I was twenty-five when I learned that my wellness was in my hands. As a third year teacher, I was fully immersed in my career. I taught. I coached. I directed the student activities program. In a bit of prescient wisdom, one student wrote in a thank you note to me, “you give until I fear you might give out.” Not much later, I did.

In one week, I wound up in the hospital emergency room twice. The second time I was there, I was seen by the same doctor who had warned me the first time that my behaviors—my work-a-holicism—were the complicating factor in my wellness, not the infections I had acquired. I had scoffed when he first told me that. Didn’t he know that I was around thousands of kids a day? The germs were clearly the problem. When I returned to the emergency room a second time, this time spitting up blood, I thought I’d show that doctor that I wasn’t my problem. As it turns out, I didn’t.

“You went back to work rather than rest, didn’t you?” He honed in on my misstep, on the fact that I had made myself sicker by working when I needed to rest and exposing myself to more germs when I was already fragile. But who would run the school pageant if I wasn’t there? Who would help with soccer practice? Who would grade these essays?

This time, absolutely miserable in that hospital bed, I choose to listen to the doctor.

“You are landing yourself here,” he said. And it was the first time that I realized that I had power over my health. Until that point, I thought health was something that happened to you. Suddenly, I could see that I was really happening to my health. I felt awful because I made awful choices about my wellbeing. And if I loved my job and wanted to be around for my students, then I needed to maintain my health.

Born in me that day was a desire for deliberate health. I met with a nutritionist to learn what foods could fuel my body. I went to bed earlier. I relaxed a bit. I spent more time outside. And for a good while, that was just the prescription I needed.

But our lives and our bodies change over time and so, now, I try to be intentional about writing myself a wellness prescription every year. While many behaviors on my prescription might stay from the previous year, others no longer fit, and I let them go. What I ultimately want when I am done writing my prescription is a very clear formula for how I should be caring for myself. By claiming my care in that prescription, I empower myself to own the parts of my whole health that are really under my control and I can’t imagine anything more empowering than that.

Want to write your own wellness prescription for 2012? Try these steps.

  • Sit down with paper and pen and write an assessment of where you stand, in your view, with your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Don’t revert to judgment in your assessment—just honestly, but with no judgment- consider how you are caring for yourself in each category and how you are showing yourself a lack of concern in each area. For example, in spiritual health, you might know that you feel most connected to the universe or the God of your understanding when you take a walk in nature but you’ve neglected to do that of late and are feeling less of a sense of connection than you like right now.
  • Begin to brainstorm the behaviors you can choose that would elicit a positive response from your whole self in each of those categories. What can you do to make your heart, body, and soul happy mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically? Note things that you have direct control over (being outside for at least five minutes at least five times a week, etc) and where the process is the gift and not some end result (for example, moving my body for at least 20 minutes in a way that brings me joy and vitality five times a week is a better item for your prescription than lose 20 pounds).
  • Look over your list. If living in this way might be new to you, consider how to incorporate the prescription into your life in a way that is encouraging. For example, perhaps you choose three items to incorporate into your life each month.
  • Enjoy the power of being in charge of a significant amount of your wellbeing.

Want to see my 2011 wellness prescription for some ideas? Read it here.