Can you believe 2020 is almost over? If this year has tested you, you are not alone. Maybe you got pushed to what you thought was your limit and realized you were stronger than you thought. Maybe you felt like you were drowning, but you learned how to ask for the help you needed to stay afloat. Maybe you’re learning to live with the deep, unending pain of loss and, in the process, are discovering a greater capacity to empathize with others who have gone through the same. Maybe this year ended up being exactly what the doctor called for and it shifted your life for the better, giving you a deep appreciation for the universe’s unconventional timing.
Or, maybe, you’re still struggling, and processing, and not ready to find the bright side just yet. That’s ok too.
First of all, if you’re reading this, you are enough! No matter what you did or didn’t accomplish this year, simply making it through this year is a gigantic achievement. Stop what you’re doing right now and take a moment to congratulate yourself. In fact, go ahead and wrap your arms around yourself and give yourself a giant hug. Close your eyes and whisper “thank you, self.”
As we conclude what can only be categorized as a historically chaotic year, it’s never been more important to check in with your mental and physical health*. When we’re constantly bracing ourselves for the next disappointment or bad news story, our bodies need a little extra TLC. Use the guide below to take a quick inventory of how you’re doing and identify some positive habits you can implement before the new year.
*Note: We are not health care professionals and we in no way intened to offer medical advice. If you are having serious issues with your physical or mental health, please seek the help of a professional.
How’s your sleep?
When we’re stressed, sleep is one of the first indicators that something is off. Are you having trouble falling asleep? Do you feel tired yet as soon as your head hits the pillow, your heart rate increases? There’s plenty of reason to be experiencing anxiety, and if you’ve been ignoring the signs during the day, night time is the perfect time for those symptoms to become more pronounced.
- Make a sleepy time drink. Try a relaxing cup of tea or mix up a calming magnesium elixir.
- When the sun sets, so should your devices. If you can, try and avoid blue light emitting screens like cell phones and computer screens. Sound impossible? Opt for blue light blocking glasses.
- Take a moment to pause. If you’re flooded with thoughts when your head hits the pillow, carve out a pre-bedtime moment of silence where you can process the day. Maybe you pull out a journal and dump your stream of consciousness onto its pages (anything goes!), or perhaps you simply observe your thoughts and acknowledge whatever it is you’ve been ignoring throughout the day. Think of it as “taking out the mental trash.”
- Get exercise during the day. Whether it’s a brisk walk, a free YouTube workout video, or 5 minutes of crunches in your living room, getting your heart rate up and your muscles working while you’re awake will make it easier to fall sleep at night.
How’s your appetite?
Another major sign of stress is changes to your eating habits. Do you find yourself reaching for sweets or salty snacks more frequently, even when you’re not actually hungry? Are you so busy you’re forgetting to eat meals? If you notice changes to your usual eating habits, do not beat yourself up about it. Instead, view this as your body letting you know there’s likely some emotional clutter that needs your attention. How cool is it that our body finds creative ways to communicate with us? Instead of getting frustrated, try thanking it for the message.
If you find yourself reaching for food as a source of comfort, pay attention when those feelings get triggered. Are you avoiding an overwhelming work project? Does it happen when your child throws a tantrum? Is it something that comes up in the context of your relationships? Usually, it’s something you’re either scared to face or feel you have no control over. Once you identify your triggers, you can start working through them by either taking action towards fixing the situation (doing the thing you’ve been avoiding, having the tough conversation) or enlisting outside help from a therapist or trusted friend or family member.
- Find a self-soothing activity that doesn’t involve food. Give yourself a massage (the Thera Cane will change your life), listen to a podcast episode, call a close friend, or watch an episode of guilty pleasure TV.
- Slow down. Take a couple minutes to breathe. Even if you do still reach for the snack, can you identify the “why” behind it?
- Don’t punish yourself. Savor the treat. Enjoy each bite. Be present with the joy of the moment. Turn off the TV.
- Eat nourishing foods with healthy fats that turn off your hunger hormones. Think: avocado, ghee, dark chocolate, eggs, nuts, and fatty fish.
Conversely, you might feel like your appetite is nowhere to be found. This could be a sign of higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), which can increase acid production in the stomach and make eating sound unappealing. Over time, this can have deleterious effects on your health.
- Calm your nervous system. Some “quick fixes” include meditation, listening to relaxing music, a quick 15 minute yoga or stretching session, a warm shower, or a couple minutes of deep breathing. Find a solution that works for you.
- Stock up on nourishing foods like soup or oatmeal that are warm, easy to digest, and comforting.
- Take a walk outside sans headphones. Look around and see how much you notice. The goal is to be present, turn down the volume of your busy mind, and get back into your body.
- If possible, eat with other people. Set the table, plan out a proper meal, and make it an occasion.
How’s your social life?
After almost a full year of social distancing, it’s not surprising that many of us are feeling a bit isolated. Conversely, the over-reliance of companionship from the people living in your immediate household may also have put a strain on your closest relationships.
For anyone feeling alone, remember that this is temporary. This isolation will not last forever. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are also many ways to safely connect with loved ones and communit
- Find a community with shared interests. Take a live, online cooking class. Participate in a virtual book club. Enroll in online group therapy. Pick something you’re interested in and see where likeminded people are congregating on the Internet.
- Consider getting a pet (or fostering one). Maybe it’s a goldfish, maybe it’s a great dane, but there’s a reason why there’s been a huge spike in adoption applications.
- Get invested in a project. Maybe it’s redecorating your home, maybe it’s challenging yourself to cook a new recipe each week. Share your efforts on social media for community support.
If you’re living with a romantic partner and feeling the squeeze, that’s normal. Usually you have time to live independent lives and “check out” of the relationship (such as going out with girlfriends or having your own hobbies — or even just an office — outside the house). Missing each other is an important component of attraction.
- Plan separate evening walks.
- Split up the errands and do your half separately.
- Can’t agree on a TV show? Don’t compromise! Go into different rooms and watch what you want.
- Break the routine. Get up early and cook a full breakfast. Go on a drive to watch the sunset. Dress up in fancy clothes for dinner for no reason.
We wish you all a happy and healthy end of 2020. How are you feeling? Tell us in the comments below.