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Time to plan for a healthier 2021

Time to plan for a healthier 2021, by Parminder Dhillon

As we end this year – what some might call the most significant and challenging year in a long time – we now have a chance to reflect on what truly matters to us and what we would like to change in the New Year.

This year, we were cut off from comforts that we used to take for granted – a predictable routine, holidays, social engagements and everyday interactions that were part of the norm. The life that we thought would be impossible became a reality. Our lives were pared back as plans were disrupted, giving us some much-needed time at home and the opportunity to focus on relationships – whether with a spouse, a parent or a child.

The one thing this year really brought into perspective is the importance of mental health. Being forced to accommodate a change of life, losing control of plans and coming face to face with issues that we once put aside was a challenge.

For many, the year 2020 became the year of epiphanies, and with them, the resolve to work towards change in 2021. There has been an extra focus on the importance of our mental health, giving up negative habits, and adding in routines to make us healthier, more mindful and happier in the long run.

Here are some suggestions to incorporate into your daily routine in 2021 to cultivate better mental health.

How many hours do you sleep each night?

In order to cope with challenges stemming from the pandemic, many of us are staying awake longer, binge watching dramas, stressing over pressure and dealing with the resulting anxiety. As such, the Sleep Foundation suggests that many of us are losing sleep, which can take a toll on our health.

The Sleep Foundation suggests that sleep is even more important than it was before as:

  • Sleep strengthens our immune system to fight diseases and illness.
  • Sleep heightens our brain’s ability to be more effective in making decisions and tackling the many challenges that we face every day.
  • Sleep enhances our mood, helping us to not fall into depression.
  • Sleep improves mental health – as lack of sleep is linked to mental health issues like PTSD, anxiety and more.

To ensure a healthy sleep routine, set up daily reminders for wake up, wind down and bedtime. Reserve your bed for sleep so that you do not get into the habit of using it as a place to work or to watch movies. Lastly, be mindful of the amount of daily screen time – as light can impact your body’s impulse to fall asleep on time.

How do you deal with pressure that life throws at you?

All of us deal with pressure differently – some by drinking or smoking, and others through exercise, which can be quite difficult to keep up with on a daily basis. One method of dealing with stress, even though it is not considered a traditional remedy, is meditation, a tool used by different cultures for centuries.

Meditation refers to the ability to control our thoughts and have a moment where we quiet our mind. This can take place during a morning walk, while watching a tree in a peaceful park, through exercises like yoga or pilates or simply by closing one’s eyes to listen to a favourite tune.

According to The Insider, benefits to our mental health resulting from meditation include (but are not limited to):

  • Better focus and improved concentration, giving us a greater ability to process information.
  • Improved self-esteem and self-awareness, giving us a chance to really recognise ourselves on a deeper level, so that we can work on issues and enhance our wellbeing in the long-run.
  • Lower levels of cortisol, reducing stress significantly.
  • Management of anxiety and depression, helping us focus on the present rather than the unknown, which we cannot control.

Do you have a balanced routine?

As the Christmas period begins, we look forward to relaxing and indulging in delicious and much-craved meals. Once the New Year begins, we might instead go on the hunt for advice on healthy eating and ideas for the next exercise challenge to take up.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Couch to 5K – if you aren’t a runner already, this is a beginners 9 week challenge to help you reach a 5K (30 minutes) running routine.
  • NHS Fitness Videos – provides us with ample videos showing us routines to follow that suit our fitness levels.
  • 30 day Yoga challenge – Look up Amazon Prime or YouTube for options for 30 days challenge where you can dedicate 10 minutes of your day to stretching, and some feel-good exercise to support your mental health.
  • Eat Well Guide – Eating a balanced diet can not only support your immune system, but also brings great benefits to your mental health.

Have you considered giving back?

‘Giving back’ can boost satisfaction, allowing us to feel fulfilled and happy. More importantly, it can change the life of another person, sometimes creating a ripple that can have far-reaching positive effects.

An interesting article by the American Psychological Association provides a perspective on how senior women mentoring less experienced women has become important in helping them progress further in their careers. The National Mentoring Resource Centre acknowledges the positive impact that mentoring can have on emotional and mental health, listing several advantages of taking up a mentoring/coaching programme. For instance:

  • It allows women to be better prepared in dealing with challenges at work.
  • It leads to women having more productive careers.
  • It helps to deal with depressive symptoms effectively through sharing of techniques and expressing of feelings.
  • People tend to have greater life satisfaction when they focus on the positive outcomes and receive opportunities to feel as if they have achieved something.
  • People tend to look forward and have better expectations for the future.
  • People generally have an increased sense of self-esteem - allowing them to have more self-belief, which in turn improves their relationships.
  • People tend to have a greater sense of meaning and purpose and a larger ethnic identity as they become more self-aware.

So, are you ready to take up a positive challenge in the New Year? Whether it be a small and simple step or a massive challenge to turn your life around - what will you choose?