Your Personal Health Keystone: Anti-Inflammation Challenge Week 4

You know what a keystone is, other than a bad beer and a bad pipeline? It’s the special wedge-shaped center stone in an archway. The integrity of the arch depends on the keystone transferring the stress of a load out and down through the rest of the arch and, ultimately, to the security of the ground. Without a keystone, an arch can’t hold up under stress.

The keystone - just a little thing that holds the whole arch up. (Image: Wikipedia / Creative Commons)

With apologies to any structural engineers who might be reading, this Anti-Inflammatory Challenge has proven to me that people have a keystone, too, of sorts – a way of transferring and appropriately distributing the stress in our lives to something solid that can absorb and diffuse that stress.

For me, that keystone is sleep. Without enough sleep, nothing stays stable and the stress doesn’t melt down into the good earth. When, in the course of this Challenge, I have made my own sleep the biggest priority in my life (as much as possible, with two kids) everything else – the diet, the exercise, the various anti-inflammatory supplements, my mood and my relationships with the most special people in my life – all those things have fallen into place. When I have not aggressively prioritized my own sleep, it has been a struggle to maintain a bare minimum on everything else I’m trying to do, including tend to my own health.

I know people for whom physical activity is their keystone – as long as they get their workout or walk or bike-ride in, everything else is do-able. I’ve known others who needed intense daily social connection and still others who depend on daily social alone time. Some people can keep everything else in their life together as long as they just stay off the booze. Whatever our personal keystone is, it’s holding everything else up, and when it starts to slip or crumble, the remaining archway of relationships and commitments and activities that go into our life becomes far less steady.

I’d like to say this week was smooth sailing and dedicated to tending to my personal health keystone, but frankly, it wasn’t. This past week, sequentially, my son broke a 103-degree fever which progressed into a rather extensive bout of Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, my daughter hit 102 and slept for a day, and Homebrew Husband came down with “I feel like hammered crap” and stayed home a day from work. The only member of the immediate family not to fall ill was me.


Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease...with a supporting role played by the knees, legs, arms, elbows and diaper-zone.

Nick did as much as he could, but for several days I was on more-or-less 24/7 mama-mattress duty to soothe the little guy, give him the best possible chance for sleep and save the rest of us from the cranky wails that ensued when he wasn’t sleeping.  My sleep was most certainly not a priority or even a possibility through much of the week.

During this time, I sat on my ass a lot, baby on shoulder, and drank as much coffee as I could procure with a minimum of movement and tried to write some blog posts. This kind of down time sounds fantastic if you spend most of your day choosing your own motions and physical positioning. When you are denied the ability to get up, walk around, pee when you need to, adjust how you are sitting or standing for hours on end, or accomplish anything at all on your timeline, it gets old pretty fast.

Without my keystone in place, there were a few more chocolate chip stumbles, face-plants into pots of coffee, and I think I may have tripped over a small glass of homebrew as well. Honestly, when you are so sleep deprived you literally cannot get your eyes to focus, avoiding that one bite of granola just seems to lose its criticality.

The biggest thing I’ve learned from this Challenge is the importance of maintaining my sleep keystone. I see how without sleep, I am not able to transfer stresses in my life effectively and I lose my ability to function at my best. I’m an 8 or 9 hour a night girl, not a “perky and rested on 4 hours” type, and this Keystone of Sleep realization worries me, because I am not confident I can arrange my life in such a way as to get those hours of sleep on a semi-consistent basis.

If it’s going to happen, it’ll take some pondering to figure out how. I think I’ll have to sleep on it.

We’re in the final stretch of our Challenge, and I’ll be back for one last Anti-Inflammation wrap-up post at the end of the month, but this is the last post to comment on if you want to be entered to win a copy of The Primal Blueprint, Nourishing Traditions or The Paleo Solution. As a reminder,  the winner will be selected at random from all participants who commented on each of the four anti-inflammation posts in this series: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, and this post, Week 4. We’re a tight-knit little group by now, and it will be a pleasure to send one of you the book of your choice just as it’s been a pleasure to have some company through this learning experience.

Now it’s your turn: what is your keystone? What’s the one thing you need to do consistently to perform your best and model the best self-care in your own life, and how will you prioritize your keystone after our Challenge ends?


  1. says

    I’m one of those you mentioned who needs a lot of “alone time”. Solitude is my keystone and not just my attitude, but the way the entire household functions, will go down the drain quickly when I’m not getting enough time away from other people. Getting enough sleep, and on a regular schedule, is pretty important for me, too.

    Thanks for challenging us; it’s been educational, and for me at least, fun. I’ll have my updated blog post up a little later today.

    • says

      I second the need for “alone time.” Mine generally takes the form of yoga, or sometimes reading. Without it, I become very irritable and begin to withdraw from activities and people I would otherwise greatly enjoy. I didn’t realize how important it was to me until my observant husband remarked on one of my grumpy moods several years ago and said, “You need to do some yoga.” If I miss a day, I can feel tension setting in, my body getting less comfortable and my mind starting to fray, so I make regular practice a priority.

      This is the first I commented, but I’ve really enjoyed reading about the anti-inflammation challenge you’ve taken on, along with your other garden-related posts. Thanks for sharing with us!

    • Just Nick says

      Interesting point about the time alone – I’m a person who really recharges with some solitude. When I changed jobs last year I went from having a 2 to 2 1/2 hour per day (round trip) commute on a train and a bus to having only an hour total, but by car. It is wonderful having an hour or more of time at home – I (for one) am sleeping a lot better for it and seeing a lot more of my family.

      But the train ride in particular used to be a couple of half-hour windows per day that I could count on to read a book, listen to music, or just watch kiteboarders out the window. I love the time back, but have to figure out how to build a couple hours more solitude into my day before I’m heading up to bed so tired that I’m just falling asleep.

  2. says

    Oh man, talk about a trifecta of awful. I definitely don’t blame you for any thing you did to get through this week, especially the home brew!

    I’ve found for myself the thing that has to be in place is a stocked kitchen. Nothing fancy, but I need to have the supplies to get us through three meals a day for the work week. If I’m scrambling at the back of the fridge for dinner fixings, or realizing that after a long day I have top stop at the grocery store, I’m probably going to reach for the take out menus.

    I’ll say that secondary to this is a clean kitchen. Not sparkling! But if I have to wash dishes to cook food to wash more dishes, or the counter is cluttered when I’m trying to put lunches together, it leads straight to Crankytown and that means no one is happy. My SO doesn’t take to subtle hints so I’ve been bossily delegating more and it helps!

    So for my keystone I’m working on menu planning, twice a month big grocery trips (basics) and twice a month supplemental trips (adding extra fresh veggies, grabbing a special item, etc.). I also want to get my SO preparing more meals solo, meals that follow the anti-inflammatory guidelines. He likes to take on tasty projects that are not meals or anti-inflammatory, such as homemade soft pretzels.

    On the other hand, I finally started taking an Omega 3 supplement. It’s been a little bit of an adjustment figuring out when to take it, so now I’m waiting to see if I feel like it makes a noticeable difference.

  3. sandy dolan says

    I’m thinking my keystone is also sleep–it’s the only thing that really gets me *over* infections and viruses. I need 9 hours, but I can break that up a bit: I love a nap! Maybe that could help you, too–nap when your little ones do (I know, all that unhampered time beckons with a ton of things to get done, but since your sleep matters . . .). I’m not very good at taking my own advice, though; so this challenge is helping me see where I can do better. :)
    I also need a creative outlet–not every day, but at some point. I make cards, and when I haven’t had time for a while, everything else seems harder to get through (my roommate even asks, “When did you make cards last?” when I’m particularly cranky). It’s alone-time and creative time, so it fits a couple of *introvert* boxes.

  4. Katrina says

    My keystone is sleep. I can not operate without enough sleep. Period. I love and crave alone time, but even that isn’t very satisfactory if I’m not awake enough to enjoy it.

  5. says

    Interesting post. I like your key stone concept, and your acknowledgment that it can be different for each individual. Sleep is the one for me too. Eight hours, and definitely some alone time. After that, good whole food and food-based supplements. Junk food makes me a junk person.

  6. Janell says

    I have three keystone’s in my life: sleep, alone time and the outdoors. I find it a challenge to meet all those needs with two toddler boys. Alone time and sleep isn’t always easy. They do get me outside on a regular basis which keeps me smiling! Hope your kids are feeling better and you get some sleep yourself!!

  7. Birgitt says

    My Keystone is my gardens and being out in them…or being inside shelling beans etc. That connection to them keeps me sane and diffuses the stress. When I can only get out there on weekends – like now, during tax season – the stress settles in my back and my shoulders and in my breath. Or lack of breathing,

    I’m sorry about the rough week you have had. But I think that we are all going to have rough weeks/months where we lose touch with our keystones and that the secret/trick/koan is to find coping mechanisms to work through that. (And no, I don’t have that entirely down yet. I’m hoping to before I die! :D)

    I am really interested in the topic of autoimmune disorders. Seems I know very few adult females who DON’T suffer from them. I would love to know the role that envirnmental toxins (the 70+ living in our fat cells), poor diet and stress play in them and the interplay among them. Alas, the scientific community is pathetic when it comes to studying – or even trying to study – more than one variable at a time, so this research is beyond them. (Listened to one of them bemoan the complexities only last night!)

  8. Kimberly C says

    My first impulse is to say that my keystone is relaxing, because without it even my sleep suffers dramatically. Relaxing could look like canning a batch of vanilla pear-sauce, the soothing repetition of peeling 9lbs of pears. Or it could look like some quiet solitary time to read. Or a long walk down to a lake, looking for red-wing blackbirds. I think it’s more a state of mind then any particular action. If I don’t take the time to relax in some way, then the stress builds up and my anxiety builds.

    I recently listened to a science podcast where they interviewed the author of Spontaneous Happiness ( His book takes an Integrative Medicine approach to healing depression through scientifically proven means that don’t necessarily involve antidepressant drugs, such as regularly exercising, taking Omega 3 supplements, learning to decrease stress and anxiety. He also advocates for an anti-inflammtion diet!

    We’ve been working towards eating less gluten in our house, and trying to be more deliberate in our meat choices (grass-fed? pastured? local?). We’re always really heavy on the veggies. I think sugar followed by legumes would be the hardest for us to cut back on, at this point.

  9. says

    Hope all your lovelies are getting better now! I have been following these posts on the anti-inflammatory diet, and have to admit that my take on food is, “Won’t no one tell me not to eat what I like!” but that has been slowly changing over time, mind you I do eat very healthy (I am a vegetable farmer); although I love my coffee, cheese and other guilty pleasures. This series, combined with a great conversation on food, diet, etc. with a friend this weekend has got me rethinking some things! That you for the great reading, and new thoughts.

  10. says

    Oops, and my keystone seems to be my yoga practice, which keeps my personal motivation levels up and helps me to maintain that awareness of how my body & spirit feel, as well as what they are needing.

  11. Vestpocket Farmer says

    At least one of my keystones is sleep, too—but for me, place in the circadian rhythm is the real key. I can cheerfully, unstoppably run on as little as five hours a night if they are the RIGHT five hours….kind of an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ extreme. This body likes to go down about 7p, not later than 9p, and bounce up moving in second gear without benefit of coffee at 3a. If I’m up past about 10p, I get a second wind and that’s a bad downward spiral that goes quickly to insomnia.

    Another keystone for me is sameness—not quite scheduling; more like being able to put things on autopilot. Thursday is meatloaf, Friday is fish sort of sameness. It’s like having monkey bars to play on, you know? No monkey bars, and it’s just an empty lot not a playground. :-)

    Overall, February has sucked for me. I’m nearly recovered from the nasty crud—but not quite. “Not quite” for about four days now, and this is getting old. I never did get that tv/vcr combo down out of the attic nor dig out my favorite exercise tapes…but I really want to. I think I’ll make that exercise deal a March thing, and follow through anyway. I know I’ll feel better for it.

    Thanks for doing this challenge. It engaged me more than I expected it would.

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