I've been thinking about this post for a while, trying to figure out how convey my feelings on how I believe true health and wellness extends much farther beyond eating well and exercising regularly, in fact most importantly, I believe that the first step to beginning a healthy lifestyle is achieving an internal sense of well-being. Without this, it becomes almost impossible to incorporate other healthy lifestyle choices into your life in a way that can be sustained. One of the most common ways I see this sense of well-being deteriorate in myself and others is through stress.
I am going to be honest and say that last year was the hardest and most stressful academic year I've experienced so far in my college career. I struggled with feelings of anxiety everyday, which as you could imagine took a serious toll on my mental and emotional health. Being aware that my state of mind and body was less than optimal, only added to the already large pile of stress that I was carrying with me. Why, you may ask, was I so stressed? I believe it was a combination of demanding upper level classes in addition to new leadership roles in my extracurricular involvement. I also came into the semester with the entirely wrong mindset about my abilities and as well as my academic goals.
As in most situations, I am able to see that the despite the struggles I faced, I also experienced incredible growth. I learned a lot about myself and how to handle stressful situations. It also taught me that while grades are important, it is not the most important, especially when it begins to take a toll on your mental and physical health. The same can be said for your career if you aren't in college. However, that being said, no one wants to deal with constant stress and anxiety, so I thought I could share with you a few strategies that I have learned in these last several months. I hope that with these tools you'll be able to approach your own challenges with confidence!
1. Practice presence
What is presence? I imagine that it means something slightly different to everyone, but to me it means being aware of yourself and your surroundings, being sensitive to others and noticing sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Presence often is practiced in the form of meditation. But what exactly is meditation? I first learned about meditation in an environmental psychology class last fall and then again in a public health class last winter. Meditation comes in many forms and provides both psychological and physiological benefits such as reducing stress, as well as lowering blood pressure and slowing heart rate, enhancing your body's immune function, and reducing feelings such as anxiety and depression.
Just as various physical activities build different athletic capacities, various types of meditation build different mental and emotional capacities.
(Sibinga & Kemper)
Meditation comes in many forms:
Concentration such as focusing on an object or your breath
Cultivating positive emotions towards yourself and others (this is called Loving-kindness meditation)
Movement-based meditation such as yoga
A lot of these things can be incorporated into your every day life and can be as simple as taking 5 deep calming breaths before you eat your dinner. My favorite of these is of course yoga, I've been practicing about 3 days a week lately and the benefits are amazing, plus it's a great "rest day" activity.
2. Change your perspective
Think positive especially when things are tough, avoid thoughts and actions that cultivate negative emotions. One way to remind yourself to do this is by creating a mantra to say to yourself you're feeling overwhelmed or stressed (i.e. Will this moment matter to me in the future? Shoutout to my friend Paige for this one).
Other examples of mantras include:
- In every moment, peace is a choice.
- All is well.
- I surrender and let go.
Really, a mantra can be anything that you want. The point of this is tell help you refocus your perspective in moments of stress when we often tend to lose the "big picture".
3. Plan & Prepare for what's ahead
Preparation and planning is the key to a busy life. If you plan ahead and mentally prepare yourself for what's around the corner, you're setting yourself up for success. You are also being proactive about causing yourself the least amount of stress as possible in any given situation . If you know that the next couple of weeks are going to be especially crazy, this will help you to be mentally, physically, and emotionally ready. You'll find yourself significantly less stressed, more peaceful, and accepting of your situation.
Planning and preparing can look like:
- Meal prepping
- Getting ahead on work (this requires a lot of motivation, but trust me, this does wonders)
- Keeping a planner/scheduler to keep track of important dates as well as to lay out a plan on a daily basis
- Prioritizing your tasks- do the most important ones first!
4. Take time for self-care
This is probably the most obvious one, but I find that it is the most difficult one to practice. What exactly do I mean by self-care? All of the things I've talked about play into this. If your mental and emotional well-being is declining everything else tends to go with it. It's so easy to say "I don't have time to take a break, I have way too much work to do". While you may feel like this often, I will tell you that this frame of mind is not sustainable. You'll drive yourself crazy. I struggled with this mentality last semester and my mental and emotional health suffered greatly because of it.
A few examples of self-care activities:
- Art- drawing, painting, crafting, doing anything creative really
- Getting outside for a walk or a hike
- Unplugging and spending time in reflection ( i.e. meditation or journaling)
- Getting coffee with a friend
- Pampering (i.e. bubble bath, doing your nails or a face-mask, etc.)
- Staying in touch with your family