Happy 2017! I hope you all have had a great start to the year. I apologize for my hiatus over the last 2 months. I got really sick with severe pneumonia and have been out of commission all this time. I am slowly getting back to health, and it occurred to me to share with you the practices I have been taking on to get myself back to normal. These are all practices that can support your overall wellness.
Feeling gratitude is one of the most effective ways to improve your mood and create a positive mental outlook. Being thankful for what you have in your life allows you to focus on what is good, rather than what is not. A positive attitude has been found to improve a person’s physiology and mental and emotional state, which makes it more likely for the person to keep motivated and thrive, and it also reduces stress and anxiety (Gale, 2014).
If you do not already have a practice of gratitude, you can start by writing down 5 things you are grateful for today. It is often helpful to do this at nighttime to help you go to sleep with a more relaxed state of mind. It is also helpful to do this first thing in the morning, to help you have a positive start of your day. You can decide the time that works best for you, whether it is morning, night, or any other time.
You can write these lists on a pad of paper that you keep by your bed or your desk. If you are more technologically inclined, you can write these on your note app on your phone or tablet, on a word document on your computer, or if you are inspired to do so, share it on social media.
Resting and relaxing not only allow your body to heal, recover, and prepare for more activity, but they also help to strengthen your immune system, improve your mood, reduce anxiety and stress, and help alleviate symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and pain (Gale, 2014; Freeman, 2009).
Over the last two months, I have gone through varying periods of sleeping too much and periods of not being able to get enough sleep. There is no better way to achieve relaxation than through sleep, but adequate sleep is not always possible. If you have difficulty sleeping, it is important to find other ways to allow the body to relax. Even when I suffered from insomnia during the last few weeks, I ensured to give myself a break at certain points during the day, allowing my body to feel relaxed.
There are different ways to achieve relaxation, and it is important that you find what works for you. I can feel relaxed by watching TV or reading a book. I have to note here that it is best to opt to watch or read something comedic or lighthearted that will bring you joy, rather than something suspenseful or action-packed that may not allow your body to rest properly. I also feel relaxed when I take a hot bath or when I spend time in nature. Sometimes sitting down with a nice cup of coffee or tea, or even a glass of wine, is relaxing. You may discover different activities or practices that allow you to relax.
One effective relaxation practice is meditation, which has also been found to reduce depression, stress, and anxiety, improve moods, reduce pain, and support health (Gale, 2014; Freeman, 2009). There are many meditation techniques, but one of the simplest ones, which I practice daily, is to simply focus on your breath. Breathing involves a regular pattern of inhalation and exhalation, and by paying attention to this pattern your mind has something to focus on instead of allowing itself to get distracted by the myriad thoughts that cross through your brain. Focusing on something other than your daily thoughts allows you to be present and live in the moment, even if only for a couple of minutes during your practice. This calms your mind and your body, and allows you to relax and feel well. Meditation can also be combined with exercise, such as walking, running, yoga, and tai chi.
Everyone knows that exercise is good for you. Even just 10 minutes of exercise a day can have a positive impact on attitude, and 30 minutes a day of exercise can improve health and increase lifespan (Gale, 2014; Freeman, 2009; Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Studies have shown that exercising 30 minutes 3 times per week can improve moods, reduce anxiety and stress, and help with depression (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
If you have a regular habit of exercise, that is wonderful. But, if you don’t, or if you are like me and have not been exercising for a while and need to get yourself back on track, it is best to start with something you enjoy doing. You are more likely to engage in an activity that brings you joy, than one that seems like a chore. If you enjoy going to the gym, then that is how you should start. If you enjoy being outdoors, then consider walking or jogging outside. If you enjoy dancing, look for classes or simply turn on some music and start moving!
It is also important to start with shorter duration and slowly build up the length of time you spend exercising. Not only does it make it easier to incorporate exercising into your busy schedule, but it also makes it easier to maintain the habit. Start with say 10 minutes per day, and add 5 minutes to your practice each week. For example, I like to do yoga, but my body is not strong enough to do a full yoga session. My body is also not strong enough to do many yoga poses yet. I started with simple stretches for 10 minutes a day last week. I have slowly been building up and I am now doing stretches and a 2-3 yoga poses for 20 minutes a day. My next step will be to build up to a 30-minute practice, and slowly incorporate more poses.
5. Ask For Support
It is important to recognize when you need assistance or support. I do not always reach out for help, even when I need it, and thus, this practice is of particular relevance to me. I have always been independent and self-sufficient, and I have a hard time asking for help, even from my loved ones.
But, having support or assistance can be of great consequence, particularly when you are focusing on improving wellness. Having support ensures that you have a companion and someone to rely on, but also makes it more likely that you stay on track with the practices that you have set up for yourself. It is ideal if you find someone to follow these practices with you, but that is not always possible. In that case, at least having someone whom you can share your practices with and talk to or discuss your progress with makes a big difference. Finding a therapist may be what helps. Whatever you choose, support makes you more accountable and keeps you motivated.
It is not necessary to follow all 5 practices of gratitude, relaxation, meditation, exercise, and seeking support. Each of them holds its own merit and starting with at least one will be a step in the right direction to support your wellness. But, the more of these practices that you incorporate, the stronger your path to wellness.
Freeman, L. (2009). Mosby’s Complementary & Alternative Medicine, A Research-Based Approach (3rd ed.). St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.
Gale (2014). The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, (4th Ed). Farmington Hilla, MI: Gale Cengage Learning.
Pizzorno, J. E. & Murray, M. T. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine (4th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.