Happy New Year!
It has been a challenging year for all of us. The New Year is upon us and it brings fresh promise for a better tomorrow. This is a great time to take stock of where we are and where we have been and change some things so that we can make the most of upcoming opportunities.
Many of us have not attended our physical health during the pandemic, and most of us tend to overeat and drink during the holidays. But it is important to keep in mind that our physical health is something that, to a great degree, we can control. Thus, when we exercise and eat right, we not only experience the physical benefits that follow, but we also experience the mental benefit of setting attainable goals and achieving them. If you have neglected this aspect of your wellbeing lately, it is time to make some changes. Remember that habits are something that you live, not something that you have, or worse, something you are stuck with. Habits are merely patterns of behavior that you can change at any point in time with conscious effort. Healthy behaviors can start as very small things that you build upon as time goes on. Set your excuses aside and just stay true to the mission of improving your health.
Likewise, it is a good time to take stock of what we have been doing to improve our mental health. Some statistics indicate that the rate of anxiety and depression have increased by three to four times that of pre-pandemic rates. Many people have lost their jobs, and many have had loved ones become seriously ill or die. Those things are difficult to endure in even the best of times. So, what can we do to improve our state of mind and move forward?
First, it is important to understand why we need to be aware of our emotional states. The body releases chemical signals in response to stress-related emotions, causing mutations throughout our cells that lead to disease and physical distress. Thus, if you continuously experience fear, guilt, shame, and grief, you are literally allowing yourself to internalize stress. It isn’t the external circumstances of our lives that cause stress. Our reaction to circumstances is what causes stress.
Bottling up or stifling emotion isn’t the answer either. When we repress stress and negative emotions, those things stick in the subconscious mind and remain a source of thought, creating more of the same. The key is to let emotion arise, recognize it, and release it so that it loses power over you and your health. There are several great methods for doing this. Try to step outside yourself and look at the circumstances and your reaction to them from a neutral point of view. The better your understanding of the big picture and the temporary state of things, the easier it becomes to process and release negativity. If that method doesn’t work for you, try emotional freedom techniques such as the tapping technique.
Meditation is a great way to calm the constant churning of a troubled mind and deal with stress. Meditation has a myriad of health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and improving sleep. Meditation promotes physiological changes in the brain, improving neuroplasticity. More importantly, recent studies on meditation indicate that the practice can change genetic expression. What that means to you is that meditation can work to reverse damage your body has experienced as a result of stress. Meditation, like anything else, is a lifestyle choice and a pattern of behavior. Make a conscious effort to learn the practice and once you begin to experience its benefits, it will stick with you as an essential part of your health routine. There are hundreds of commercial meditation tools available if you feel you need help to calm your mind. While you should do whatever works for you, there is nothing necessary to master the art other than you and your determination and commitment.
Take stock of the amount of time you have been spending engaging in passive behaviors such as TV watching, internet surfing, etc. We tend to seek out distractions in stressful times that take us away from reality. Understandably, sometimes we just need a break. But the problem with these activities is that they do nothing to move us in the direction of improving our lives. Be honest with yourself about how much time you’ve been wasting on distraction. Look for ways you can replace some of those activities with positive, active behaviors such as walking, hiking, etc. Not only will outdoor physical activities improve your health and help mitigate stress, being in nature encourages mindfulness. The sense of awe and wonder nature fosters brings us into the present moment and out of our troubled minds.
Before making resolutions for 2021, honestly assess whether you’ve taken time to look at some larger life goals in areas such as health, career, social life, relationships, learning and growth, parenting, and finances. It is incredibly important to define your goals so they can become part of your overall thought process. It is astonishing when you ask most people what they want in life and they reply, I don’t know, just to be happy.” What does ‘happy’ mean to you in each of the above areas? If you can’t articulate it, how will you ever get it?
If you truly don’t know what it is that you want, meditate on it. Make it your goal to figure it out in the greatest detail possible. When you define a clear path, you activate the power of your brain, which will begin to focus on recognizing opportunities to get what you want. You’ll find that every day is a resolution moving you toward what you really want when you develop this mindset.
Finally, the most important thing you can do for yourself is to accept that you have fallen into some less-than-desirable behavior patterns, but not to beat yourself up for doing so. If you berate yourself, you only create more of the negative emotional patterns you should be working to correct. Treat yourself with the greatest of compassion while showing yourself a little tough love to move forward.
Life will always present challenges, some of which will be downright terrible, unthinkable things. The healthier we remain emotionally and physically, the more resilient we become to these shifts of fortune. Wishing you a safe and truly Happy New Year!