Habits, sneaky little things that creep up on us and usually lead us to make choices that are less than helpful for our health and wellbeing.
Habits are unconscious actions that our brain tells us to do to save our conscious brain from having to think about every single thing, all of the time.
Habits are behaviours that become automatic, and that means if we want to change or develop a habit, we will have to deliberately consider our conscious choices repeatedly until they start to become unconscious.
You may have seen the conscious-unconscious competence learning model which explains the process of habit formation brilliantly.
The model looks something like this:
- Unconscious Incompetence (you don’t know you don’t know something)
- Conscious Incompetence (you know you don’t know something)
- Conscious Competence (you’re in the process of learning to do something new but it doesn’t feel natural or automatic)
- Unconscious Competence (you know something so well that you can do it unconsciously most of the time).
Driving a car is a perfect example of this learning process and learning to drive a car is simply learning to create driving ‘habits’.
So when it comes to our health and wellbeing we may have created some unconscious competence in areas we’d rather not have. Such as grabbing a tub of ice cream whenever we feel anxious or stressed or scrolling through our Facebook feed until the early hours of the morning.
The mind likes to follow the path of least resistance so it can be tough to break existing habits – remember habits are the brain’s way of creating efficiency.
Here are some supportive habits that you might want to think about trying to build into your life to help you move towards a healthier mind and body.
Remember an action needs to be repeated regularly and consistently for it to move from conscious incompetence to unconscious competence.
Manage Your Stress
How you manage your stress greatly influences your sleep, your waistline, your relationships, your body chemistry and your health. This is especially true for those suffering with a chronic health condition. Chronic stress can actually lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness.
What initiates a stress response for one person, may not for another. How you respond to the stressors in your life is uniquely individual to YOU. What may overwhelm you, creating a stress response in your body, may be taken in stride by someone else.
There are many sources of stress in our modern, fast-paced world. Whether it’s emotional/mental, physical, financial, spiritual or toxin related stress, how you manage it is critical to your health. Your immune system, digestive tract, nervous system and heart are most vulnerable to chronic stress.
Reducing your stress level is often easier said than done. I believe it is profoundly connected to self-love and self-care. When you take the time to be mindful of your needs and to lovingly take care of yourself, you are much better able to manage the stressors in your life.
Here are some of my favourite stress management and self-care tools:
Eat a well-balanced diet
How you nourish your body has a great deal of impact on how you will be able to manage stress. Focus on nutrient dense foods that balance your blood sugar and avoid any foods that you are sensitive or allergic to. Caffeine and sugar both negatively impact adrenal function (your fight or flight stress response) and should be limited or avoided. Also, avoid processed, chemical laden foods as these induce inflammation, which is very stressful to the body.
Deep breathing exercises can be very effective in calming down your central nervous system. One of my favourites is Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 Breathing Technique. It’s super simple and you can find his demonstration videos on YouTube.
Progressive Muscular Relaxation
This is best done lying down, but can really be done anywhere. Beginning at your head, contract each muscle group for 2 to 4 seconds and then release. Move to the next muscle group. Do this all the way down your body until you have contracted, held and released each muscle group. Finish with a couple long deep breaths.
Keeping a Gratitude Journal is something simple you can do at the beginning or end of each day. Take a few moments to write down three things you are grateful for that day. Consistently expressing gratitude for what you have now has been shown to be a very powerful mindset tool.
Take a Media Break
Television, movies, newspapers and social media.Watching or reading the news, watching television dramas and reality shows can all increase our stress level. Social media can do the same. Take a break and stop watching and reading screens for a week or more. You just might be surprised at how good you feel!
When you feel isolated, you feel alone. Reaching out to friends and family for support is super important if you are suffering with a chronic condition. If you are struggling to find the support you need to make changes in your health, then look for a community, either in person or online, where you can connect with others and get support.
It’s said that laughter is the best medicine, and that is so true! When you laugh, your body actually reduces the level of certain stress hormones, like cortisol, and your immune system gets a boost. Laughter increases your endorphins, as well as increases oxygen to organs. So go see a funny movie or watch some comedy on YouTube.
Connect with Nature
Not only will this help your Vitamin D levels, but being in nature is calming to the nervous system.
Earthing, also referred to as grounding, is as simple as walking barefoot in the grass. The point is to connect your bare skin to earth.
According to www.earthinginstitute.net, “Connection with the Earth restores a lost electrical signal to the body that seems to stabilize the complicated circuitry of our essentially-electrical body. Our built-in self-regulating and self-healing mechanisms become more effective. There are head-to-toe improvements. Better blood flow. Less pain and inflammation. More energy. Deeper sleep.”
So take a walk, sit in the grass, do some gardening, or enjoy a cup of tea while sitting outside. This simple stress management tool can do wonders.
Get in touch with your creativity. Set time aside each week to engage in whatever activity or activities create flow (complete immersion in an activity with no concept of time) for you. It could be dance, crafts, painting, colouring or drawing, playing music, sewing, knitting, wood working……whatever it is that brings you joy and helps you to relax.
Random Acts of Kindness
Not only do RAK make you feel GOOD, but will bring some unexpected joy to someone else.
Move Your Body
You don’t need to run a marathon, but if you have any kind of chronic health condition or want to avoid getting one, get your body moving. The very best form of exercise is the one you will do… consistently!
Consistent exercise has several health benefits. It helps to improve mood, libido and sleep, and is especially helpful in balancing blood sugar, reducing insulin resistance and leptins, and getting your lymph system moving.
Getting consistent exercise can reduce stress and inflammation in the body, and stimulate endorphins, metabolism, neurological and immune system functioning.
Whatever you do, find a couple activities you love – yoga, swimming, walking, spin class, biking, running, Zumba, strength or balance exercises. When lockdown is over maybe think about engaging a friend or family member to do it with you, you are far more likely to stay consistent.
It’s best to create a balanced exercise routine. One that includes stretching, aerobic and strength building activities.
I also recommend getting a pedometer to see how much natural movement you get each day. This can be a real eye opener! Wear your pedometer for a few days to get a baseline. Then make an effort to increase your steps by 10% to 20% each week until you are consistently close to 10,000 steps a day.
Get Good Quality Sleep
Sleep – deep, restorative sleep – is essential to good health. When we sleep, our body is fast at work repairing what needs to be repaired, restoring the immune system, balancing your hormones and so much more.
Both quantity and quality
are important when it comes to sleep
Eight hours a night of uninterrupted sleep is what is recommended for most adults. Teens and children need even more.
When you get less than your body needs you become sleep deprived and that can lead to a variety of symptoms including:
- Weight Gain
- High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease
- Weakened Immune System
- Impaired Memory/Brain Fog
- Difficulty Concentrating
- A Lowered Threshold for Stress
- Alters Circadian Rhythm
Some of my personal, favourite strategies for getting a good night’s sleep include:
Prepare your body for a good night’s sleep:
- Avoid caffeine, chocolate, alcohol and heavy meals at night.
- Give your body time to wind down. Allow at least one hour without any screens (TV, computer, tablet or phone) before bedtime.
- Take a soothing Epsom salt bath.
- Use lavender essential oil – diffuse it or rub a drop on the bottom of your feet.
- Talk to your doctor about supplementing with Magnesium, Melatonin and/or 5-HTP if you struggle with insomnia.
- Create a consistent bedtime routine and stick to it.
- Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day – even on the weekends. If you are playing catch up on the weekends, make an effort to go to bed at the same time, but allow your body to wake up naturally.
Make your bedroom a sanctuary
- Your bedroom should be used for sleep and intimacy with your partner only. Avoid watching TV or using a computer in your bedroom. It’s best to keep your electromagnetic exposure to a minimum before bedtime.
- Clear the clutter in your bedroom. Clutter is distracting and makes it difficult to wind down.
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom on the cool side for a better night’s sleep.
- Make sure your bedroom is very dark, eliminating all light.
- It’s best to avoid having animals sleep in the bed with you, as they may interrupt your sleep.