What’s your least favorite fish?
Mine is sel-fish (Ha! Get it! I came up with that all by myself).
I know that that was a terrible joke, but did it make you think of a fish? If so, my plan worked; I’ve made you think, through language. Lera Boroditsky gave a similar introduction (it was much better and funnier though) during her Ted Talk, How Language Shapes the Way We Think.
In her speech, Boroditsky provides several examples of how language crafts reality. I’ll share a couple of her points here:
“Lots of languages have grammatical gender; every noun gets assigned a gender, often masculine or feminine. And these genders differ across languages. So, for example, the sun is feminine in German but masculine in Spanish, and the moon, the reverse.
Could this actually have any consequence for how people think? Do German speakers think of the sun as somehow more female-like, and the moon somehow more male-like? Actually, it turns out that’s the case.
So if you ask German and Spanish speakers to, say, describe a bridge,’ bridge happens to be grammatically feminine in German, and it’s grammatically masculine in Spanish; German speakers are more likely to say bridges are ‘beautiful,’ ‘elegant,’ and stereotypical feminine words. Whereas Spanish speakers will be more likely to say they are ‘strong’ or ‘long;’ these masculine words.
Languages also differ in how they describe events, right? You take an event like this, an accident. In English, it’s fine to say, ‘He broke the vase;’ In a language like Spanish, you might be more likely to say, ‘The vase broke,’ or, ‘The vase broke itself.’ If it’s an accident, you wouldn’t say that someone ‘did it.’ In English, quite weirdly, we can even say things like, ‘I broke my arm.’ Now, in lots of languages, you couldn’t use that construction unless you are a lunatic and you went out looking to break your arm and you succeeded. If it was an accident, you would use a different construction.”
I find this stuff so fascinating, but I know what you’re thinking: This is really stimulating, but how does it relate to BEST and brain injuries?
Good question — I’m so glad you asked. Hold on to that thought for one second.
BEST has been talking about a very important topic lately: self-care. To me, taking care of yourself —physically, mentally and emotionally — is a necessity. Since it can be both a preventative measure to avoid illness or a means of self-managing a current condition, such as a brain injury, self-care activities, although unique to each person, should be on everyone’s to-do list.
Although I believe in the power of self care wholeheartedly, that hasn’t always been the case. It wasn’t until I had my concussion that I realized how important it is, but I imagine this happens to most brain injury survivors. For one thing, basic self-care activities, like showering or brushing your teeth, can be extremely difficult or impossible to do on your own. Plus, since a brain injury can cause physical, mental and emotional symptoms, caring for these areas is essential to recovery and rehabilitation.
It also became very clear to me that the healthier you are, the better able you are to help and care for those around you. Not only is self-care how you take your superpower back (as they say at BEST), it is also how superheroes maintain their powers.
I mean, it’s a lot easier to save the world when you are at your best.
So why didn’t I know how important self-care was pre-concussion? Why is self-care not something we all do regularly?
“We have what I call ‘Self-Care Deficit’ (SCD), a form of burnout that is becoming epidemic in a world of increasing demands, pressures, challenges and ‘time-saving technology,’” Dr. Ken Druck wrote in his essay, How to Choose Self-Care Over Self-Sabotage. “SCD is the cause and culprit when it comes to untold stress, conflict, imbalance, illness, disruption and distress. It is a condition that leads to disappointment, resentment, unhappiness, helplessness, guilt, despair and failure. Basically, SCD is a form of benign self-
neglect that stands directly in the way of our becoming the smarter, healthier, more enthusiastic versions of ourselves.”
Druck went on to explain different factors that cause SCD. Based on his research, self-care is not a priority because of guilt (there are other things I should be doing for other people), shame (what will everyone think?) and unworthiness (I don’t deserve to take time out for me).
Now let’s circle back around to Boroditsky’s Ted Talk (I told you It would all make sense eventually).
Could language be part of this problem?
Have you ever noticed that we don’t have a noun, verb or adjective in the English language related to someone who practices self-care or the act of practicing self-care? (I admit that there might be, but to my knowledge and the confirmation I received from Google, I don’t think there is). The closest adjective would be selfish, which is defined in the Webster-Merriam dictionary as this: being concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.
I think we can all agree that being called selfish is not a compliment. Now, consider what would happen if we also had an adjective in the English language that meant this: taking care and focusing on one’s own physical and psychological health for the betterment of oneself and others. I mean, we can say, she’s being selfish, but there’s no quick way to say, she’s-taking-care-of-herself-so-that-she-can-lead-a-healthier-altruistic-life, is there?
Still not convinced?
Here’s what I found out when I did a little research of my own. Swedes use the word fika to describe a type of coffee break. On Sweden’s official website, they describe fika as a social phenomenon, a legitimate reason to set aside a moment for quality time.
Fika can happen at any time, morning as well as evening. It can be savored at home, at work or in a café. It can be with colleagues, family, friends, or someone you are trying to get to know. It is a tradition observed frequently, preferably several times a day. Accompanying sweets are crucial. Cinnamon buns, cakes, cookies, even open-faced sandwiches pass as acceptable fika fare. Swedes appreciate the good things in life.
This doesn’t sound like the coffee breaks that I’m used to.
Germans have adopted the English word wellness and they use it as a verb. I asked one of my close friends who lives in Germany about it. “Essentially, we will say things like I’m going ‘wellnessing’ this weekend,” she said, “And that could mean going into the saunas, getting a massage, spending time outdoors, sleeping or reading somewhere quiet. It is basically me time and its very common.”
Why don’t we use the word wellness this way?
Denmark’s official website describes the word, hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) as the Danish art of coziness that goes far in illuminating the Danish soul.
In essence, hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Cozying up with a loved one for a movie – that’s hygge, too. And there’s nothing more hygge than sitting around with friends and family, discussing the big and small things in life. Perhaps hygge explains why the Danes are some of the happiest people in the world.
I don’t know about you, but I need more hygge in my life.
Lastly, I think the best example comes from India, where they use the word, Ayuveda. They describe Ayurveda like this:
A healthy-lifestyle system that people in India have used for more than 5,000
years. Ayurveda emphasizes good health and prevention and treatment of illness through lifestyle practices (such as massage, meditation, yoga, and dietary changes) and the use of herbal remedies. Some people use ayurvedic practices to maintain health, reduce stress, and improve flexibility, strength, and stamina. Practices like yoga and meditation can be helpful for people with diseases such as asthma, high blood pressure, and arthritis. Ayurveda [also] stresses proper diet for maintaining good health and treating disease.
I know this is all a lot to take in, so I’ll leave you with the closing remarks in Boroditsky’s speech:
“I’ve told you about how speakers of different languages think differently, but of course, that’s not about how people elsewhere think. It’s about how you think. It’s how the language that you speak shapes the way that you think. And that gives you the opportunity to ask, Why do I think the way that I do? How could I think differently?And also, What thoughts do I wish to create?”
And hopefully, by asking yourself these thought-provoking questions, you can change your mindset, overcome your SCD, and finally, give yourself what your body and soul need: time and love.
Kirsten Short was born and raised in Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada. She has a Bachelor of Business Administration from British Columbia Institute of Technology and is a member of the Institute of Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia. From 2010 to early 2017, Kirsten worked in accounting firms where her client base consisted of small and medium-sized owner operated businesses, private companies, co-operatives, not-for-profit organizations and large public entities. Accordingly, she has a wide breadth of tax, advisory and assurance experience.
Unfortunately, Kirsten has been on medical leave since she suffered a concussion in February of 2017. However, she manages to stay positive despite her post-concussion symptoms, chronic migraines and visual snow. When not working on her rehabilitation, Kirsten takes full advantage of her ‘good’ hours by advocating for brain injury survivors and their families; this is a new passion of hers. She also enjoys yoga, reading, writing and taking her Boston Terrier, Charli, on walks. You can read more about her story on her blog: Concussions and Lawn Chairs.