I have a love/hate relationship with New Year’s Resolutions. I like the idea of a fresh start—I’ve always preferred New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve—but when I tell myself I am no longer going to do something it never sticks.
As we think about the year ahead, instead of applying restrictions to ourselves, let’s shower ourselves with gifts of wellness.
Here are some ideas of ways to add wellness into your everyday life. Self-care is not a luxury, it is essential. Self-care is the original preventative medicine to help us function in our everyday life. Choose one to try out for at least 21 days (how long it takes to create a habit) and see what you think.
Take a walk. This is pretty much my end-all-be-all for my mental health. It gives me an hour to myself to let my thoughts wander, learn from a great podcast, or listen to my favorite music. Oh yeah, and it’s also great exercise.
Start a gratitude journal. Research shows that practicing gratitude can improve your well-being. Try this assignment from the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley. “Each day for at least one week, write down three things that went well for you today, and provide an explanation for why they went well. It is important to create a physical record of your items by writing them down; it is not enough simply to do this exercise in your head.” The items can be relatively small in importance (e.g., “The avocado I ate today was perfectly ripe.”) or relatively large (e.g., “I finished grading all the Unit Four tests!”). See how you feel at the end of the week. These daily reminders of what is good in our lives can improve mood and outlook. Keep going for the rest of the month and see what kind of changes it can bring.
Add meditation. Meditation used to freak me out. The idea of having to sit uncomfortably still for more than five minutes felt restricting. Then one day I realized that when I was simply sitting comfortably (or lying down) and turned my attention to my breath I was actually meditating. I love the breath work in yoga, and was suddenly like, “Well, this doesn’t need to be so complicated.”
Try lying on your back on a yoga mat or towel on the floor (the only reason I don’t say your bed is you might fall asleep) and place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart and take 10 long slow breaths. Imagine bringing your breath down into your belly so that it rises and falls. Ta da! You are meditating. See if you can go longer by trying another ten breaths. Continue to keep your focus on the air traveling in and out and the rise and fall of your belly. It is okay if your mind wanders, just gently bring it back.
You can also try a mindfulness app like Calm or Headspace.
Drink more water. Being well-hydrated improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood. Aim for at least 11 cups of water a day.
Nourish yourself. Instead of focusing on what not to eat, think about eating more foods that have a host of benefits for your body—foods rich in Omega-3s or a rainbow of fruits and vegetables that offer a bevy of vitamins. Focus on adding whole foods that are their ingredient: potato is made of a potato, chicken is made from chicken, etc. Eliminating foods from your diet may just make you want them more, and being hungry, well that just makes you hangry.
Give yourself the gift of sleep. Getting at least eight hours of sleep a night boosts mood, improves memory and concentration, prevents weight gain, increases your immune system, and can strengthen your heart. This could be the best free gift you can give yourself.
Make those doctor’s appointments. Okay, huge caveat with the pandemic, so don’t do this until it feels safe, but when it does, go and get your annual check-up. Finding something before it becomes a problem is key to your own personal health.
Connect. Research shows that connection is the key to happiness. Connect with friends and loved ones—online will do!
Try out one of these tips and see how you feel. This year choose to treat yourself like the gift that you are.