From too much alcohol consumption to too little exercise to spiking levels of anxiety, stress and depression, the pandemic continues to affect us our bodies, minds and souls. But with the new year comes an opportunity for self-reflection and the chance to tweak our behaviors, says Dr. Michele Arthurs, a board-certified family medicine physician with the Permanente Medical Group who sees patients virtually and at the Kaiser Permanente Camp Springs Medical Center. “I hope that we can all look at 2021 as quite possibly the most hopeful new year we have had in our lifetimes,” she says. “And realize that we have opportunities every day.”
Here are some of her practical tips to kick off 2021 on a positive, healthier note.
What does it mean to “set the reset button for your health?”
Starting fresh or defining a new desired behavior that can improve overall health, something as simple as changing breakfast or eating behaviors to include healthier snacks (or no snacks at all!) Also an activity reset, increasing exercise starting with 20 minutes a day. Find an exercise or lifestyle change partner and choose small, attainable goals like increasing the amount of daily vegetables or an activity increase of 20 minutes for at least five days a week.
What practical, doable tips and goals do you have for diet, exercise and alcohol for people who feel they have gotten derailed by quarantine and the holidays?
Diet: Review your health goals and be sure the foods available in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer will support you. Make a meal plan and grocery list and stick to it: the more mindful we are about eating, the less mindless eating we’ll engage in. It can take less than five minutes to pack a nutritious lunch!
Exercise: Start low and go slow! Begin with low impact activity like walking at an easy pace and go slow, consider starting with 5-10 minutes a day and increasing slowly over time as your fitness level improves.
Alcohol: Alcohol is being misused as an escape; we need to confront this, decrease consumption and work to create an alternate daily routine. Reach for a book, call a friend, turn on a meditation on Calm or myStrength, step outside for a walk or cultivate a new interest to occupy your mind for the mental escape you might be thinking alcohol can provide.
Mental health: Many of us have felt derailed by COVID: the mental health impacts with increased anxiety and decreased sleep are very real. The first step is making a choice to change your mindset to get back on track and make a habit of focusing on your mental health every day. Consider starting your day with a mindfulness activity or meditation.
How can you tell if your mood is just general quarantine blues vs. when you should see a mental health professional?
If you feel that your mood is impacting your ability to function or it is making it fairly difficult for you to make it through your day, or if you have had any thoughts of self-harm, be sure to get in touch with a mental health professional.
Should we be making New Year’s resolutions or looking at them a different way?
New Year’s resolutions always seemed to have a bit of procrastination associated with them, ie ‘I’ll wait until … to start …’ We should set a start date in the near future, regardless of the month or time of year. Why not a New Year of Resolutions! Think about what goals we might have for each month and when we set our date to achieve these goals, for example, ‘I want to lose 15 pounds by March 1 and then a total of 30 pounds by July 1.’
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