The New Year, often brings with it resolutions that are physical, whether it is losing weight, eating more healthy or working out more. However we neglect to take into consideration an equally as important component of our overall health, our mental wellness. If 2016 is going to be a year for self-improvement and transformation, it is key to take care of our minds, as well as our bodies.
We all feel stressed out, whether it is from our roles as parents and caregivers, or the demands of a busy working life. Perhaps the most jarring part of stress is that it tends to accumulate over periods of time, and before we know it, being stressed becomes a chronic reality in our everyday lives. It is important to recognize that while feeling stressed is normal, it is not healthy to constantly feel under its pressure. Our brain is wired to react to stress by triggering a “fight-or-flight” response. It is important to monitor our stress levels and see what triggers stressful reactions. The key to managing stress is being aware of situational triggers and then finding ways to reduce the impact, the feeling of being overwhelmed. Stress management does require effort and does not come overnight, but with ongoing practice and incorporation of resiliency into our lifestyles, learning to manage stress levels and increase our abilities to cope with life’s challenges will prove invaluable.
When it comes to daily priorities, sleep often takes a back burner compared to other everyday activities. Having more solid sleep habits, or better sleep hygiene plays a major factor in our ability to function, our moods and even our productivity. In 2015, nearly 40% of Americans got less than the recommended amount of sleep required – 7 hours. This is an astonishing difference from about 75 years ago, when 84% were getting close to 8 hours sleep. The importance of sleeping 7-9 hours a night is vital to maintaining overall health and avoiding cognitive impairment. This reduces the ability to experience a joyful existence.
It is simple, people who maintain a regular bedtime and forbid stressful thoughts from floating around their pillows at night, enjoy more active and balanced lives. Making sure that solid sleep is as important a priority as eating and drinking will help thoroughly in the improvement of all aspects of our lives, including the ability to cope with stress.
While many of us are fascinated by the concept of meditation, we often dismiss it as being something “not for us” or “impossible.” The key to incorporating meditation into our routines is not to over-extend our expectation. In other words, start small – even if it is 5 minutes a day, as meditation has powerful transformative qualities on both our minds (lowers blood pressure, lowers anxiety, increases serotonin production that improves mood) and our bodies (intuition develops, emotional stability improves, happiness increases). People usually remark that they cannot get thoughts to stop running through their heads, so meditation is not an option in their lives. However the goal of meditation is not to stop thinking at all, but rather to observe your thoughts and allow them to pass through, and then release them without judgment that they are “good” or “bad”. It is amazing how cathartic this simple ritual can be to our overall health. Finding a few minutes a day to quietly sit, pay attention to breathing and release the stresses of the day is a powerful declaration to our minds that we are in control. Mediation requires consistency; so expect to reap the rewards after a few months of practice. Once started, many that have practiced meditation for longer periods of time speak of it becoming addictive and a vital piece of their total health plan.