Here’s a question to consider as we begin a New Year: Are you feeling OK?
Are you shorting yourself on sleep? Are you swapping holiday cookies for healthy meals? Do you feel like you have nothing to contribute?
You’re in good company. An astonishing 42 percent of women and 35 percent of men say they felt burnt out in 2021, an increase over 2020. Researchers attribute this burnout to many things — the stress of the pandemic, workplace practices, the division of labor in the home, and many other factors.
However, 2022 is the year you can wrestle back control. Caring for yourself is key to showing up in your relationships, your work, your community, and in your own personal growth and development.
Over the years, through a lot of trial and error, I’ve set seven standards of self-care for myself that are my baseline. If I don’t meet these basic needs, I feel the consequences in my body, in my mental health, and in the ways I interact with those around me.
Sleep. Sleep performs so many functions that science is just beginning to fully understand. Proper sleep can help ward off cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety, and diabetes. Most people need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. It’s essential for mental function; even cutting back by an hour or two can lead to performance issues the next day.
What you can do: Prepare for a good night’s sleep. Banish screens from your bedroom, create a welcoming sleep environment, and create a routine that will let your brain know it’s time to wind down.
Hydration: Trying to function without proper hydration is like trying to travel 75 miles in your car with the gas light on.
You might be able to make it most of the way there, but eventually you’ll come to a full stop and be unable to carry on. Water regulates all of our systems, from the way we process information to our body temperature.
What you can do: All you need is a clean source of water, a glass, and some way to track how much you’ve had to drink. Many of us have been told that we need to drink eight glasses of water a day, but how much you need is really based on your own particular physiology. You might find that you need more than eight glasses, and that’s OK. Remember that you can choose water-rich foods, too, like leafy greens and cucumber, to add an additional boost.
Meditation: The benefits of sitting quietly and focusing your mind are legion. Study after study shows that meditation can reduce stress, combat anxiety, improve focus, and help you stay in the moment.
What you can do: Meditation takes daily practice. This isn’t something you can do immediately; instead, start small and work your way up slowly. Apps like Headspace make it easy to get started in just five minutes a day. Eventually, you’ll start to crave this quiet time to yourself — I promise!
Exercise: Exercising just 20 to 30 minutes a day can make a huge difference in your physical and mental well-being. Think of exercise as a systems regulator, making it much easier to sleep, to think, to process stress, and even to digest.
What you can do: You don’t need to start running marathons to incorporate exercise into your routine. Even a walk outside or yoga session will do the trick. The main thing is to get your body moving and your blood pumping — exercise famously releases endorphins that help you feel, well, more alive.
Healthy eating: Eating healthfully is one of the easiest ways to feel better about yourself. Not only will you reap the benefits in the form of better digestion, greater energy, and fewer afternoon crashes, but you’ll increase your chances of living a longer, more full life.
What you can do: Poor planning is one of the main reasons we have a hard time eating healthfully. How often have you reached for a donut in the office break room after forgetting to eat breakfast or stopped at a drive-through when you realized you had nothing in the fridge for dinner? I frequently fell into this trap until I began thinking and planning ahead. If you can afford it, a meal service is a great way to get into the habit of healthy eating. If not, try prepping your meals on the weekends so you don’t have room for temptation.
Intellectual stimulation: You’ve heard how important it is to read to children as they grow, but the need for intellectual stimulation doesn’t end once you’ve gone through your formative years. The brain is a muscle that can grow new cells that will help you stay sharp and retain focus. By engaging your brain, you engage with life itself.
What you can do: There are so many ways to stimulate your brain! Try devoting time to reading, playing games (I’m a sudoku fiend), learning a new language, or taking a class. Go with what piques your curiosity. Once you’ve mastered whatever it is you’re doing, move on to the next challenge to keep the benefits rolling.
Gratitude: Giving thanks makes you feel good. In fact, practicing gratitude daily can help you feel calmer, reduce stress in your body, strengthen your social connections, and allow you to be more at peace with the world. Research shows that gratitude compounds on itself: The more you give, the better you feel.
What you can do: A daily gratitude practice can be as simple as writing down five things you’re grateful for at the beginning and end of each day. You might want to take your practice a step further by sending notes of thanks via email or by mail (handwritten notes are especially thoughtful) to colleagues, friends, and loved ones.
Seven standards can seem like a lot if you’re coming from a place of overwhelm. You might have a bit of difficulty transforming these practices into habits, and that’s OK. The goal is progress, not perfection! If you find yourself straying from these seven standards, gently course correct and put yourself back on track. I promise that if you commit, you’ll experience a more resilient, healthy 2022 and beyond.