I can not believe what I am typing… but we are beginning 2022. And it feels like 2021 just flew by! In this past year, I certainly lacked on the self-care front. I’m not sure if it was just the hell year (2020) being over, or the fact that I started back in person at college, but everything was so scary and new and self-care took a back seat. It seems like we’ve been living in “unprecedented times” for a really long time, and that can weigh heavy on you no matter who you are and what you believe. This next year, no matter how crazy life gets and what we have going on, prioritizing self-care means that in “unprecedented times” at least one thing stays constant. Here is some top-notch advice about how to practice self-care as we enter 2022!
1. Create a Routine
I know, that word is sooo scary… *routine*, ugh it just makes me shudder. But routine is actually super essential in adding stability and a feeling of calm to your crazy life. Consistent routines have been proven to lead to better stress levels, which in turn leads to improved mental health, more time to relax, and less anxiety, according to Northwestern Medicine. Your daily routine influences your quality of rest, and better sleep will leave you feeling more refreshed. This means creating a consistent bedtime routine and some fun rituals (gratitude journaling after brushing your teeth, anyone?), and also keeping your bedtime and wake-up time the same every day. Good example setting will encourage others to try a routine as well. You demonstrate its importance and the positive effect it has on health, motivation, and self-esteem.
2. Prioritize Sleep
Everyone walks about how important sleep is but has anyone ever told you why sleep is so essential? Well, most adults require between seven and nine hours of nightly sleep, and according to sleepfoundation.org and the CDC, sleep is an essential function that allows your body and mind to recharge, leaving you refreshed and alert when you wake up. But healthy sleep is what allows the body to remain healthy and fight off diseases. Without enough healthy sleep, the brain cannot function properly. This can impair your ability to concentrate, think clearly, and process memories. Healthy sleep can be affected by a lot of factors, like alcohol, unnatural light, late-night gym sessions, and so much more. Here are the CDC’s tips on keeping your body’s internal clock in check and getting enough healthy sleep. Establish a realistic bedtime and stick to it every night, even on the weekends. Maintain comfortable temperature settings and low light levels in your bedroom. Consider a “screen ban” on televisions, computers and tablets, cell phones, and other electronic devices in your bedroom. Abstain from caffeine, alcohol, and large meals in the hours leading up to bedtime. Exercise during the day; this can help you wind down in the evening and prepare for sleep.
3. Keep your gut happy
Did you know that you have a huge colony of microscopic bacteria living in your gut? Did you know that those little guys can actually influence your mood, and if they aren’t happy, you are more prone to anxiety and depression? Yeah. Picture a bustling city on a weekday morning, the sidewalks flooded with people rushing to get to work or to appointments. Now imagine this at a microscopic level and you have an idea of what the microbiome looks like inside our bodies, consisting of trillions of microorganisms (also called microbiota or microbes) of thousands of different species, according to Harvard School of Public Health. In general, to keep those little guys happy, you’ll want to increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains like wheat, oats, and barley, which are all good sources of prebiotic fibers. You can also introduce more fermented foods into your diet, things like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and other delicious fermented drinks like my personal favorite Tepache.
4. Get off that phone of yours
Read this with me now: there have been peer-reviewed studies that have found associations between increased screen time and lower levels of psychological well-being. After 1 h/day of use, more hours of daily screen time were associated with lower psychological well-being, including less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, and inability to finish tasks. This includes screen time from cell phones, computers, electronic devices, electronic games, and TV. According to the study, 14 to 17-year-olds, high users of screens (7+ h/day) were more than twice as likely to ever have been diagnosed with depression, with anxiety, have been treated by a mental health professional, or have taken medication for a psychological or behavioral issue in the last 12 months. So together now, let’s set screen time reminders and be extremely mindful of what our lives could look like if we didn’t spend so much time chained to our screens.
5. Listen to your body
All in all, if you aren’t listening to your body, then none of this advice will do anything positive for you. Working out is great, but if you are never giving yourself a break and your muscles are screaming from exhaustion, then working out is doing you more harm than good. If you have a killer sleep schedule but your social life has been entirely dead and your mental health is suffering, listen to your body and find a balance. That is the core of self-care: balance. Because too much of anything can be a bad thing.
Here’s the rub: all of this amazing advice is SO much easier said than done. Don’t beat yourself up about them. Above all else, these should be things that make your life easier and less stressful, so if one of these is adding an insane amount of pressure to your life, don’t do it! It’s all pick and choose what makes you feel best, and it can also help to be a little more go-with-the-flow. Whatever you choose or don’t choose to do to practice self-care next (this?) year, I am wishing you the best.