The roller coaster ride of the past six months has most of us searching for ways to ease our stress, worry less and experience more joyful-filled moments. It’s really tough to keep a positive attitude when these feelings seem more out of reach now than ever before. As an Integrative Health Coach, I know firsthand the toll COVID has taken; specifically our increasing stress levels and exhaustion, which in turn decreases motivation to do things that keep us feeling well.
So many life events come as a surprise, which is why having a toolkit of resources to sustain us is invaluable. When you think about your own personal “Wellness Toolkit,” you’re essentially thinking about what you need to support yourself through the days, weeks, months, and years of your life. This toolkit is composed of the supports that make the difference between living life in fight or flight mode, where we’re just getting by day to day, versus living life moment to moment, accepting what is and consciously choosing how we respond.
We often look for distractions (hello, Facebook and Instagram) as ways to take our minds off discomfort, or we look for temporary reprieves (sweets and alcohol are big ones). What if, instead of distractions, we supported ourselves through daily routines, mindfulness practice, exercise, nutritious food and time in nature? Does that sound really nice but also impossible and out of reach? I promise it’s not.
You have 24 hours each day (1440 minutes) when you’re able to decide how you want to show up in life. What if, during your waking hours, you were able to maintain a calmer presence? Less reactionary, less stressed, more present. This way of being takes practice; it doesn’t come easy or naturally. Our culture does not support slowing down, taking care of ourselves, watching less media, or consuming less.
Let’s compare life to being caught in a rip current. The ocean is pulling you out, away from the shore, away from the crowds of people on the beach and the hecticness of the mainland. It’s pulling you out to a place of open expansiveness where if you swim parallel to shore, creating your own current, so to speak, you will eventually get out of the rip to calmer waters. If you continue to fight the current, you’ll become exhausted and eventually tire out.
With this less hectic go-go-go mindset, we would just feel better, be less tired, with more energy and clarity of mind. We would have more meaningful connections with others. We would make better choices in food, which can drastically lower risk of incurring chronic disease. Building support mechanisms into your life is key to staying strong and healthy in the face of adversity and the unknown.
There are a few essentials for this “Wellness Toolkit”: routine, meditation, food, exercise and nature. Within each category is plenty of space for individuals to determine their needs and supports that most serve them. We also may often find ourselves refining our toolkits because as we change, expand and grow, our support needs change.
Routine: Having a morning routine is key. For me, it sets the stage for more acceptance of whatever comes my way. The early morning hour before the rest of my family wakes is my golden time. After drinking at least one glass of water (hydration is so important), I unroll my yoga mat on my screened porch where it’s just me and the sounds of nature. Then I set a timer and meditate for 10 minutes, adding one minute every few days. I’ll jot down notes in my journal about whatever I’m feeling or what is currently happening in my life. Some days I’ll write down words or phrases of inspiration. Just getting the words down helps me accept what I’m feeling and move through any stuckness that I may be experiencing. The time I set aside for these supportive practices helps me stay more flexible when life’s challenges come. It helps me approach my mistakes and life’s mishaps with more grace, humility and acceptance.
ASK YOURSELF: What morning routine best suits your life and schedule? Think about the current flow of your morning and where you can best incorporate some time for quiet reflection and meditation, maybe journaling, and moving your body. It can be whatever length of time works for you. How would you like your evenings and bedtime routine to look? What routine would most prepare you for a restful night’s sleep? Incorporating more consistency into our lives (controlling the controllable) is likely to bring more ease and peace of mind.
Meditation: I can’t stress enough how important meditation is if you’re trying to find more peace and acceptance in your life. If you’re working on changing some habits, a regular meditation practice strengthens your muscles of awareness and intention so those habits become less automatic. Moving through your day on autopilot, always focusing on the next thing pulls you away from the present moment and from your connection with yourself. If you’d like some support with meditating, a wonderful teacher is Tara Brach.
ASK YOURSELF: What time of day is best for you to start a 10-minute daily meditation practice? If 5 minutes seems more achievable, start there. Set a timer so you’re not constantly wanting to check the clock.
Food: Food gives your body fuel, and that fuel can be chemical-laden and processed or it can be clean and nourishing. Your energy level and brain clarity are majorly affected by your food and water intake. Preparing food at home is the best way to break unhealthy eating habits and embrace a cleaner diet. There is so much information available at our fingertips about how to eat healthily, but to sum it up, as Michael Pollan put it, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” I also recommend reading Pollan’s 7 rules for eating.
ASK YOURSELF: What habits and behaviors around food serve your body and overall health? Do you know what foods work in your body and which ones create issues? Keeping a food journal where you write down what you eat and how you feel afterward is an excellent tool. What small steps can you take to bring you closer to a healthier way of nourishing yourself with food?
Exercise: Learning to love sweat can be tough for some people but sweating is an excellent way to release toxins from your body—both the physical and mental kind. Getting some type of exercise that increases your heart rate every day can boost your mood and overall health very quickly. My exercises of choice are running, swimming and yoga—all relatively easy to do anywhere at little to no cost. Starting with a walk/run combination works best for beginners as your body gets used to new movements. (Walking is an excellent choice if running is not an option.) Swimming is great because there is no impact and it works all your muscles. Yoga is so good for your body and mind in many ways. You’re stretching and toning your muscles while moving stagnant energy and creating space in your body. If you want more mobility as you age and less pain, start practicing yoga.
ASK YOURSELF: What kinds of exercise would you most enjoy doing? When thinking about starting an exercise regimen, look at your schedule and when you could incorporate exercise into your day. Perhaps it’s 20-30 minutes first thing in the morning, or maybe it works best to fit several small sessions in throughout your day.
Nature: Being outside in nature recharges us as long as we’re not focusing on how hot or cold it is, or how high the humidity is. You get the point. Feel the fresh air, no matter the temperature. Watch the clouds shift and move. Getting away from our screens and out into the open air, whether it’s the beach, a park, or your backyard is rejuvenating and an excellent way to calm the sympathetic nervous system.
ASK YOURSELF: How much time do you spend in nature every day, including just being outside in your own yard? Can you start taking some short breaks throughout your day to stand outside, breathe in some fresh air, and feel the sun on your skin?
What does your “Wellness Toolkit” look like? Let us know in the comments!
Chelsea Thornhill is a Duke Certified Integrative Health Coach who partners with people who are ready to create habits and behaviors that support the health and well-being they desire. Learn more at www.wholehealthcoachingilm.com.