Here at Peak and Valley, we have been interested in topics surrounding self-care/wellness. The term ‘self-care’ specifically is starting to become an overused buzzword in marketing and news outlets. Separating out what self-care means for you personally means ignoring a lot of marketing jargon and messaging. We all have to remember that self- care doesn't have to be expensive or exclusive. Given that, we are introducing an interview series where we ask people what self-care and wellness means to them.
Christina Tidwell is a Registered Nurse and Functional Nutrition Coaching helping people with chronic autoimmune disease take control of their health through diet, lifestyle shifts and personal empowerment.
She came to this work largely because of her own experience with autoimmunity and navigating our health care system.
Christina was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition at age 18 which presented with high spiking fevers, extreme fatigue, rashes and inflammation. When she was discharged from the hospital after her initial diagnosis, she realized there must be more she could do to support her health than just pharmaceuticals that were suppressing her symptoms. She began the journey to understand not just what diagnosis she had, but why this was happening in her body and it’s led her down a beautiful path of healing and deep connection to her body.
Christina lives in Seattle, Washington with her fiance. When she’s not with her coaching clients you can find her experimenting in the kitchen with fermented foods, having dinner parties with friends, resting and meditating, and exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest!
How do you define self-care?
Self-care, to me, is giving your body exactly what it needs in that moment. This may sound like a simple explanation, but the quest to tune into your body, understand it’s signals and cues, and know what to give it in that moment is lifelong work. It’s also a muscle that needs to be strengthened and is one that we often let atrophy. We get really used to pushing down signals from our body of discomfort, pain, hunger or strong emotions. Over time we lose this connection and have to rely on external cues and information to know how to take care of ourselves.
Self-care to me, is cultivating a deep connection with my body that allows me to know what I need in any given moment. Self-care is not dictated by external guidelines of what I should be doing, but is really an internal process of understanding what I need and looking at the blocks I’ve put in place to allow myself to get that. One day the most caring thing could be going to an exercise class, while the next day it might be lounging on the couch reading a book. I’ve learned to strengthen this muscle of tuning into my body over the years while managing chronic autoimmune disease and it’s served me very well!
How do you start your day? If it differs from day to day, describe your ideal morning.
I start my day the evening before by making sure my phone is out of my room. This allows me to separate from my phone or any technology throughout the night so that I can wake up and have an intentional morning without reaching for my phone and getting distracted by emails, social media etc. before the day even starts! Boundaries around technology are super important to me and my wellbeing, so I have to be strict with myself about them.
I take a moment to wake up, acknowledge I’m here in this new day and get out of bed.
From there I dedicate anywhere from 10-20 minute to a meditation. Lately I’ve been doing guided meditations on my Insight Timer App which have felt better than a silent meditation. I get my intuition muscle working early and feel into what I need for the day. This time used to feel forced to me, but over time has become almost sacred and I really look forward to it as a way to set the tone for my entire day.
When we wake up and get thrown into our day, we get stuck in a cycle of reactivity where we only have time and space to react to what is thrown at us. By taking this time in the morning to set the tone and intention for how I want my day to go, or how I want to feel, I become more proactive rather than reactive.
Although I don’t know what the day will hand me, this time allows me to feel calm, get present, listen to myself and my body, and feel strong, centered and empowered to face whatever does come my way.
Often times I will use essential oils or light incense or candles to help me get into the zone. If I feel compelled afterwards I will jot down a few things that came up, or that I’m working through in a journal and that’s that!
What measures do you take when you feel off-balance/stressed?
When I feel off balance or out of sorts I try to identify it and name what I’m feeling and why. I used to just sit in these feelings of stress, anxiety, worry or overwhelm and think that was just how it had to be. I now realize that I have a lot more power than I think, and I work to shift that energy through me. Once I identify that I’m feeling anxious, I feel it, name it, and just take some breaths to allow it to be nd ask it what it wants to tell me. I then work to shift the energy anyway I can whether that be going for a walk, doing my favorite 4-7-8 breathing exericse, listening to music, or writing about it. I think just knowing that it’s an emotion and it can move through me like a wave has been a really important lesson over the years.
Do you have any bedtime rituals that help you sleep well?
Again, my technology boundaries! I put my phone away by 8pm always. This was hard for me and I had to be so strict with myself! But now it’s a welcome relief and allows me to fully disconnect in the evenings. It helps to lessen the amount of blue light exposure which can decrease melatonin production and disrupt sleep, and allows allows me to be more present and aware. I love my Magnesium drink at night that offers some great relaxation benefits and helps with sleep or a nice herbal tea. I also always do a lavender spray on my pillows so I feel like I’m at the spa haha!
What is your idea of beauty? Internal, external, or both?
I know sometimes self-care gets wrapped up in the beauty industry so we think of it as anti-wrinkle face masks or cosmetic beauty practices but it’s just so much deeper than that. I feel most beautiful when I’m comfortable in my own skin. Dealing with a chronic illness that has caused weight fluctuations, swelling and puffiness, skin breakouts, rashes etc. over the years can make you feel anything but “beautiful,” confident or comfortable. But even through these times I’ve felt beautiful and powerful when I feel connected to my body and all that it does for me. It’s my one vessel in this life and allows me to do all of the work I do and love all of the people that I love and that, no matter what, is really beautiful.
What is your philosophy around wellness?
Wellness, like self-care, can take on many meanings these days. Wellness is not dieting, being thin or looking a certain way and I can’t emphasize that enough.
Today we see wellness portrayed with some pretty unrealistic standards. It sometimes feels that in order to be “healthy” you have to look a certain way, purchase the right workout clothes, and buy $14 green juices daily.
I wonder how these unrealistic and over the top portrayals of wellness are affecting the ability of people to understand and buy into the simple idea of caring for one’s self.
We live in a world where it’s already difficult to feed ourselves with real, nutrient dense food every day and get enough real rest and sleep. We do not need the idea of health and wellness to be out of reach as well.
Wellness is not the latest fad. Wellness is listening to what your body is telling you. It’s paying attention to your body and the subtle cues it gives when it needs more or less of something. It’s also investigating the root cause of what’s going on rather than masking the symptoms with a pill or by ignoring them all together.
For example, if you have a headache what is your first response? Grab the Advil, get rid of the pain, keep on going. What might be more valuable in the long run is to notice the headache and think about the underlying reasons why you might have it. Giant hangover? Ok that’s an easy one. Majorly dehydrated? Under lots of stress and having tension build up? Not sleeping? Find the one that applies to you and give your body what it’s asking you for. Prioritize drinking lots of water (especially if you take in a lot of caffeine), take breaks and remember to breathe to manage stress, investigate causes of sleep disturbance and try to remedy them.
That is an example what wellness and healing looks like, and it’s completely different for every single one of us. We all have access to wellness in this way right now. I think that’s the coolest part!
I live in Northwest Arkansas - I specifically call out the region because it’s a distinct part of the state, unlike the rest. I love it here - it gives me the progressive nature of a larger city with the comfort of community. There’s still opportunity for growth and change, so I’m happy to be a resident who can play a part in its future.