As the US closes out another week of protests and more COVID-19 cases, I reflect on the chaos of 2020 and often find myself feeling confused. Not confused on why this is all happening, but more so on moving forward, what do I do with this experience? There are so many action steps we can take now, in the short term, to deal with what’s happening, but how can we ensure we’re taking steps to being better humans in the long term?
I’ve found in my own life that taking steps to improve my mental and physical health have made me a happier, and more helpful person.
Today, Mental and Physical Wellness is More Important Than Ever.
The stress, anxiety, and emotion that we have all been experiencing in 2020 from a global pandemic and millions dying, social isolation, job loss, police brutality, and protests and riots all comes at a cost to our minds and bodies.
Our bodies are tired from staying at home and crave movement and social interaction. Weight gain is on the rise, and even our body odor is changing because we’re no longer exchanging a variety of healthy microbes from other people and our environment like we’re naturally supposed to.
Our minds have been in a prolonged state of stress and panic and crave peace. The COVID19 pandemic has birthed a secondary mental health crisis, with over 56% of people reporting “trouble with eating or sleeping, drinking alcohol more, frequent headaches or stomach aches, shorter tempers, and other health problems,” based on a Kaiser Family Foundation Poll in April 2020.
So when I ask myself “how do I process this, and how do I respond?” My answer has been: return to basics for better mental and physical health.
Simple is Best, but It’s Not Always Sexy or Lucrative.
Philosophers, historians, theologians, medical professionals alike have long known there that there is beauty and solace in simplicity, and oftentimes simple solutions are the best solutions.
So why is it so hard for us to accept the simple solution?
Because the simple solution isn’t sexy, and it usually doesn’t make a lot of money. There are no gimmicks, magic pills, or quick fixes when it comes to true wellness. If you want to make real progress in your mental and physical health, here are simple and free practices that you can incorporate into your life today.
Simple Practices for Better Mental Health:
- Re-Visit Your Spirituality – If you’re not already a spiritual person, consider taking time to meditate on what that means for you. Explore, ask questions, and seek out roads to spirituality that you feel drawn to. If you are a spiritual person, challenge yourself to spend more time dedicated to your spirituality – in prayer, in study, in community – whatever that means for you, do more of it.
- Breathe – You don’t need formal training to learn how to meditate. Not only are there many free online resources to learn different mediation techniques, simply taking one to two deep breaths every now and then can actually have a huge impact on your mental health. Taking a big deep breath signals your sympathetic nervous system (i.e. fight or flight response) to turn off, calming your body and mind.
- Tend to Your Emotions – Do you remember being a teenager and being upset at something, and your parents would say “there is no reason to be angry” or “there is no reason to be sad”…but for some reason that just made your angier or more sad? That’s because emotions are meant to be felt, even the “bad” ones. When you’re feeling an emotion come on, say to yourself (or aloud) “I’m feeling this [anxiety, sadness, anger, happiness….] and I’m going to feel it, knowing it will pass.” Sounds simple, too easy…but give it a try.
- Dance. Dancing is one of those things all of us can do anywhere, at anytime, and guess what? It’s incredibly effective at improving your mental health (read about it). So turn on your song (we all know you have one), and move your hips. Your mind will thank you.
Simple Practices for Better Physical Health:
- Drink More Water. Most of you reading this are likely in a country where clean water is accessible to you at any time of day. If you don’t feel like changing your eating habits or diving into a workout routine just yet, simply drink more water. Go for a whole gallon a day, and see how your mood, skin, energy, and sleep improves.
- Eat Your Colors. No, not the artificial ones. When you’re looking at the meals your eating, don’t worry about calories or macros – simply focus on incorporating color via fruits and vegetables. Go for at least 3 bright colors (green, red, yellow) in a meal. This will help you not only focus on getting in more fruits and vegetables, but it’s a simple way to get a variety of micro-nutrition rich produce on your plate without thinking too much about it.
- Chew Your Food. A powerful yet simple hack to better gut health (which means better immunity, better moods, and a less brain fog) is simply to chew your food more. Your body works hard to break the food we swallow, but doing more mastication (i.e. chewing) yourself helps your body focus on absorbing the good stuff you’re eating more easily. Challenge yourself to take small bites, chew your food until it’s semi-liquid, and take breaks between bites. On the inside, your gut will be celebrating, and on the outside, you’ll notice you enjoy your meals more, and feel more satisfied.
- Walk More. It’s been difficult to get moving for most of us during quarantine, but walking more is the simplest way to get moving, and it has surprisingly huge benefits like improving your resting metabolic rate, cardiovascular health, digestion, and overall mood. Park your car further away. Take phone calls while walking or pacing. Spend time with friends on a walk rather than sitting. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing when it comes to exercise. Everyone can benefit from talking more strolls.
All of these tools are simple, yet if you incorporate them into your daily lives, you’ll experience change that you can feel both mentally and physically. Remember that mental health and physical health are very intertwined, that’s why practicing both has a compounding effect that will yield better results for you in the end.