Updated: Jan 4
As we enter the New Year, our thoughts move to changes we can make to improve our lives. Of course our resolutions often fail. We go large and often try to do too much at once, but small changes really can make a big difference. Since the second lockdown, I've read and listened to a lot of wellness tips, many of which I have taken on board and I thought I would share what I have learned. You don't have to try everything but consistency is key.
Try Something New
Research has found that if you want to keep your mind sharp and feel like you are thriving, it is important to try new things and to step out of your comfort zone. Did you know that being an amateur at something, failing often and trying again is better for your brain than being an expert? It knows it is still needed and more neural connections are made. When you master something, the brain doesn’t have to work so hard. So don’t worry if you find something hard to grasp…you brain will thank you for it.
Movement is so important for body and brain. It keeps us mobile, keeps our heart healthy and has been proven to prevent and alleviate depression in many cases. But exercise doesn’t have to be in a gym for an hour at a time. Did you know 10 minutes of moderate cardio exercise 4 times a week can make a dramatic difference to your health? I am a massive fan of a morning routine. I do 10 minutes of yoga stretching and a 10 minute workout every weekday morning using various videos on YouTube, but if you prefer to walk, dance, cycle or run, it all counts and you really do feel better afterwards, which puts you in a better mood for the day ahead.
Stillness I love to meditate but I acknowledge that it takes time to feel you are getting anywhere at the beginning, especially when your mind is racing and you have a to do list you need to get through. Stillness in every day is very important though, and this can be achieved in a number of ways: A walk looking around at the nature around you; sitting and doing a few minutes of focussed breathing like 3-4-5 breathing (breathing in for 3, holding for 4 & breathing out for 5); making your morning tea and concentrating only on the process - getting the cup out, putting the teabag in, watching the water flow but being completely immersed in what is happening...it all counts. Take it from me, relaxing the mind helps you become less reactive & more productive. If you are really struggling, reflexology is a great way to switch off and it will also help you understand the feeling you are looking for.
Positivity and Sense of Purpose Did you know that science has shown that doing something for others makes us feel happy. It can be hard to stay positive in times where there is so much uncertainty. Think about what you are consuming, not just with your mouth but with your eyes and your ears. Health isn’t just physical, it is mental and it is emotional. Bad news and fear can be very draining. There are wonderful things happening every day, no matter what the news cycle is saying. If you are feeling low, consider volunteering. Often you can give just a couple of hours a week, but this time can make a huge difference to charities and to individuals who need help. I pick up food from supermarkets for a local food bank and drop it to a local sorting hub. It’s a booking system so I just book in when I have time. It’s not a big commitment, but I feel I am doing something for others and that makes me feel good. Crafting for charity may be your thing or helping at your kids' school. No matter what your interest, you can channel it for good and it doesn’t need to be time consuming. See how you feel afterwards.
Analysis of 300,000 people in 148 studies found that loneliness is associated with a 50% increase in mortality from any cause...read that again. This makes it comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and more dangerous than obesity. We as human beings need company & this instinct, like most, comes from our early years on the planet. Being alone back then, almost certainly meant death, as it was your tribe that assured safety. The stress and anxiety we felt about the very real threat of being eaten by a wild animal then, was down to the same chemicals that are released today when we feel alone and without the support of our community. The easiest way to find your tribe is to think of something you love to do and then look for a people who share your interests & passions. Since the beginning of the pandemic, staying at home has become normalised, but I have seen many people who have suffered mentally with this. If you are really unable to get out to see people, find an online, supportive community, which although is not as powerful as the real thing, is still much more beneficial than no connection at all.
Sleep This is a tricky one as I know that so many people struggle to get a good nights' sleep. Sleep is key, as it is very hard to make any of the positive changes to your health and wellbeing when you are exhausted. Read my earlier blog 'Can't sleep, won't sleep', but as with this list, don't try to do too many things at once. If you are a person kept awake by over-thinking, it is possible that trying lots of things at the same time could make things worse.
Remember that food is medicine. It is hard to make good food choices, when unhealthy choices are cheaper and designed to be irresistible. This Christmas I have got into a dangerous and familiar festive habit of snacking on cheese and chocolate after almost every meal, but once this period has passed, I'll get back to a vegetable-rich diet and will try my best to eat minimally processed foods. Study after study has shown that a Mediterranean style diet is the best for most of us, but if you can't achieve this, just avoid ultra-processed foods where possible and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Good diet isn't just good for the waistline, it's good for immunity, the skin and the mind amongst many other benefits. Drinking plenty of water is also cheap and effective.
Talking down to yourself can be more detrimental than another person berating you. Think about how many negative things you say to yourself during the day. If you wrote down every unkind thing you said to yourself during an average day, I think you would be surprised at how mean you can be to yourself. Your brain will not distinguish between inside and outside voices. Your negative chat will still make you feel bad and keep you in a negative spiral. Talk to yourself as you would your best friend. Be kind. We all make mistakes, we all have a bad day. Tell yourself it's okay, you're still a good person, tomorrow will be better.
As always, if you are unsure where to start, try reflexology. The stillness it brings, always helps with your next steps. Happy New Year!