Stand Up for Yourself

students atteding lecture in auditorium

A student came in this week and told me that a few days ago, she had had sit through a seminar in the front row of an auditorium. In order to be able to see the presenter’s screen she was forced to pull her head back uncomfortably onto her neck.

If you have ever sat in the front row of a movie theater you get the picture.

My student had spent the whole time alternating between pulling her head back uncomfortably onto her neck and looking at the screen and looking away and trying to undo the tension in her neck.

I should add that this student has problems with neck tension.

I asked her, “did they have assigned seating in the seminar?”

“No”, she said.

“Well, why didn’t you just get up and move to a seat further back in the auditorium where you didn’t have to crane your neck so?”

“I didn’t want to be rude to the people I had sat down with”, she said.

“Oh, you have to get over yourself”, I said.

So we problem solved. We roll played. I was the woman sitting next to her in the auditorium in the front row and she practiced telling me why she was going to get up and move to another seat. It took her about ten seconds to come up with something very reasonable and polite to say to me. So now she has a plan for the next time she is in a similar situation.

I used to be where she is. In pain and assuming I would offend or bother someone if I did what I needed to do for myself.

I dealt with chronic pain in my 20’s for about 10 years. At its worst, it was very hard to sit or stand in one place for more than 10 minutes without being in a lot of discomfort. The problem was I was often in situations that involved having to sit or stand for more than 10 minutes. A class or a performance, for example. I would suffer through sitting for an hour or more when all I wanted to do was stand up and move around, if just for a few minutes.

But I didn’t.

Because I assumed I would bother someone. Or offend someone. Just like my student.

A lot of my students have low back pain and sitting for long periods of time is very challenging. The body is made to move. Standing up every 20 – 30 minutes should be reasonable for all of us regardless of whether we are hurting. Yet we are asked repeatedly to be seated for an hour or more at a time, in meetings, classes, workshops, and performances.

At some point, I realized that I needed to stop worrying about what others might think and literally stand up for myself.

So, I finally decided to take my own breaks and take care of myself.

Because nobody was going to take care of me but me.

There are a few strategies that I have developed to make it easier to take care of myself:

  • I try to sit at the end of a row or the back of the room, where it will be convenient to get up without having to step over a bunch of folks.
  • If reasonable I talk to the presenter or instructor before the class starts and ask when the breaks will be. If they are not at a reasonable time, I simply explain that I will probably stand up and stretch at the back of the room. That way I know the instructor will not be wondering what I am doing if I do stand up.
  • When presenters ask if people want a break, I always say “yes”.
  • When I am the presenter, I schedule adequate breaks for my students and myself.

What’s interesting is both my student and I were working off the assumption that the other person would be offended or bothered if we did what we needed to do to take care of ourselves.

We didn’t know that to be true. We just assumed it was true.

Most people don’t care one way or another what you do.

Do you stand up for yourself? If you don’t, what strategies of your own can you come up with to help you stand up for yourself?

Image: Elena11/

4 comments… add one

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  • Marilyn sarno May 30, 2017, 11:16 am

    I enjoyed this article. So true in younger days afraid to offend and suffering the consequences. Your role to educate differently is so important.
    As a diabetes educator and counseling frequent patients would tell me they had to work thru their lunch. This is poor self care for anyone but especially a patient with diabetes and on medication. I always offered to call the workplace and/ or provide a note with ny business card.

    • Lauren Hill May 30, 2017, 12:37 pm

      Thanks for your comment Marilyn. There are many aspects of our self-care/health-care that require us to stand up and do things differently. Not always easy as your example illustrates, but so important. And often it just takes one person to stand up and start talking to get things to change.

  • Kris Jacobs June 1, 2017, 4:05 pm

    For many years, I hurt myself by pulling in on my non-existent belly muscles—so I wouldn’t offend anyone with my pot belly. No one was looking and no one cared. I’m 68 and I still find myself doing this torture move unconsciously!

    • Lauren Hill June 3, 2017, 9:26 am

      Hi Kris. Thanks for your comment. And I bet when you don’t pull in on your tummy so much you can actually breathe a bit better.


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