grow from strength to strength
When it comes to taking better care of ourselves, there is no time like the present. Now that the chaos of the holidays is behind us, we may have a little more time to take a few deep breaths and make a plan to move forward.
Self-care can mean taking steps for better physical, mental and emotional health. It often involves prioritizing ourselves, while still having time for the important people and activities in our lives. By taking care of "us," we are more fortified to attend to the needs of others. We also tend to be more effective and efficient in our other tasks and responsibilities.
Before making a plan, it can help to reflect on our current status. We can ask ourselves how we are doing physically, mentally and emotionally. In what areas of our lives do we want to make progress? What goals do we want to work on in the weeks, months and year ahead?
When making a plan, we should keep our goals reasonable and achievable. Consider moving forward gradually so the changes become healthy habits, not something you do for a short period of time and then stop. Think moderation rather than extreme. Avoid "quick fixes" and information from unreliable sources as they may be unsafe and/or not proven to work. In addition, dramatic changes are usually difficult to sustain long-term.
Try to keep a positive, forward-thinking mindset. Reframe each change, no matter how small, as an opportunity and a step toward progress. Do not belittle yourself if there are days when you do not reach your intended goals. Instead, use these slips as a teaching tool to determine what got you off track and then brainstorm ways to reduce the risk of it happening in the future.
Are there any parts of your plan where the support of others might be helpful? Are there changes in your physical environment that could be modified to assist you? Would modifying your daily schedule allow more opportunity for self-care? Are there ways to multitask with other activities?
To accommodate some of your intended changes, you may want to look at your "time vampires" - lower priority activities that take up your time. Many people find that much of their day is spent on screen time. Although technology can save time in some ways, it can also become somewhat addicting. Take note of how you spend your waking hours. Are there any modifications you can make so your life has better balance?
Stress is not only a possible negative outcome of a busy lifestyle, but it can also cause us to feel overwhelmed and less likely to have the mental and physical energy to make positive changes. Besides time management and prioritizing, try practicing stress reduction. Include ways to relax daily. Physical activity can be very helpful here. It could also mean practicing yoga or meditation. It could simply mean listening to relaxing music and/or doing periodic deep breathing throughout the day.
When it comes to self-care, some options for change may involve getting more high-quality sleep or drinking more fluids throughout the day. It might be adding more cardiovascular and strength-building exercise.
Positive change could address the timing of food intake throughout the day - consistently eating three meals with healthy snacks between. It could mean planning to have healthy snacks always available. It could be improving the quality of the foods purchased at the grocery store and reducing impulse buying. It might be eating out less often or being more appropriate with portion sizes. Some people may want to take a look at any changes they would like to make with alcohol intake or possible smoking cessation.
Note that timely fueling of your brain and body, while feeding them with appropriate amounts of less processed healthy foods, can make you feel better and sustain energy levels. Feeling better physically and mentally can also improve motivation to continue to accomplish your planned goals. On the other hand, eating that is too restrictive and exercise that is too demanding, can work against you.
Addressing weight issues or medical problems (like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc.) could involve another set of goals. Securing guidance from credible sources of information and credentialed professionals can lead you in the right direction. Remember, slow and steady tends to have better outcomes than doing anything to extreme.
For mental health, try to keep your mind active. Diversify your interests and challenge yourself. Do pleasurable activities that balance more serious commitments. For emotional health, participate in activities that give you a sense of value, satisfaction and well-being. An example might be volunteer activities.
It is never too late to take steps toward better self-care. Use today as an opportunity to make a fresh start and take action on your plan toward a healthier you.
Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, is a registered, licensed dietitian with nutrition counseling offices in York, Maine, and Portsmouth. She is also the nutritionist for Phillips Exeter Academy, presents workshops nationally, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Visit www.pamstuppynutrition.com for nutrition information, healthy cooking tips and recipe ideas.
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