Ahhh, there’s nothing like a fresh year on the horizon! It’s that time when you can hit the reset button and reform your lifestyle, reshape your expectations, revive your dreams, and redo your attempts at meeting goals from the previous year.
When a new year begins, it’s common to join a gym, pledge to eat healthier, and make a doctor’s appointment for an annual checkup. Although optimal physical health is important, being healthy and happy also includes our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Approaching health in a holistic manner is crucial because when one part suffers, the others can, too.
#1 – Make Fitness Fun
What if we approached health goals with something enjoyable? When fitness is both challenging and fun, we feel more motivated to do what’s good for us.
For example, I started contemporary dance lessons last summer. I had neither danced in years nor done this type of dance before. I knew jumping into something new would satisfy my sense of adventure while providing an intense workout, so I went for it. Since then, I am physically stronger and have left each class feeling less stressed and ready to take on the world. (Not quite like Wonder Woman, but close.)
If you’ve no love for pumping iron at a gym, embark on a regular exercise venture that’s more your style. Take a hike (literally), join a recreational sports league, or pull on your brightest tank top and get your Zumba on!
We can also make eating more fun and intentional.
Expanding our knowledge about different foods’ nutritional benefits helps us feel more connected to what we eat.
It also broadens our taste buds so we can enjoy a wider variety of ingredients suitable for our individual digestive and energy needs.
Since eating is a sensory experience, eating “healthy” foods that taste like cardboard will get you nowhere. To get more informed and confident about what’s right for your diet, consult with a holistic nutritionist while tuning in to your body’s signals.
Take more ownership of what you consume by “following” nutritional experts whose health philosophy and recipes interest you, or join a cooking class that teaches you how to be more creatively healthy in the kitchen. Scope out restaurants with local and organic menu items, and eat there with a friend who appreciates healthful, flavorful meals, too.
You may be surprised at how good good-for-you things can taste!
#2 – Grab Stress by the Reins
Stress lurks behind every corner of our frazzled, caffeine-fueled society. If you often find your heart rapid-fire beating out of your chest, your mind racing 100 miles per hour, and your sleep quality lacking, it’s time to control stress so that it stops controlling you. If you’re thinking, “What?! LIKE I NEED SOMETHING ELSE TO DO!” — I’m glad you’re here.
As someone who easily struggles with anxiety, overcommitment, and disorganized time, I hear you. But stay with me, and after you read this post, do something that calms your brain and fills your emotional tank. Then work it into your regular schedule.
It could be a physical activity like mentioned above; a creative outlet like playing music, writing poetry, or drawing comic strips; or reading outside on a park bench. Maybe it’s washing your car to smooth jazz, listening to your favorite podcast while folding clothes (slowly; don’t hurry), or drinking herbal tea with an encouraging friend.
No matter what it is, the theme here is to refresh and regroup. It doesn’t have to be you just lying there taking a nap, though naps can certainly help us see life with brighter eyes.
When we frequently pause our rushing from one place and one deadline to the next, our minds come unglued from a sticky mess of chaotic to-dos. We can calm down and refocus our attention.
A few more tips:
- Create a to-do list that’s more realistic for your schedule.
- Clean up your calendar.
- Forgive yourself if you don’t accomplish everything you’d hoped to within a certain amount of time.
- Remember to breathe . . . deeply. (For handy apps on mindfulness and meditation, check out Headspace and Calm.)
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#3 – Seek Wise Counsel
We can do all the stress-relieving activities in the world, but deep-seated emotional and mental turmoil can still linger. Plus, carrying around chronic stress/anxiety and emotional wounds can have a negative impact on our bodies. So, it’s wise to check in with yourself and see what’s up.
Are you avoiding making amends with someone? Do you often feel down? Do you simply need an objective perspective on how to confront a difficult situation?
Seek counsel from someone you trust. This someone could be a wise friend, mentor, church leader, etc. It’s vital not to spend too much time in isolation, stuck in our own swirling minds (that includes introverts; yes, I’m talking to me too).
When we think we have to experience difficult circumstances alone, we can either become bitter and push everyone away, or feel as if we’re tumbling down a hopeless, bottomless abyss.
Sometimes, it’s best to seek professional help. Although society is becoming more open (incrementally) about mental health, there’s still a stigma surrounding it.
However, mental health should be cared for as much as, if not more than, our physical health. They’re connected.
Not all psychotherapists are the same, but finding one who’s the right fit for you can be a lifeline. I, personally, have been strengthened by counseling, and believe me, it’s helpful to work with someone who bears the skills to encourage and challenge you along the path to emotional healing.
With a stable community of people — including professional counselors — in your corner, life can feel less hard.
#4 – Address Spiritual Needs
Although this subject can be a delicate one to discuss due to various personal values and religions, spiritual needs are an important part of holistic health. They affect our thoughts and emotions (and vice versa). When we believe in something/someone bigger than ourselves, we can become more grounded.
When we’re in a spiritually healthy place, we’re able to loosen our anxious, controlling grip on our circumstances — while also experiencing a strong sense of purpose that propels us to contribute to the world in the best ways we know how.
My Christian spiritual life has been especially meaningful for me for a long time, but during seasons when I’m more self-focused and have allowed negativity to cloud my judgment, this area of my life has suffered, along with my emotional and physical health. (There’s that interconnectedness again!)
If you’ve been neglecting your spiritual needs, why not take the new year to (re)define your values and (re)connect to them? (Re)discover and pursue the spiritual truths, practices, and community that will help you thrive as a human being.
Maybe you’d like to get back to church (whatever that looks like for you); pray more regularly; focus on gratitude, forgiveness, and tranquility; seek spiritual direction from someone you trust; or simply start by writing out your spiritual beliefs and values so you can recall why they’re important to you.
If you’re open to this spiritual stuff, ask yourself: How can physical fitness, stress-relieving activities, and emotional counsel help me reach my spiritual side? I encourage you to explore the answer to this question and see where it moves you.
#5 – Give Love, Again and Again
Caring for ourselves is important, but holistic health does not stop with our personal needs. It extends beyond the self, reaching toward others who could use more joy, love, hope, and peace in their lives. In this holiday season of giving and new beginnings, there’s no better time than to resharpen our focus on other people and continue to carry it with us throughout the year.
How can you use your time and talents to bring light to others?
You could start on a smaller scale, with relationships you’d like to strengthen. Who would appreciate a camping trip or a day at the local art museum with you? Who could use an uplifting letter in the mail? Who needs you to simply be a more available and empathic friend?
Often, the best gift we can provide is to break away from our busyness and offer our time and attention instead.
What about your neighbors? You could invite that shy new family over for a meal, finally help the elderly lady with the periwinkle house clean out her gutters, or teach a free Pilates class from your home.
For me, finding new ways to volunteer within my neighborhood — and city as a whole — is on my list for the new year. If your list looks similar, you could volunteer at your church or join your community association.
On a larger scale, see how you can serve at-risk youth and the homeless or get involved in social justice. These needs may feel overwhelming, but asking around to see how you can help is a good place to start.
When we give love to others through our words, distraction-free time, and actions, it not only benefits them, but it also benefits our health. Of course, I don’t mean that we should love so that we can receive it in return.
I mean that when we sacrificially give what we can to each other and our world, it indirectly lifts that moody storm cloud from above our heads, softens the tension in our shoulders, ignites our hearts with profound compassion, and fills our spirits with peace.
So, here’s to new beginnings and a holistically healthy new year. The journey awaits!
Lauren Smith is the Managing Editor of Exercise.com. She is passionate about nutrition and holistic health (how the body, mind, and emotions intersect). She lives in Baltimore City, where she writes stuff, plays music, embarks on long power walks through the park, takes contemporary dance lessons, and enjoys healthy, flavorful cuisine. Lauren has written for a literary journal called Skelter and for Honestbodyfitness.com, Groomandstyle.com, and Alltherooms.com.