February 26, 2021 • By Angela Bisignano, PhD, Psychologist
7 Simple Practices for Greater Well-Being in 2021
Many people start the year with the best intentions for new goals and resolutions. January is a great month to reflect, refresh and reset. Did you make space for your well-being in your goals for this new year? If not, this article will highlight seven simple practices to guide you in achieving greater mental health and well-being in 2021. It’s never too late to start!
MOVING ON FROM 2020
No doubt, 2020 was incredibly challenging for all of us and unnerved millions, leaving them feeling anxious, scared, and stressed. It’s no wonder. Our families, country, and our world were hit hard by COVID-19, protests, political divisiveness, and plenty of uncertainty about the future. Many are still struggling financially, physically, and emotionally. Beyond the obvious – wearing masks, practicing social distancing, trying to stay healthy – your mental well-being should top this new year’s list of priorities. We have to make choices to do the best we can under the current circumstances.
7 SIMPLE PRACTICES
Begin by Renewing You
A sobering question to ask yourself: What kind of person are you presenting to your family members and loved ones? If you aren’t sure, ask them. They are the people who know you best. What would they say? Are you patient, kind, thoughtful, and compassionate? Or are you easily irritated, short, and insensitive? We all have our moments, but what is your norm? Is it time to make some changes? To reset? If so, start today.
Reset Your Mood with a Calming Breath
Try taking a deep breath. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Make it a deep, diaphragmatic breath. Place your hand on your lower abdomen and watch your hand rise and fall as you inhale and exhale with each breath. Research shows that something as simple as deep breathing can help lower blood pressure and pulse heart rate while increasing your alpha brain waves, helping you feel calmer and more peaceful. Diaphragmatic breathing also helps release the neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) serotonin, also known as the feel-good neurotransmitter. Serotonin gets into the bloodstream quickly, in about twenty-five to thirty seconds. Try practicing diaphragmatic breathing for about twenty minutes a day and see if it helps reduce your anxiety and stress.
Restore Your Spirit
Starting your day with prayer, meditation, the Bible or another contemplative or religious text, or an inspirational podcast can bring balance and help you feel more centered. Reading uplifting and positive affirmations can provide perspective and a sense of well-being. Taking time to focus on your blessings and the things you are thankful for can bring a sense of goodness. If you focus on positive things, you can actually rewire the neurochemistry in your brain and improve your mood.
Refresh Your Soul by Journaling
Journaling is a great way to help reduce anxiety, stress, and worry. More recent research is demonstrating the mental health benefits of expressive writing. According to Opening Up by Writing It Down by James Pennebaker and Joshua Smyth, expressive writing can improve emotional and physical health. You might try it for a month and see if it helps. This type of writing can also help you gain clarity, perspective and organize your thoughts. If you feel overwhelmed, uncertain about the future, or stuck, writing may be just the antidote.
Restore by Monitoring Your Sleep
Sleep deprivation is underestimated. A lack of sleep can affect almost every area of your life. You should know what your body needs to feel at your best. In order to function well in life, you need to have regular, sound sleep. There are a lot of things you can do to unwind at the end of the day to facilitate this. Try unplugging from your screen or limiting screen time, staying away from caffeine late in the afternoon or evening, and calling it quits a little earlier to achieve a more restful night of sleep.
Rest and Refresh
Related to sleep are rest and relaxation. Everyone needs to know their limits. Taking time out when you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and fatigued is essential. Know when to pause. Even short breaks throughout the day can have a significant impact on your mood and well-being. I recommend at least one day of rest a week, which happens to be a biblical principle, one weekend per month, and a longer break each quarter to increase well-being. Scheduling rest and refreshment into your calendar is a great way to stay on track with this and increases the possibility that it will happen.
Rejuvenate with Exercise
People often underestimate the mental health benefits of exercise. Sure, most of us know it’s physically good for us; however, it is also mentally good for us. When we exercise, endorphins and dopamine are released. Both of these chemical messengers can help reduce symptoms related to anxiety and depression. Walking, riding a bike, swimming, jumping rope – whatever it takes to get your cardiovascular system going is good. Move your body. Whenever you are new to exercise, it is a good idea to check in with your physician, especially if you have any medical concerns. Related to exercise is making sure you’re putting healthy and nutritious food into your body for optimal mental health.
CREATING YOUR PLAN
These are just a few suggestions to get you started. Think about how you are going to make 2021 a good year. Begin with simple practices and make the best of what you have and where you are at. More suggestions for improving your well-being are to get outside, focus on the good in life, and treat your neighbors with respect and compassion. (Remember, you don’t have to agree with everything your neighbor says to be a decent and kind human being. At the core, we all desire to be loved, cared for, and respected.) By being thoughtful and intentional about adopting practices like these in your life, you can enjoy greater well-being in a way that is gentle toward yourself and allows you to be your best self.
Pennebaker, J. W., & Smyth, J. M. (2016). Opening up by writing it down: How expressive writing improves health and eases emotional pain. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
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