After what has seemed, for many of us, to have been a very long winter, we can finally unanimously declare that spring has officially sprung. Spring of 2021, more than any other before, represents new hope and endless possibilities. There is no doubt that given the ongoing pandemic, many of us have adopted a few bad habits over the last year. Whether it’s a more sedentary lifestyle, more questionable eating choices, fewer activities, or more Netflix binge-watching, our lives could undoubtedly benefit from an overall tune-up, wouldn’t you agree? Although we humans are not computers, we all need to reboot ourselves every now and again. Let’s take a look at a few ways we can do this so that we can be at our absolute best, mentally, physically, and emotionally, in order to thrive and operate daily with joy, energy, and purpose.
EAT RIGHT, FEEL GOOD
We’ve all done it. Had a craving for cheesy fries. Given in to the craving. Felt that rush when taking that first greasy bite then regretted our choice as we stared at the empty container. Cravings can be influenced by physical and/or factors and can vary in degree from one person to another.
Hormones could be to blame. Whether you have a hormone imbalance due to pregnancy, PMS, menopause, or an underlying condition, if your hormones aren’t in sync, so too might be your food choices. So, choosing foods that promote energy, not lethargy or, in extreme cases, depression, is one of the keys to unlocking a healthy body and mindset.
According to experts, “There is a growing body of health epidemiological evidence supporting that a dietary pattern which has a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts, fish, and whole grain; and a lesser intake of meat, meat products, commercial bakery, trans fat, and sugary dessert/drinks may reduce the risk of depression.”¹
Habits don’t change overnight so don’t be too hard on yourself. Making little healthy changes to your diet and showing your hormones who’s boss is better than making no changes at all. Let’s say you’ve gotten into the habit of reaching for that bag of chips when you kick back to watch your favorite show every night. How about two evenings out of five you swap out the salty snack for some almonds or fresh fruit? Telling yourself that Mondays and Thursdays are healthy nights, will trick your hormones into thinking they’re still getting their way the rest of the time by maintaining some of their hard-to-break brain to food choice signaling patterns. In reality, you’ll have the upper hand by making these subtle changes and soon, your brain will begin to cooperate with you and cravings will be less frequent and intense.
PUT A SPRING IN YOUR STEP
Many of us tend to go into semi-hibernation during the winter months. This decrease in activity can take a toll on our physical wellness and mental health. During this global pandemic, countless people have been working from home or have reduces their working hours drastically. The repercussions of this new reality mean either more time sitting in front of a computer screen or more time in front of our tv screens or smartphones. Whichever the case for you, the common denominator is being more sedentary. Adding even a little bit of exercise to our daily routine has a boatload of positive effects.
According to the CDC, even moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, can alleviate anxiety, help you sleep better, help maintain a healthy body weight, and help keep cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes at bay.²
No need to sign up for a marathon. Set little, attainable goals when it comes to adding more movement to your routine. Work in a lunchtime walk three days a week. Week one: aim for 20-minute walks. Week two, 30-minute walks and week three, work up to 45-minute walks. If you’d rather reserve your lunch hour for eating and unwinding, then choose to walk before your workday starts or go for an after-dinner walk in the evening. Exercising is not a one-stop-shop where one set formula fits everyone. Do what makes you feel good. If that means dancing in your kitchen to Funkytown when prepping dinner, go for it.
DECLUTTER YOUR SPACE
Parting with superfluous items can not only make your physical space more liveable, but it can also be good for your mental well-being.
When our living spaces are filled with “stuff”, we are left feeling tired, lethargic, and anxious. This can take a toll on our ability to function effectively at work and can have a negative effect on our relationships and energy levels.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Clutter makes it hard to focus. That's because a cluttered environment can make your brain less effective at processing information — and more prone to frustration.”³
Again, the key here is making little changes. Don’t feel you need to box up everything today and donate it to charity or kick it to the curb. That will only add to your anxiety. Make decluttering a more realistic and manageable task. For example, each spring decide that will give away/donate ten articles of clothing, ten books and ten kitchen items, decorative items, or knick-knacks.
You’ll feel good knowing that these 30 items will bring happiness or fulfill a need for someone else. When this becomes a doable habit for you, you can increase the frequency to twice a year and eventually every season.
Imagine, 30, 60, or even 120 items fewer items in your home each year. Your space will feel more breathable and you will be more productive.
Pandemic or not, winter is often a time when we interact less with loved ones and see friends less frequently. The onset of spring tends to manifest in a desire to get out more and interact more with those we love.
Whether it’s sharing a meal, seeing a movie, going for a walk, or just getting together on a social platform, human connection is undeniably one of the most vital things we can do to maintain our overall sense of well-being, both mentally and physically.
According to an NCBI study, “Humans are wired to connect, and this connection affects our health. From psychological theories to recent research, there is significant evidence that social support and feeling connected can help people maintain a healthy body mass index, control blood sugars, improve cancer survival, decrease cardiovascular mortality, decrease depressive symptoms, mitigate post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improve overall mental health. The opposite of connection, social isolation, has a negative effect on health and can increase depressive symptoms as well as mortality. Counseling patients on increasing social connections, prescribing connection, and inquiring about quantity and quality of social interactions at routine visits are ways that lifestyle medicine specialists can use connection to help patients to add not only years to their life but also health and well-being to those years.”⁴
So, time to pick up that phone and call Aunt Sue. It might very well do your body, mind, and soul, a whole lot of good.
START SOMETHING NEW
Spring, as the cliché goes, is a time for new beginnings. There’s no better time to start those fencing lessons you’ve always been meaning to take or join that Spanish for beginners class you’ve been thinking about for a while.
Studies show that learning something new is a sure-fire way to keep your brain young, alert on its toes, so to speak.
In one said study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh, researchers found that learning new activities actually creates new pathways in the brain.
"Consider learning the finger dexterity required to play a complex piece on the piano. Prior to practice, your brain might not yet be capable of generating the appropriate activity patterns to produce the desired finger movements."
"We think that extended practice builds new synaptic connectivity that leads directly to the development of new patterns of activity that enable new abilities."⁵
We have seen that, with spring, comes renewed hope and the realization that little changes can make big, meaningful shifts in us, inside and out. The ultimate result? Ensuring that we live more healthful, inspired, and meaningful lives.
⁵ University of Pittsburgh. "How the brain changes when mastering a new skill: Research reveals new neural activity patterns that emerge with long-term learning." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 June 2019. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190610151934.htm