As we have celebrated the arrival of the new year, it gives us a fresh start and hunger for change. We hold wishes and new goals for life improvement: how to be happier and healthier? Even though it seems it is a broad question, these seven essential steps can help:
1. Manage time better. It is a great way to reduce stress. Find a better balance between work and leisure, organize your priorities, and shave off undue stress caused by haste and rushing through things. We are creatures of habit, and we do better with daily routines to provide us with organizing points and patterns of predictability. So, create short “to do” lists for days ahead. Don’t go past the week-end, to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Be flexible with your list: some items may not get done. Carrying over is fine. Your goal is slow but steady achievement, rather than a spurt of energy that can not sustain itself. Prepare for the next day, spending a few minutes every evening to pick out next day outfit. Lay out the items to be readily available. When shopping, buy healthy snacks to eat at work in the next few days. Pack your lunch box container a night before, to take to work in the morning.
2. Seek out the positive. As life gets difficult, many resort into sulking and complaining. Without even knowing it, as you listen to negative talk, trying to support and encourage, you get down. Minimize such interactions. Better self care includes mindfully “recharging your internal battery” through connection with positive people and uplifting events. Arrange more interactions with supportive and positive people in your life, to facilitate sharing of good energy. Just like negative energy, positive energy is contagious and so much better for you. Watch funny movies and sitcoms, read and tell jokes, appreciate your time with people with good sense of humor. Laughter releases endorphins, improving your mood and immune health. It lowers the levels of hormone of stress cortisol and helps to release opioids, natural pain killers. Also, cultivate the ability to take yourself lightly, forgiving mistakes and imperfections.
3. Be physically active and enjoy time outdoors. Regular exercise reduces stress by lowering cortisol and boosting the immune system. Even when you can’t do a full workout, schedule small spurts of activity: a ten minute walk can be as beneficial as a long workout to relieve stress and anxiety. “Regular” is a key word. People saying that "they don't have time to exercise" overestimate the time it takes, and underestimate the power of short daily exercise. The average person in their 30s will lose 1/4 of their muscle strength by age of 70. Start strengthening today with brief daily exercise. Whenever possible, walk outside. Being outdoors is a natural antidepressant. Nature sights have a calming and relaxing effect on your mind and body. Even when busy or at work, find time for a short brisk walk outdoors. Plan more nature related activities during week-ends.
4. Relax more and engage your playful and creative side. Take 5 minutes daily to breath slowly and deeply: diaphragm breathing relieves stress and anxiety. It reduces stress hormones in the body and lowers heart rate and blood pressure. Meditation is a great way toward inner peace. Don’t overcomplicate it, start doing it in simple ways: take a bath while listening to relaxing music or lay down and rest for few minutes with your eyes closed. Do any relaxing activity that calms your mind, while also paying attention to breathing slowly and deeply. Engage your creative side: learn new skills, develop a new hobby, cook or go out for a new meal. Take time for enjoy art, music, and dance.
5. Count your blessings. Every day write down 3-5 things you are grateful for. Keep a joy and gratitude journal. Journaling promotes reflection and helps organizing thoughts. Write down good memories and achievements. Hand out “thank you” cards anytime anyone does something nice for you. Finally, everyday day try to slow down and enjoy the simple moments: savor a tasty meal, appreciate a friendly smile, admire a pretty sight. Focus on the joy and pleasure of everyday activities.
6. Sleep well. When sleeping, your brain sorts and stores the information it gathered during the day. Without enough sleep, this process can be cut short, leaving thoughts and memories "misfiled." As a result, you may feel more down, anxious and confused. 7-8 hours of daily sleep is optimal for your physical and emotional health.
7. Connect with others. Help, reach out, do good things for others. There are many new year resolutions people make: be more organized, lose weight, rest more, stress less, be a better parent or spouse, and the list goes on. How about this one to add to your 2015 list: have more of a positive presence in other people's lives! Give people gift of your time and caring. Encourage, compliment, ask questions about their lives, help when needed.