July 31, 2022

Thank God for the Starfish

Thank God for the Starfish

Overwhelm tends to make us freeze.  Think of a credit card balance that seems insurmountable. Or a closet so full of crap that the doors can’t close. Or a 10-page paper that is due next week and you have not even begun to do the research.  We avoid. We procrastinate. We distract ourselves. It is human nature.  One of our brain’s top jobs is to keep us safe and comfortable. To reserve our stores of energy. And starting out on an enormous task is, well, freaking exhausting at the outset. This is when I remind myself of the starfish. Thank God for the starfish.

The story goes like this…

A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference for that one!”

This is the story of teeny, tiny action that, in conjunction with other teeny, tiny actions, becomes real change.  And this story of optimism has innumerable applications. Today the starfish is one health habit in a beach full of overwhelm.

As a health coach I see a lot of people staring at this starfish-filled beach. They are frozen. They just want to go home and think about it tomorrow…or next month. If this sounds like you, know that you are not alone. You have many friends on the beach with you. Know that!

Also know there is hope and today is the day to act.

Our health as a nation has never seemed dimmer. The rise in “lifestyle diseases” such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, obesity, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, depression, asthma, some types of cancers, etc. keeps clicking upwards. Approximately up to 70% of deaths worldwide are estimated to be due to “lifestyle disease”.  This has a social and economic cost.  So we know that this closet is full to brim and we can’t close the metaphorical door. Now what?  We pick up one starfish at a time.

Here are options for some starfish-saving, or tiny health habits, for you this week. You can do these for free and for short time and/or money.  When stacked together these health habits can be a real start to clearing the beach.

1 - Start your morning with a huge glass of water. Bring this water to your bedside table the night before. Upon waking don’t let your butt leave the bed until you drink it down.  Hydration is key to health. Many people think they are hungry when they are actually thirsty. This is a great way to start your day with a flush of the system.

2 - Do two push ups every time you go to the bathroom. Flush and drop to the floor, straight-legged or bent-knee or lean against the wall and give me 2. Building muscle is key to a healthy immune system!

3 - Sit down for two minutes without a screen or any distraction and close your eyes. Do four box breaths:  breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts. This is a way to reset the nervous system and reduce your stress hormone levels which may be chronically high.  Lower your stress hormones and you lower inflammation which lowers rates of chronic/lifestyle disease.

Start small. Give it a few weeks. You may find yourself drinking the huge water before every meal, dropping for 10 push ups each flush, and doing 10 minutes of box breath in no time.  Accumulating health habits creates momentum.  And just think of how beautiful the beach will slowly become as you pick up one starfish at a time.

Published in The Daily News on July 7, 2022

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