A guide to wellness and self-care
Another year begins and resolutions start piling up: eat healthier foods, lose holiday weight, meditate more, step up your exercise routine, sleep earlier, learn something new.
We all need a little nudge to get started and the Year of the Tiger could be the one inspiring factor to leap forward and make them happen.
I have put these to the test with excellent results:
Develop a morning routine. This is a game-changer. The way you start your morning sets the pace for the rest of your day. A few moments of conscious silence, affirmations, visualization, stretching, and journaling should be part of your practice before you talk or connect in any way to the outside world, turn on your phone or look at the morning paper.
Breathe. The moment you wake, place both hands on your abdomen and become aware of your breath by deeply inhaling and exhaling a few times. Feel your hands raising and lowering.
Gratitude. Through a prayer affirmation or visualization, connect with your spiritual practice by acknowledging the fact that you are indeed alive and with a day full of opportunities ahead.
Stretch. Have a yoga mat close by and do a few stretches that feel good for your body. Start by holding a child’s pose for two to three minutes and feel your spine decompress.
Write. Keep a journal nearby and begin writing your morning thoughts as they come. Don’t proofread. Don’t overthink or censor what you are thinking. Let it flow.
There are no rules and it does not have to be neat or in a certain order. Just jot down whatever crosses your mind. This is called “stream of consciousness.”
With this practice, you are allowing yourself to communicate with your inner voice, your intuition and your soul — the one that has all the answers.
Having this time solely to yourself will keep your mind centered, focused and balanced throughout the day. The writer Hal Elrod explains this practice in detail in one of his bestselling books, The Morning Miracle. It’s worth the read.
Start your day with a savory meal. If your first meal is breakfast, avoid the typical American early intake of sugary foods like orange juice, pancakes with syrup, chocolate spreads, white bread and boxed cereal.
After seven to eight hours of rest and “breaking your fast” (that’s what breakfast stands for), the last thing you want is to ingest large amounts of sugar on an empty stomach for two main reasons: insulin spikes and weight gain.
Let me explain: The moment you consume high-energy and sugary foods, your pancreas instantly begins to release insulin to help your body control and metabolize the sugar in your blood and keep your glucose at a normal range. If that consumed sugar intake is not burned through heavy exercise in a few hours, it will be stored as fat in your waist, thighs and hips.
Also, sugar attracts more sugar, and hunger will strike again just a few hours after breakfast.
This can be curbed by consuming low-energy, high-nutrient foods that include protein, oils, and complex carbohydrates that keep you satisfied longer. This will ensure that you avoid energy levels dropping throughout the day, leading to off-hour snacking, cravings and weight gain.
A Filipino breakfast is perfect: grilled bangus, scrambled eggs, sliced tomato, and brown rice. The Japanese version is grilled salmon or cod filet, miso soup and green tea, or a Mediterranean bowl of sliced avocado, spinach, hard-boiled eggs, feta cheese and quinoa. These have everything you need and will keep you satisfied longer.
The choices are infinite. Have fun planning them.
Keep moving. Movement of any kind is essential to keep the body fit and the mind uncluttered. The release of endorphins reduces stress and body fat, lowers blood pressure, increases energy levels, and strengthens your heart.
The secret is to find an activity you enjoy. You will find the time and energy to do it regularly if you like it. A brisk walk of 30 minutes at any time of the day is all it takes, either in a gym or outdoors.
If you are alone, listen to music, a podcast, an audiobook, or bring a friend. Walking is a good bonding activity you can do with your friends and family to spend quality time together.
Cultivate creativity and keep learning. A creative person is not necessarily someone with a set skill for writing, painting, or designing. Creating can be anything from moving furniture around and painting a wall blue to compartmentalizing your pantry or organizing the inside of your refrigerator. It is all about innovation and transformation.
Engaging in an activity that allows you to use new ideas and create new spaces has been proven to help you cope better with problem-solving and mood-related disorders.
Commit to being a life-long student regardless of your age: find an area of interest and register for it. Don’t think about it too much.
Learning something new allows us to experience the world from a different angle and a broader perspective.
Prioritize sleep. Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep. A well-rested body is essential for proper functioning. Lack of sleep affects weight, stress levels, mental clarity and emotional balance. Everyone over 18 years old needs seven to nine hours of sleep.
Plan for quality rest with the following in mind:
- Keep it light. Consume your heaviest meal in the middle of the day and keep dinner light, as digestion requires energy and interferes with the body’s ability to rest. Limit sugar, alcohol and caffeine and wait at least two hours before going to bed.
- Disconnect. Turn off electronics and mentally prepare yourself for bed by dimming lights and reducing exposure to light and sound using an eye mask and earplugs. These come in handy when your partner has different sleeping hours.
- Set a time for sleep. Decide what time you will sleep nightly and stick to it. Try restorative activities before bedtime: Brew a cup of camomile tea, go for a 10-minute walk, do some yoga, meditate, take a warm shower or read a few pages of a book.
- Try a weighted blanket if you need enhanced relaxation and improved sleep quality. It works magic for both children and adults with anxiety conditions. They are many choices on the market.
Touch is important. Seek physical touch from your partner and loved ones. A kiss, a tight hug, a cuddle, or just holding hands increases your serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters helping relieve anxiety, avoid depression, and regulate your mood.
If no one is readily available, find other options: have a massage, reflexology, or a reiki session, get your hair styled, anything that involves touch and caring. If you have a pet, stroke and snuggle your furry friend. Pets fulfill the basic human need for touch and bring playfulness into your life.
Avoid toxicity. Spend time with enlightened people. We are all familiar with this type of toxic person. It could be a family member or someone at work.
The one who has nothing positive to say, gossips, or complains about everything and everybody. The one who overshares personal details to provoke reactions or is always unfairly treated. It’s exhausting being around them.
Negative people drain your energy levels quickly, so find ways to spend as little time as possible or avoid being in their realm altogether.
How to do this:
- Set boundaries. Use phrases such as: “I’m not interested in this type of conversation” or “I’m uncomfortable listening to this.” Try to calmly divert the conversation to another subject.
- Don’t engage: “I’m sorry you feel this way.” There is a chance the person will feel heard and that will suffice.
- Change the topic to a positive note. Keep it light and broad: “What are you watching on Netflix these days?”
Dodge: Adjust your scheduled routine to avoid physically running into them.
If none of these work, have an on-the-spot exit strategy: look at your watch and simply state, “I need to make a call,” and then walk away.
Practice self-love. Write down a list of the things that bring you joy: a bike ride, a walk, talking to a friend, buying flowers, or listening to music. Now find time to do one of them every day, fully conscious and aware that it’s an act of self-love. Your relationship with yourself is a pretty big deal. Learn how to make yourself happy with small moments of indulgence. Remember: You play the most powerful role in your own wellbeing, so take control.
The year ahead promises to be one of healing, renewal and change. Let’s embrace it in good physical, mental and spiritual health.