“May you live in interesting times” is a saying you may have heard. It seems a blessing at first, but is often thought to be more of a curse when fully considered. The uncertainty of periods of social upheaval causes massive stress, whether locked away in full quarantine or at work in as an emergency room professional, whether marching for justice or watching it on any one of a thousand media outlets.
These are monumental times, no doubt. The ramifications of our actions seem to be at a period of maximum impact. This can create extraordinary stress, mixed up with emotional highs and lows. We are all living it; the pandemic, social unrest, fear for our very lives, whether from a disease of the body or a cancer of society.
We advocate for self care and revolution all in the same day and wonder why our sleep is fitful. So what can one do to remain a participant in these “interesting times” yet protect one”s own mental and physical wellness? Simple routines or practices can raise feelings of well being even in turbulent times. Do what is right but also do what is necessary to preserve your long term health and wellness. The body will then have the energy and focus to accomplish those things that are important to you.
Start with Gratitude.
Each day, as soon as you awaken, before you do anything else, think of five things for which you are grateful. If you are lucky, you can begin with a comfy bed in a safe home. Maybe you have a friend or family member you can always count on. Perhaps you have a mission or a job. Sunshine and bird song are regulars on my list as they remind me of the peacefulness of nature. Set a positive tone for the day as your feet hit the ground and you’ll find yourself on a more joyful path. Cheer yourself on recognizing those things that make you feel good.
Give Yourself a Pep Talk.
Make a list of affirmations that address your areas of focus and record them on your phone; then listen and repeat the words. From the simple: “I have everything I need to make this a great day.” to the inspirational: “I am a powerful creator.” Find the words of encouragement to set up a positive attitude: “I can meet any challenge that arises without fear.” and you will find your day off to a better start. Listen to your affirmations daily and you will find your life has much more positive energy. If you are having trouble coming up with a good list, there are many suggestions on YouTube if you just search “positive affirmations”. The key is to speak the words out loud. You many feel silly at first, but this practice will boost your feelings of self esteem and well-being.
Let Food be thy Medicine.
What we eat does matter, on so many levels. Give yourself the advantage of fresh wholesome food. That means far less from a bag or box. If possible, consider organic or at least avoid the “dirty dozen”, those fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue. I won’t include the entire list which is easy to find, but the top three culprits are strawberries, spinach, and kale. Pay attention to what you eat. Taking time to plan what you will prepare often means less binging on snacks and more enjoyment of nutritious meals. Many foods like those high in sugar or lectins cause inflammation and less desirable processes in the body; resulting in low-energy, suppressed immune function, and weight gain.
Work it Out.
Exercise can be a great release valve for pent up frustration or anxiety. But it also adds stress to the body, that is why our brains release endorphins, the feel good hormones, to help cope with this stress. It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you choose; raising your heart rate, working up a sweat, or just distracting the mind with physical effort and focus, all benefit your overall mental health in addition to supporting fitness. Make physical activity a habit that you do each day, even if it is just a walk. Getting out into nature is therapeutic and has many positive effects on our overall sense of well being. For those of you who prefer structure and commitment, organized classes either online or in-person are great and offer lots of flexibility for your schedule
Get a Dog.
Dogs truly are the best friend you have been looking for: always happy to see you; always ready to go out; never complaining, alway there when you need love and comfort. Dogs don’t remember your moments of bad behavior or require you make it up to them. Researchers at the University of Cambridge found that people with dogs were more active, had lower blood pressure and less stress than those who did not have one. Cats aren’t bad companions either. Both pets add routine and laughter to most days, giving far more than they require in care and maintenance. If you can’t take on the extra responsibility of a pet, consider volunteering at your local shelter. Just give them a call and ask for the volunteer coordinator.
Have a Little Faith.
Find time for a practice that connects you to something bigger. That might be meditation or mindfulness, for others, prayer. Find time to quiet the mind, to listen with more than just your ears. Quiet time with no active dialogue allows the brain to find clarity more easily over time. These activities are know to reduce stress and drive more overall satisfaction with one’s life and direction. Numerous studies on meditation support its benefits including reducing anxiety and stress, fostering emotional health, and building a clear sense of self.
Get a Good Nights’ Sleep.
At the end of the day, allow yourself to unwind. For most of us, this requires some discipline: putting away the phone and switching off the television in order to turn off the blue light that tells your body it is time to be awake. Do something soothing instead; take a relaxing bath, read an actual book, listen to soft music or a nighttime “story” meant to relax and encourage an easy transition to sleep. Perhaps you are luck enough to have a partner who will offer a light massage – even just fingertips along the length of your arm is completely relaxing for some. Many believe they are most productive working through the night, but research shows this may cause circadian misalignment, which in turn can cause fatigue and insomnia as well as feelings of irritability or anxiety.
These suggestions work best if done as a regular practice and on a daily basis. The good news – this is an easy prescription to take and most actions require only a little time and bring great value, considering the healthful benefits. The first two: gratitude and affirmations should only take minutes and are best completed as soon as you awaken. The others are flexible additions and fit almost anywhere in your day.
The key to making anything a habit is simplicity; meaning things that are easily accomplished and that have ready and recognized benefits. Start with one of two of these suggestions and once you have committed that practice to habit, add another. While these things won’t solve the world’s problems, they will build a stronger you, one more focused and calm as you go out to make the world a better place or as you stay in, to make the world a safer place.