Experience more joy this holiday season by making incremental changes in your health and well-being.
We were meant to enjoy life, but stress, guilt, grief—these all hamper our ability to enjoy simple pleasures. You can’t get away from pain or sickness in life, but you can increase your enjoyment of the best parts of life and most of us can improve our bodies’ defenses. When you feel better and are experiencing more joy, it also increases the joy you bring to those around you. But how can you start to improve your health?
Research and anecdotal evidence both indicate that incremental changes are often the best way to make positive change. Not only do they circumvent self-sabotage, but they are also easier to stick with. Big changes involve more change management and disruption, while incremental changes usually don’t create any disruption at all.
In the spirit of the season, here are 5 easy ways to improve your physical and mental health by the end of the year.
1. Get up earlier just one day a week.
Most of us have heard about the health benefits of rising early.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to miss out on the sleep you need to implement this new schedule. Instead, how about choosing one of the following options?
- Get up 10 minutes earlier than usual each day.
- Get up one hour earlier once a week.
Why would we suggest getting up earlier only once a week?
Research abounds on how productive these early morning hours are. If you’re struggling with a life goal you really want to see some progress in, set your alarm early just once a week. Use this extra hour to focus on that one personal goal. In a month, you’ll have spent four hours working towards your goal. Maybe this is writing a book. Maybe it’s taking a walk in nature. Maybe it’s a headstart on prioritizing your day with a cup of coffee. Whatever it is, you just might create an addiction for more.
It doesn’t have to be every day or a huge amount of time to begin experiencing the benefits.
If that doesn’t match your style, try setting your alarm for only 10 minutes earlier each day and do something like journaling, meditating, or writing down the three most important things you need to do that day.
Or, even better, write down three things you’re thankful for.
2. Swap one unhealthy food item for a healthy one once per week.
Do you drink sugary soda each day? Once a week, replace this with water or a healthy alternative. Do you eat dessert every day? Try taking a walk around the block instead. Again, even if you start with just once per week, you’ll be surprised at how the small change adds up.
Only 9.3% of people eat the recommended daily vegetable serving. One of the easiest ways to increase vegetable intake is to buy a vegetable platter and let yourself snack on vegetables instead of the vending machine options. There are also ziploc microwave bags of vegetables in the freezer section of many grocery stores. If you love to cook, make a ritual out of making the best-seasoned broccoli or green beans each night for supper. Make the habit fit your style.
3. Do something relaxing every day.
Relaxation lowers blood pressure and stress and heightens a feeling of wellbeing. It helps you cope with the parts of the day that are more difficult. It sends mental signals to the brain that you matter. Modern society can have a machine affect on our mental processes, but relaxing helps you connect with your uniqueness again.
Our body’s response to stress is to release stress chemicals into the bloodstream, including cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Reacting to fear is instantaneous, but calming down takes time.
By consciously deciding to relax and engaging in what some people call “forced rest,” you counteract the effects of these chemicals (like tensed-up muscles), which signals your brain that it is time to calm down.
Try a hot bath, a meditation session, or a good cardio exercise. Some people love reading for pleasure, journaling, walking, eating a well-prepared healthy snack, or taking a power nap. Any activity that feels pleasurable to you and helps you forget about the “flight-or-fight” mode that people with anxiety live in will work. These activities to improve your health leave your mind rested and equip you to better cope with life’s challenges.
Imagine a day without your mouth.
Your mouth allows you to eat, drink, smile, laugh, speak, kiss, and even breathe! Keeping your mouth healthy and happy is one of the best self-care gifts you can give yourself every day of the year.
The health of your mouth can improve—or harm—the health of your body. All systems and parts of your body are intricately connected. Poor oral health is associated with heart disease, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and pregnancy complications.
We emphasize flossing because flossing is one of the best habits you can start to prevent serious diseases. Most people already brush their teeth, but if you skip flossing, you are missing 30% of the surface area of each tooth. You are failing to clean out the gum pockets which hold bacteria and can cause periodontitis, eventually leading to tooth loss. Start this simple new habit today to improve your health and your whole body will be better off because of it.
5. Get a good night’s sleep.
Sleep allows your body to heal itself.
Sleep allows your brain to function at capacity.
Sleep reduces depression and anxiety and improves overall emotional health.
With so many benefits to sleep, why do we minimize its role in our health so much?
Create a new bedtime routine for yourself (which includes flossing), that helps you relax. Many people find bedtime yoga or meditation to be a good way to wind down. Some people use sleep apps like Calm or Headspace with surprising results. Experts suggest that we refrain from cardio immediately prior to bedtime, but some people actually find this beneficial. Do what works for you. If you follow a consistent routine over time, you should soon be falling asleep in record time and can start to enjoy the benefits you get when you take steps to improve your health!
We hope these 5 easy ways to make small changes to improve your health will help you experience a greater feeling of joy and wellbeing this holiday season.