Healthy mind, healthy body
By Rachel Kelly
We step into this new year all a little bit wiser. We want and we hope for better news on the horizon, but with an understanding that health doesn’t happen just once a year. It happens every day. It happens with us first, and then what we do, say and think affects those around us. Our little world, what happens in our circles and with our body, makes all the difference. Here are three focuses to make this year one of mental wellness.
One of the many onslaughts that wage war with mental health this time of year is diet culture. Should we try to figure out good choices for our body? Yes. Do we need nutrient-rich foods? Well, yeah. But do we need to focus on getting no more than 1,400 calories (the calorie intake of a toddler) a day? No. What about clean eating? Is that processed granola bar dirty? Nope. Sometimes an emphasis on wash-board abs and a focus on the “used to be'' of our bodies causes more stress than it’s worth. Stress reverses wellness and puts our bodies into a calorie-packing mode. Stress also shortens our life span and steals away our feeling of personal safety. Any way that we can reduce stress and focus on healthy choices that make our bodies feel good is a win. Feeling good, and feeling full, helps us not to put ourselves in desperate situations where our emotions and nutrition ping pong our health back and forth. So, this year, focus on eating well. This means snack often, feel full, and get in those fruits and veggies however they come. Whether that means you eat a little more sushi on the go or end your day with some home-popped corn and roasted nuts. This year, drop the stress of diet culture and embrace the fluctuations that your body is bound to go through. Treat your body well with the knowledge that it will affect how you feel mentally.
Another thing that everyone stresses over this time of year is exercise. “Five-minute daily exercises that will make you ripped,” or “How to bring back your pre-kid body.” One can’t go from a couch-warming pandemic potato to a full-fledged cage fighter all at once. We may feel like shredding it, but our bodies require kindness. With that in mind, focus on movement that can be done regardless of the weather. Exercise that doesn’t feel so much like exercise but relief. Getting out and getting up should feel like letting off steam. So go dancing, take up roller blading, or take long walks to nowhere. Whatever it is that gets you up and about, do that. Put on the tunes and go do the thing that gives you joy, giving yourself full credit for time well spent. Take up a new hobby (or more than one!) that can be done in rain or shine, snow or hail. Maybe you live by water, so take up beach combing or swimming. Get a kayak or a wakeboard. Live in the mountains? Snowshoeing is a fantastic exercise, and often brings you to new places you might not usually go. Or maybe you live in the city, so take some dance lessons. Or walk to work, hedging out that extra 30 minutes to arrive at your leisure. Take the kids to the park and play hide and go seek. Whatever gets you up and going is an activity to celebrate. It promotes health and energy, and where there’s more energy there’s more mental clarity. Taking a well-deserved mental break to be active will even make you more productive when you get back to work, and is well worth the investment.
Another little piece of wisdom that we may not have valued in past new years is the value of an environment that cultivates joy. A lot of us are home a lot more these days, and we want to live in a home and a place that makes us happy. For some this has meant that we’ve moved to a different neighborhood or suburb, with a better house and a closer-knit community. For others this has meant renovations to our homes or doing that deep cleaning. But there’s more to a home than just how it looks; there’s also how it feels. Cultivating an environment of mental wellness means that our surroundings make us feel good too. So maybe this means making a little hot beverage station in the kitchen, ready for whenever the desire for hot tea strikes. Or maybe you like to read and need to make a corner or two designated for the worthy cause. Perhaps you need another streaming app, new Bluetooth speakers, or a bigger bathtub. Swapping blinds for curtains may let in more light, or less. More indoor plants? A new pet? A breakfast nook? Whatever it is, do it. After all, once you’re done with that new hobby that you’ve picked up (cross-country skiing?), you may need the rest.
This year we focus on the few, pouring into the people that we love and who love us the best. And if we don’t have many of those, we can strike out for those relationships that make a positive difference in our lives. Clearly communicating our needs, paying attention to the here and now, and allowing our community to support us and us them, we give a huge boost to our mental health. And with that, we make our little world a little better.