The start to a new year can be a great time to think about personal goals for the coming weeks and months ahead. What do you want to dedicate time to? What positive changes would you like to see in your social, professional, and personal life? Of course, there is no shortage of small, daily changes you can make that can benefit both your physical and emotional health, but for the purposes of this article we’re focusing on small tweaks with the power to have an outsized impact on your wellbeing. All these healthy habits are free to implement, so you can easily test them out over the next couple of weeks, and as always, take what works for you. Let’s dive in.
Meditation is the process of focusing your mind on a particular object, thought, or activity. In mindfulness meditation, the mind is typically focused on the breath; when intrusive thoughts distract you, you gently direct your attention back to the present moment.
Meditation is thought to have originated in India thousands of years ago. Though it is closely associated with Buddhism as part of its followers’ respective journeys to better understand themselves and the world around them, meditation has also become a growing part of more Western religions, like Christianity. It’s important to note though that meditation doesn’t have to be strictly spiritual; it can also be deeply personal, and has very real benefits if you choose to pick up this habit.
Benefits of meditation include:
- Reduced anxiety
- Reduced stress
- Improved self image
- Improved attention span
- Increased understanding of yourself
We recommend starting with guided meditation as a first step to beginning this healthy habit for your mental health.
- Increase activity levels
We’ve already explained why exercise is important to one’s physical and mental health, but what about becoming more active in general? According to the American Heart Association, since 1950, the number of sedentary jobs has increased by 83%, with the average office worker spending 15 hours a day sitting, and the number of physically active jobs hovering at just 20%. So from an evolutionary biology perspective, despite being built for consistent exercise, we now spend more time inactive than ever before in human history. This inactivity is having a massive impact on our physical health. Here are some potential detriments of a sedentary lifestyle, as reported by the National Library of Medicine:
- Poorer blood circulation
- A compromised immune system
- A body with increased inflammation
- Weaker bones (with reduced mineral content)
- Muscle loss
These associated health risks, over the course of years, can lead to increased risk of obesity-related conditions like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol, as well as stroke, certain cancers, and increased feelings of depression and anxiety.
All that sounds scary, but it is relatively easy to get your activity levels up without even realizing it.
Here are some suggestions for working in activity throughout the week:
- Take a 15 minute or 30 minute walk on your lunch break
- Get up from your desk and stretch every hour
- Take the stairs instead of riding the elevator
- Try a standing desk and try to stand at least 1 hour a day (if you work from home, or if your office offers this!)
- Cycle or run to work (if distance allows)
- Read a book/watch TV while exercising on the treadmill after work
And remember: it’s not about being perfect. It’s essential to note that any activity is better than nothing. Research indicates that 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity) each week reduces the risk of chronic diseases and adverse health events. When you double those numbers? There are even better health benefits. Interestingly, you can make a positive impact on your body beginning at just 60 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity. That’s just one spin, weight-lifting, or power yoga class a week!
Imagine the following: instead of getting the bus to the train station, you decide to walk the 1.5 miles there and back, twice a week. That’s 40 minutes of added walking x 2, which is 80 minutes of added activity a week your body wouldn’t typically get. Small changes like this can have a big impact over long periods of time.
- Take time for yourself every day
This is way easier said than done. After working, studying, or caretaking throughout the day, among the many other responsibilities of adulting (like cooking, cleaning, and paying bills), it can feel like you only have energy to do the bare minimum in the evenings. And there is nothing wrong with unwinding by scrolling through your phone or turning on Netflix - but it could be a good idea to try to intentionally carve out 20 minutes for yourself every day for a hobby you enjoy. Additionally, cutting out screen time 30 minutes before bed also promotes better sleep, so it’s a win-win.
Even if you only read a chapter of a book you have been meaning to start, work your way through a course you’d like to begin, or go for a peaceful walk by yourself, reconnecting to your own wants and needs throughout the day is essential. Especially in a world where we’re busier than ever, and have more commitments than time, it is an act of self love to do something purely for you, for your own enjoyment.
- Prioritize getting a good night’s sleep
When you don’t get enough sleep, chances are you feel it. But sleep has both unfelt and felt implications on your wider health. Getting a good night’s sleep offers the following benefits:
- Protects against inflammation
- Improves your immune function
- Improves concentration and productivity
So what steps can you take to ensure a good night’s sleep?
We recommend starting preparation for a restful 7 to 9 hours earlier in your day, especially the afternoon. Avoid consuming caffeinated beverages (such as coke, coffee, black tea, alcohol, and energy drinks) in the 8+ hours preceding bed time. Next, consider turning off your phone the hour before you plan on going to sleep. Instead choose to read, listen to music, meditate, or stretch. If you do need to use your phone or laptop, consider investing in a pair of blue light glasses.
It can also be important in the hour or so before bed you follow a routine that signals to your brain it’s time to sleep. This will vary depending on your lifestyle, but a potential routine could be to turn off all devices 30 minutes before bed, read a book, brush your teeth, shower, and any other activities you need to prepare for the next day, before turning off the lights. This routine also may include going to sleep and waking up at the same time each morning and night, which has been linked to tapping into other health benefits.
- Curate your social media
Though many people have been asking themselves over the past year whether social media is bad for their mental health, it is also true that social media can be immensely useful, depending on the person. On the plus side, it can be a good way to connect with others, hear different perspectives, enjoy entertaining content, and learn from your favorite creators/resources, to name a few. All for no direct cost.
So if you do have an account on Tik Tok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or any other platform - how can you make the most of it, while minimizing the downsides? Because the downsides can be pretty problematic. The main complaints social media users report often include too much time spent on apps, negative emotion, disrupted sleep, and cyber bullying.
We recommend, to begin, that you consider:
- Conducting an ‘audit’ of your social media
Which platforms do you get value out of, if any? What do you like about them? What don’t you like about browsing them? Specifically, ask yourself if there are any that trigger particularly strong reactions, such as feelings of anxiety or unhappiness, during or after you get done scrolling.
- Ask yourself what kind of content you really want to consume
Now, once you’ve figured out the ones you might want to keep, ask yourself: “do the accounts/communities I follow and am a part of add something to my life, in any way?” Follow that question up with, “do these accounts damage my mental health in any way?”
- Be intentional about who you follow
If yes to the latter, try finding ‘replacement’ accounts. For instance, Instagram is notorious for promoting unhealthy beauty standards that are not only extremely cisgendered and exclusive, but also unrealistic. Consider avoiding accounts that appear to use FaceTune or Photoshop, and thus have been shown to be damaging to one’s own self perception. Instead actively search out accounts that are inclusive, honest, and unfiltered. Don’t worry about offending people if you need to mute them (they won’t know) or unfollow them - protecting your mental health is the most important thing of all.
- Consider reducing your screen time
Sometimes, we spend more time than we anticipated on a certain app. To stop spending potentially hours each day on your phone without realizing it, consider setting a timer (or setting up Screen Time, if you have an iPhone) which will remind you when your allotted amount of time is up. This is a good first step to becoming more intentional about how much time you’re spending on these platforms, and their impact on your psychology.
And remember: you don’t need to keep a social media account active if it doesn’t add value to your life. Your attention, time, and energy is valuable. If you curate any of your social media feeds and find yourself still unhappy after logging off - the best option may be to deactivate them for the time being.
To wrap up, the new year is an excellent time to think about what matters to you most, what you would like to see change in your life, and what you want to prioritize going forward over the next few months. Your mental and physical health is SO important, and implementing one (or all five) of the above 5 healthy habits can have a massive, positive impact on your day to day life. We recommend starting out small by implementing one habit at a time, and remembering that consistently is so much more important than perfection.
Happy new years from the team at Allara Health!
Allara Health provides personalized treatment for hormonal, metabolic & gynecological conditions that utilizes a holistic plan that merges nutrition, lifestyle, medication and supplementation, and ongoing, expert support to heal your body.