- Quinn Swanson
Building a Strong Wellness Foundation
What does wellness look like for you? Is it different depending on the time of year, time of month, day of the week, or even hour of the day? Do you feel like you are striving, thriving, getting by, struggling, or flourishing?
We are complex beings, navigating in any moment a myriad of emotional, physical, and mental gymnastics competing and coalescing. In a time that is fraught with uncertainty, new challenges and responsibilities are having a tremendous impact on our wellbeing. In North-Central Minnesota, we are on the cusp of the shortest day and the coldest weather. For many, in a typical year, this is a low point. Is it for you, too? Perhaps more so this year? Add in the Holiday stressors made more complex by health and safety challenges - who to see, where and how to see them, and the justifications that are asked for regarding the choices you and yours are making.
Whether the landscape of life looks like the Jenga puzzle above or a slightly (or wildly) different version of these and other blocks stacking in a wobbly, sometimes precarious tower - here are a few tools, tactics, techniques, and resources to check out or try. Note - I believe on the average day that I am mentally and emotionally healthy and physically okay. IF this is not your current frame, some or all of these suggestions may not fit for you. As someone interested in living and feeling well, I have, am, and will continue to experiment trying to find systems, habits, and strategies that make me feel healthy. We are all different, it’s okay if the suggestions here don’t suit you. Try other ideas! Share what works for you!
4 Big Foundational Wellness Areas:
Sleep - Are you getting adequate sleep? In recent years more focus has been put on sleep as a critical building block in our wellness. Books such as Eat Move Sleep by Tom Rath, and Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington belabor the benefits and the worrisome costs of too little sleep.
Tactics I find useful - Taking melatonin helps me ease into sleep. Trying to remain firm on bedtime, yes even on the weekend! A sound machine to drown out/cover the ambient (or human generated noise). A digital sunset - turning all blue-light generating electronics off, ideally an hour or better before bedtime. Though I do use my phone to play an audiobook or sleep meditation to put me to sleep. An alarm clock that slowly brightens the room (simulating sunrise) before the alarm sounds. Not “snoozing”, getting up immediately once the alarm has sounded. When I don’t want to rise, Mel Robbin’s 5 Second Rule is a helpful tool. Countdown from 5 and just after 1, you act. No debate, just move.
Eat - Are you eating food that is nourishing to your body and brain? Healthy fats, green leafy and colorful and nutritious veg, fruit, and less-processed meat are the foundation of a healthy diet. Limiting sugar, processed flours, super-processed meat, and sugared or diet drinks. Drink water! Plenty of it.
When you eat, how much, and if you snack in-between are considerations in your energy and ability to focus. Also, do you find that you eat quickly even mindlessly? Do you eat while watching TV or engaging in a different activity? How do you feel directly after a meal? How about an hour or two later?
Recognizing what’s healthy for you, requires reflection and awareness.
Tactics- Don’t buy or eat the food that makes you feel poorly, unwell, and/or lethargic. This requires willpower and preparation. Don’t shop when hungry. Have options that can be quickly and health-fully turned into meals. Perhaps even spend time on the weekend or in the evening crafting meals for easy use during the week.
Try not to make yourself ‘wrong’ if you aren’t eating the best right now. Also, try not to give yourself a carte blanche/do whatever pass. Whether it’s the Holiday baking or additional responsibilities/time-constraints that are making healthy meals difficult, acknowledge this is not a forever scenario and make small adjustments, if possible, with bigger impact changes on the horizon.
Something I have become acutely aware of, for me, is that if I eat poorly (sugar, flour, and processed food), that’s all I want. When I eat fresh, healthier food, that’s what I’d like more of. Knowing this should make it easier to make different choices, though convenience, speed, and availability factor heavily in the moment.
Move - Are you moving your body? This doesn’t need to be high-impact running or riding a jazzy new peloton - though it may be! Movement can be in a dedicated time frame or folded in throughout your day. Walking is a great activity and a superb opportunity to conversate (on the phone, with your housemates, or if adequately distanced a friend), take in the beauty of nature (yes, even in winter), and breathe fresh, clean air (depending on where you are walking). Online there are a bundle of classes and subscriptions. Try something new. Skating, chair yoga, jazzercise, or adding a few squats, lunges, or jumping jacks when you next fill your water glass. My grandma used to place pennies on the kitchen counter island in her house and make laps inside moving a penny each time she passed. And resetting the pennies each day. Perhaps this is an idea that suits you?
Tactics - Daily walks are a building block habit for me. It’s one of the best times for my husband and me to connect and talk. Our new-to-us dog also demands this movement. In the winter we put “slippy-doodles” (<--- his term) on our shoes to make navigating icy conditions safer. For ease, if you have a spare set of shoes/boots that you can leave your ice-trekkers/cramp-ons on, it’s much easier to put them on once and leave them than try to struggle them on and off for each walk. Yes, it’s cold out, BUT, the more time you spend in the cooler temps, the more conditioned you become to them. Dress safely and warmly. Removing layers is easier than wishing you had more to put on. Buy second hand or warehouse/clearance to round out your winter clothing.
Breath & Posture - When was the last time you took a deep breath? Do so now. How’s your posture? When we fold ourselves in (rolling shoulders forward, slouching, etc) we don’t breathe as deeply or feel as empowered and open. Poor posture takes time and training to improve. Try sitting tall now, lift your shoulders up, roll them back and down. Imagine there is a string pulling from your seat up through your head lengthening and aligning your spine. Breathe deeply into your belly and back out.
How is your workspace set up? Do you have to look down to see your computer? Can you make modifications that improve your posture and the angle that you most often keep your neck/head?
During the day can you take a few moments to breathe deeply? Simply focusing on the feel of the air as it moves past your nostrils, feeling that woosh of air coming in and out. Is it cool air? Is it warmer exiting your body? Challenge yourself to take 5 deep breaths 5 times today.
Tactics - There are many devices that will help remind you on different schedules to check in with your body and/or breath. My watch subtly reminds me when a new hour has begun, I use that as a nudge to take a deep breath. Are there already reminders or things you do regularly that you can build a few deep breaths onto? While you wait for the Zoom to be started by the host, take a few deep breaths. When stopped at the red light, breathe deeply.
Our health, wellness, and resilience are bettered or diminished in small and big actions throughout every day. Some of which are in your control and predictable, and some that are not. Understanding the fundamental blocks that create your wellness foundation can help in the possible, though we hope not inevitable, scenario where rebuilding is required after a Jenga style collapse.