There is something about a fresh start. A do-over. A second-chance. Don’t we all want one at least once in a while? In my opinion, that feeling is innate. There is a yearning we all have to improve and be just a little bit better. The New Year can often feel that way and I find it completely inspiring. It’s a time to evaluate the year before, set goals for the year to come and look for ways to make the next year our best yet. Go with that feeling.
In terms of health, a common goal in the New Year, I would like to offer a suggestion: ditch numbers and engage in self-care.
Self-care feels good. It builds a more positive body image, makes us less susceptible to stress and anxiety, improves immunity, increases positive thinking, and leads to patience and compassion for yourself and others. Self-care can feel self-indulgent or selfish to some but I believe the exact opposite. We are only able to serve others when we have something to give. If we neglect our own needs, we risk deep levels of unhappiness, low self-esteem, resentment and feeling burned out.
What does self-care look like? That might depend on the individual. But here are common positive behaviors:
1. Set a flexible structure. Establishing a somewhat regular routine can help you feel empowered and accomplished. In terms of food, I would recommend three regular, well-balanced meals with snacks between, depending on your hunger levels. Balanced meals include fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that our body chemistry is designed to eat regularly throughout the day. It serves as a great reminder to take a break from life every 3-4 hours to sit and engage in self-care by nourishing and fueling our minds and bodies.
2. Adequate sleep. Research shows us the magic number is anywhere between 7-9 hours, with most of us getting much less. Sleep is when your body heals and repairs itself. It needs that time to recover and be ready for another day. Establishing a night routine by turning off electronics, relaxing your mind and getting to bed a little earlier can pay off exponentially.
3. Physical activity. Our bodies are designed to move. They crave it actually. Movement brings a release, invites creativity and enhances mood. Physical activity doesn’t have to mean tortuous exercise, it just means moving your body in a way you enjoy. The sweet spot for exercise appears to be 30 minutes with longer sessions being up to you! You can even do it in 3 – 10 minute sessions if you need to. Short workouts can actually boost hormone balance and endocrine function as well as give the immune system a kick-start.
If you have a desk job and are sitting most of the day, try setting a timer to remind you to take a 5-10 minute stretch/walk break each hour. If you are a parent home with children during the day, find ways to be active with them and make it a family affair.
4. Stress reduction. Stress, we all have it. The key is to learn how to manage it effectively before it manages you. Setting emotional boundaries in relationships, saying “no” when you need to, learning deep breathing techniques, meditation, exercise, massages….find an effective strategy for you! Work to bring awareness to stress and how it feels to you and you will be able to identify and adapt before it gets out of hand.
This coming year, take time for YOU. As you do so, I am sure you will find an increased capacity to meet and set goals, help those around you and become what you truly desire.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD