories of my patients with anxiety or other mental health concerns, what almost always emerges is a desperate need for spiritual and soul care. Today I’m going to talk about soul care.

When I ask a female patient a few gentle questions about how she is doing at making room for soul care, she almost always falls silent. In that silence, I wait, giving her time to collect herself behind the flood of tears that follow. My friends, there is a lot at stake when we ignore our soul’s need to be fed.

Soul care is what makes you feel alive. It’s whatever puts distance between you and the burden you are carrying so you can get some perspective. Soul care makes room for us to remember that we do not exist on this earth to simply be the sum of a To-Do list in human form.  It allows us to lay aside every weight and allows light to shine in the corners where the true expression of who we are–beyond someone’s mother, wife, or demands, waits. It waits for us, sometimes quietly and sometimes screaming.

In my own 30+ year journey with anxiety, the most important thing I’ve learned is that anxiety is a message, and most often a message that there is something in our life that needs attention. Sometimes the message is that we’ve been ignoring our inner voice for far too long. For me, when anxiety wakes me up at night, I’ve learned it is usually a message that God has his finger on something in my life that He wants to draw my attention to, give me His guidance, His perspective, and His peace. Other times it is a message from that other part of us longing to be expressed—for me it’s the free spirit, the writer, the adventurer and the nature girl suffocating in suburbia who needs some distance.

My husband has also come to recognize the benefits of my own personal soul care: it keeps me from ripping his face off. I’m kidding. Sort of.

Now I must ask, when is the last time you expressed that longing in you? When is the last time you paid attention to that small voice whispering to you to press in, get some distance or come alive? The longer we ignore her the more likely the whisper will manifest as a shout in our psyche or physical body.

In that regard, sometimes anxiety has a message related to our physical health. Anxiety can be a symptom of hormone imbalance, a problem with our thyroid and can be an indicator that our stress response system, the HPA axis (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis) in our body is dysregulated and needs some attention. The integrity of our intestinal barrier along with multiple nutrient deficiencies have also been associated with anxiety.

When I work with patients, I teach about the functional nutrition side of anxiety--and how hormones, thyroid dysfunction, the HPA axis and the gut are all players. Soul care can influence all of these.

Here are some practical ways to fit soul care into your own life—especially during those seasons when your To-Do list has too many Must-Do’s:

  1. Give yourself some margin: What wears us out and causes unnecessary stress is when, A. We underestimate the time it takes to complete a task from start to finish,  B. We don’t give ourselves or kids enough time to get ready and get somewhere, and C. We pack our schedule so full we don’t allow enough transition time between events in our schedule. Take the “hurry up” syndrome out by giving yourself a margin of an extra 10-15 minutes for and between things. It can do wonders for your stress level.
  2. Seek 5-10 minutes of complete silence every day and just breathe. On some days, the only way I get this is by sitting in my car. In my garage. This is attempted when I’ve come home from somewhere and everyone else is already home. It usually works until someone realizes the garage door opened 48 seconds ago and mom hasn’t come in the house yet.
  3. Be present. This means put the phone down.
  4. Whatever makes you feel alive, schedule it. Then do it. If it’s coffee with a girlfriend while your kids are at sports practice, do it. (The grocery shopping can wait.) If it’s an hour at a café where you can actually read a magazine cover-to-cover and drink a cup of coffee before it gets cold, do it. Need some distance? Get it.

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28