6 Steps To A Healthy Mind And Body (Especially During Hard Times)
Step 1: Nurture Existing Relationships
Take time out of your day to specifically cultivate the relationship you have with your family and close friends; don’t take them for granted. The book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest writes that a family-first mentality is a trait shared among all the world’s healthiest and longest living people. An absence of close social connections has been shown to diminish executive functioning (memory, planning, and focus), sleep patterns, and negatively impacts mental and physical well being (Cacioppo et al., Social Relationships and Health: The Toxic Effects of Perceived Social Isolation).
Image: Simon Maage
Unfortunately, not everyone has a great relationship with their family or even has living family members; but luckily this principal applies to our chosen family - our close friends. So, say “yes” to that dinner at your parents’ and take your friend up on that invitation to grab coffee and catch up. Surround yourself with the people you love more often.
Step 2: Let Go Of Toxic People
Speaking of the people you surround yourself with, do you ever wonder why you spend so much energy trying to maintain friendships or acquaintanceships with people who leave you feeling depleted after every conversation? Yes, us too! Quit feeling obligated to respond or to be at their beck-and-call at the expense of your own mental health - especially if the word 'toxic' has every entered your mind after hanging out with them. As uplifting and beneficial as it can be to surround yourself with positive, supportive people, it works both ways. Consistently negative people can drain a room of energy as well as your own. If their presence isn’t lifting you up - it may be time for an inner circle audit.
It’s also important to take account of your support system. What are your goals for this year? If it’s writing that book or finishing that course, surround yourself with people who you know will encourage you to reach for these resolutions without polluting your confidence a la negative recommendations, habits, or opinions.
Step 3: Improve Your Nutrition
You don’t need to embark on an intense diet plan to make small improvements in your daily nutrition. We all know cooking at home is a healthier alternative (and financially beneficial) to eating out. Start by cutting back on the number of times you open the Uber Eats app per week. If you already cook at home every night but are still looking for ways to improve your diet, try slowly cutting down on the amount of processed foods you consume.
Nutrition plays a much bigger role in our overall health than just how many calories you’re consuming. There are foods that work wonders in boosting our mood and overall well-being. Foods high in magnesium like: spinach, nuts, and whole grains can help aid in sleep quality and reduce anxiety, while choosing dark chocolate over milk chocolate has been shown to reduce inflammation which is a known contributor to depression (Imhoff, Michigan Health).
Step 4: Incorporate Fitness
Do you want to work on your fitness but despise the treadmill? The world’s Blue Zones, which we talked about earlier, are geographical areas where members of a specific society, usually in geographically isolated environments, tend to live much longer and healthier life spans than the average human. In addition to maintaining close familial bonds, another commonality among citizens of Blue Zones is that they live a lifestyle that requires them to move naturally as opposed to carving out a separate fitness regime in their daily lives. Many Blue Zone citizens walk up and down the mountainside maintaining farmland. They use manual labour as opposed to excessive 21st century conveniences. But you don’t have to live in a Blue Zone or be a mountain climber to achieve a Blue Zone lifestyle. Pick up hobbies that have built-in movements like gardening or swimming; walk to the store instead of reaching for your car keys, and take the stairs instead of the elevator at work.
Step 5: Practice Consistency
We all know routine is key when sleep-training your baby or house-training your new puppy; but we can all benefit from having a consistent schedule for our bodies to rely on. Sure, spontaneity is one of the great spices of life, and we encourage the odd surprise getaway (or should we say we prefer often surprise getaways), but when possible, keeping consistent with your sleeping, eating, fitness, etc. is a great way to keep your mind and body happy and working optimally. Knowing what to expect from your day keeps your anxiety and stress hormones to a minimum, and that’s something your body will always thank you for. Develop a nighttime routine that revolves around a set bedtime. Try to wake-up, eat breakfast, and do your morning yoga or New York Times crossword at the same time every morning. We’re not saying your whole life should be regimented (because where’s the fun in that?) but try to add some consistency to the things you do every day.
Step 6: Filter What Your Mind Consumes
Image: Keren Levand
In a world of constant media, whether it be depressing news stories or that “my life is so perfect” Instagram couple you follow, it can sometimes feel like we have no choice but to consume a constant influx of stimulus seemingly created to make us feel bad about ourselves. But that’s not the case. Take control of what makes it into your daily feed. There’s nothing wrong with falling behind on the latest celebrity gossip or breaking news around the world, especially when doing so will save you some sanity. Filter who you follow and mute who you have to. Set aside a specific time during the day to consume news and information that could be triggering, and if you feel like you need a break from seeing headlines, social media, or people altogether - you’re probably right! Unplug, unsubscribe, and unfollow.
Try making a habit of not scrolling through everyone’s highlight reel the first minute you wake up. Give your mind and body time to start the day before over-consuming what’s happening around you. You’ll be better situated to handle news and have more of a check in place to how you’re feeling that morning and what you think you can handle.
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