Self-care in the New Year
So, you made it through the holiday season. Maybe now you are filled with relief. Maybe you are filled with sadness. Whatever you are feeling right now, it is clear that holidays provide a mix of emotions. Hopefully you found some time for reflection, some time for joy, and you feel spiritually fortified to welcome 2019.
The days are beginning to get longer, but winters can be drawn out and cold, especially up here in Maine. Here are a few tips to help you nourish your body and soul and to help alleviate stress as you come down from the holiday season and navigate the year ahead.
1. Stay connected: It is so easy to remain cocooned when the temperature dips. However interacting with friends and loved ones is filled with emotional as well as health benefits. Cultivating relationships reduces the stress hormone, known as cortisol. Decreased cortisol levels lead to a reduction in illness, quicker healing, longer life, and is a welcome refuge. Humans inherently have a need to connect with others. While it may be more challenging this time of the year, it is worth bundling up and getting out to be with those you care about.
2. Maintain healthy lifestyles: This is probably the number one New Year’s resolution, and for good reason. How to put it into sustainable practice is another story. Here are a couple of basic tips:
Nutrition and diet is on top of most people’s list. There is so much advice on how to improve your diet, what is one meant to do? The Mediterranean diet? Keto? Low fat? My advice is based on balance and moderation. I follow food author and activist Michael Pollan’s mantra: “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” More of his advice includes avoiding foods your grandmother would not recognize as food, only eat foods that will eventually rot (unlike Twinkies), and always eat sitting at a table.
Incorporate more movement into your daily routine. Use the steps at work or in the mall. Find a parking space that provides some distance. We are designed to move, but in this era of hours spent behind computers and steering wheels, we are challenged. The best exercise for you is an activity that you truly enjoy. Not everyone has to be a long distance runner or go to a gym. Find some fun, physical activity that you can integrate into your free time as well as your day to day, and get moving!
3. Spend time on your self-care: When the world gets crazy busy, your basic needs often get placed on the back burner. This is especially true for women who are caretakers and place needs of others ahead of their own. Find time to get your health care needs met (wear bike helmets, seat belts, get regular health checkups, take your meds, get sun light and fresh air, etc.). It is vital for your well-being, but often the first thing that gets abandoned.
4. Be realistic about your expectations: Most of us have very high expectations for ourselves. We can be our own worst enemies. No one is perfect 100% of the time. This is the reality of life. It is best to clarify what you value as most important and spend your time and energy staying focused on those values. Also, learn to ask for help. Another very hard thing to do in today’s “we can have and do it all” society. Staying realistic will lead to much less stress and a greater quality of health.
5. Do something nice for yourself everyday: Maybe this sounds trite, but then again, aren’t all these suggestions? When I was going through a particularly difficult time many years ago, a friend gave me this advice, and it stuck with me. It works. Self-kindness is a little thing, but its impact is vast. An act of compassion such as reading a self-affirmation, taking a warm bath, doing several minutes of quiet meditation, or taking a walk around the block can change the way you feel about yourself. You deserve it, you are worthy.
6. Laugh as much as possible: No one can dispute that laughter is often the best medicine. Laughter decreases stress hormones which boosts your immune system and leads to improved overall health. Laughing also increases your endorphin levels, which are natural pain killers. In addition, laughing builds connection with others. The best compliment I ever received from my kids was how much they love my sense of humor. Comic relief is key to our relationship and has made us closer. If you can’t beat them, join them. It is so much more fun. So, when all else fails, turn on a silly movie or play a fun game. Stay connected and safe, and have a wonderful new year!
Susan Kamin, CNM, MSN, MPH provides women’s health care in a client centered, non-rushed environment at Lifecycle Women’s Health. Her focus is on sexual health and well body care for all women from adolescence past menopause. She encourages her clients to be active participants in their care to promote lifestyle changes and optimal wellness.
If I am not addressing topics that are important to you, please let me know and send ideas for future posts. Thanks for visiting!