When I started my journey in the field of nutrition, I was scheduled to have a long-awaited surgery on my hip. I figured that since I would be recovering from the surgery and unable to be physically active for a time, there was no better time to dive into my passion for nutrition. Immediately following the start of my first course, the Covid 19 pandemic hit, my surgery was cancelled, and my three amazing, energetic boys were home with me…all-day-long… every day. I was so grateful that I didn’t have my surgery before the world shut down because being physically active is crucial for my mental health. I would venture to say that being active would be crucial for ANYONE’s mental health. As time progressed, and the pandemic continued, I began reflecting even more on the importance of intentional strategies for maintaining mental health and balance. I felt that I needed that focus more than ever before, and perhaps you could benefit from my discoveries. You will find out more about my top 5 daily habits below.
I love working out, but I know that not everyone does. I find that I will NEVER regret working out, but I will sometimes regret…okay, most of the time, regret not working out. It’s just a fact. Our bodies were made to move. For some people, being active means full-blown, sweat-filled cardio and/or weight session. For other people, it simply means a brisk 30-minute walk. Every day is different for me, but I have noticed that on days that I do not do either one, my mood is most definitely affected. I am more short-fused, and overall, I just don’t feel as good. With that in mind, my first daily habit is at least 30 min of physical activity.
Take Time for Gratitude
I’m sure we have all heard the saying, “What if you woke up this morning and had only the things you thanked God for yesterday”-Max Lucado. That is a pretty thought-provoking quote. I realize that not everyone is in a position of faith, but I think the heart of this quote would ring true for anyone. If you only had tomorrow what you intentionally were thankful for the day before, what would be left? Do you take time to consider what you are thankful for each day? I don’t know about you, but with all that the pandemic took away from us (family gatherings, school, sports, etc), I felt a whole new perspective was brought to light on what’s important enough to add back in when things go back to “normal”. Slowing down enough to discover what we are truly thankful for is certainly one blessing that has come from this pandemic. So, daily habit number two…spend 10-15 minutes reflecting on what you are thankful for in your life. Depending on how busy your day is, you could choose to keep a journal for those items or just sit quietly and think them through.
Eat the Rainbow
For me, “eat the rainbow” used to only refer to my handful of skittles I would grab when I went into the pantry to get a “healthy snack”. After studying nutrition, I have since discovered two things wrong with that…one, skittles are NOT what they were referring to when they said: “eat the rainbow”. Whah whah. Two, there are very few “healthy snacks” that can be kept in the pantry. It turns out that eating the rainbow really refers to eating a variety of fruits and vegetables from different colour categories, which, in turn, provides you with a variety of vitamins and nutrients. With the pandemic causing us to no longer go out to restaurants, in the beginning, the normal breaks from cooking were limited. We eventually grew comfortable with take-out, in order to support local businesses, but overall, we spent…okay, I spent…my time cooking. With my increased knowledge about the benefits of eating colourful plants, I began to experiment with plant-based cooking. I felt the benefits of increased vitamins and nutrients almost immediately. I had more energy, my skin looked better, and I was truly happier. Now, as my husband and I sit and eat our gorgeous salads for lunch, I chat him up about the phytonutrients that are responsible for the colours and aromas of the plants we are eating, and how it is protecting us from diseases, etc etc. I’m not sure he loves our new table talk, but he sure enjoys eating the rainbow with me!
The line, “It’s 5 O’Clock somewhere” has been said in our household MANY times during this pandemic. In the beginning of the big “shut down”, my husband and I would meet for “happy hour” virtually with family and friends to socially connect. It was helpful for our mental state, and let’s be honest, there was some novelty to everything in the beginning…like back in March and April. As months passed, and the novelty wore off, the time during the day that we would say “It’s 5 O’Clock somewhere” was getting earlier and earlier. Somewhere around June or July (I am losing a sense of time!), we both noticed that daily happy hour was no longer making us feel better. We were more exhausted, irritable, and overall, it was no longer good for our mental state. We decided to eliminate alcohol altogether for a short time…detox anyone? And then added it back in with a much more disciplined moderation. We were, by no means, alcoholics. We weren’t getting hammered every night or waking up forgetting where we were, but we definitely felt we needed to reign things in. Do what works for you. Limiting alcohol is a great habit for improving and maintaining mental health!
How many of us are constantly running kids to activities, making meals, cleaning the house, volunteering for the school, church, or other local needs, etc. The constant go-go-go mentality of our generation leaves little time to truly relax. And no, I am not meaning sitting while looking at our devices. I am meaning sitting in nature, taking a nap, meditating, reading a book. One thing I have discovered during this pandemic, which has consequently left me with more time than I know what to do with since activities were all shut down, is that I truly NEED to relax. I am a better person when I find time to… breathe, let my mind rest and settle into a mindset of “there is nowhere else to be and no other checklist item to tackle in this moment” for at least 30 minutes daily. Relaxing, for me, often includes a glass of red wine at night. Yes, I said wine. Despite the improved mental health I feel when I limit alcohol, one glass of red wine at night does help me relax. Not only is red wine full of antioxidants called polyphenols, which are said to protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart, but it also depresses the central nervous system, causing your senses to slow down. So go ahead and have a glass of wine and RELAX, if you so choose!
Obviously, the surgery will eventually be back on, which will cause me to be unable to be physically active for a time. At that point, I will increase my focus on gratitude, increase my alcohol intake (KIDDING!), and increase my time to relax…outside, when possible, in order to soak up that vitamin D! Fun fact to note, in order to gain the benefits of vitamin D from your time in the sun, you need about 15 minutes of direct sun on your forearms and legs, without sunscreen. Try out these daily habits and see what they do for you, and if you have other habits that you find improve your mental health, feel free to share them!
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