Step 1: Stay well rested!
It is very important to keep regular sleep hours, and to develop good sleeping habits. Sleep issues such as insomnia are on the rise: in the US, approximately 60% of the population suffer from chronic sleep disorders.
This figure has lead to the development of sleep medication, and ever-increasing dependence and reliance on these medications. It is growing at an alarming rate: between 2000-2004, use of sleep aids doubled among 20-44 year old adults, and for children aged 10-19, the use increased 85%.
While seeking medication can be helpful for the short-term, these type of medications can cause more sleep-related and health-related problems over the long term, actually worsening insomnia and having harmful side effects. They are not so much a cure as an aid, and should be used as a help and not a solution. Sleep medication use should be used intermittently and for brief periods of time.
Sleep problems can be addressed through natural means; often the key to better sleep lies in our own hands and not in a drug. Changes to our behavior habits can do wonders for ensuring that we have restful sleep.
Try as much as possible to maintain a regular sleep and wake time schedule. By keeping regular sleep hours, we can strengthen our natural circadian rhythms: our sleep-wake cycle is regulated in the brain as part of this circadian or daily rhythm. These rhythms are regulated by our nervous system, specifically chemicals like melatonin and coritsol. If we keep regular sleep hours, our circadian rhythms grow stronger, helping us fall asleep more easily.
Keeping regular sleep hours applies to weekdays and weekends. If you wake early on the weekdays for work but sleep in on the weekends, your circadian rhythms are altered drastically – making you tired on Monday morning, even if you got lots of sleep the night before.
Try to enforce a habit of going to bed at the same time and waking at the same time (barring special occasions and circumstances). You may need an alarm clock at first, but if you stick with it, you will find yourself naturally tiring at the appropriate hour at night, and rising without an alarm clock in the morning. You will find you have more energy to take on the day. Get a nightly amount of rest of 7 to 9 hours. Circumstances will disturb your rhythm, but just try to maintain a consistent sleep-wake cycle for the long term.
Step 2: Multivitamins
We’ve discussed how having a varied, healthy diet is fundamental to your overall good health – a diet full of essential vitamins and minerals will help keep your health up and protect against risk of disease. While a healthy diet can do wonders, studies have shown that the taking of high-quality nutritional supplements promotes optimal health.
Multivitamins are relatively expensive yet powerfully effective way to maintain good health, especially as we grow older. Furthermore, an alarming number of adults (about 50% of the population in the US) have marginal, or subclinical, nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin C deficiency or iron deficiencies. While in theory we could acquire all the necessary vitamins and minerals from our diets, in reality, this is not the case – the diet of the average person does not provide them. Enter high-quality multivitamins, supplements, and mineral formulas, which give you the essentials and help you boost your health to optimal.
High-quality nutritional supplements contain high levels of antioxidcant vitamins and minerals; these vitamins and minerals are in proper ratio for absorption by the body. Choose a nutritional supplement that has little or no additives. If you have sensitivies, consider choosing supplements with hypoallergenic ingredients.
The dosage of high-quality supplements range from four to six capsules per day – or, a couple with breakfast and a couple with dinner! Painless and inexpensive, these small tablets can help you make a huge leap to better health.
High-quality nutritional supplements do not include a RDA, or recommended daily amount, combination of vitamins and minerals. These supplements do not provide the optimal levels for many nutrients such as vitamin C; studies have found that optimal levels of these nutrients are much higher than the provided amounts in RDAs. In addition, RDAs have been formulated without provisions for how aspects of lifestyle (smoking, drinking) and of environment (exposure to toxins) affect our intake and absorption of these essential vitamins and minerals.
Step 3: Take Time for YOU
In the hustle and bustle of life – career, family, world events – it can be difficult to find some time for yourself in which you can just unwind, decompress and find your center. However, taking a few minutes to yourself is incredibly important for your mental and physical health. Taking time for yourself helps you cope with stress – if unchecked, stress can contribute to all sorts of health problems: ulcers, skin problems, sleep disruptions, moodiness and depression. Set a few minutes aside for yourself every day in which to breathe, and relax. Set aside a larger chunk of time at least once a week. In this time, do something that you enjoy: read, go for a walk, go to a museum, do something creative. This will help you stay motivated, control your stress, and help you listen to your body.
Step 4: Connect with Others
While it is important to take some time for yourself, it is also important to maintain healthy relationships in your life. Humans are social animals: we are family and community-oriented. Countless clubs, organizations and groups exist where like-minded individuals come together over common interests. Social connection allows us to improve communication and intimacy, nourishing our emotional and spiritual health which in turn influences our physical health.
While the digital world allows us to connect with people from all over the globe in ways never dreamed of before, with countless social networks, video conferencing, and text messaging, face-to-face interaction has declined drastically. While we may connect with people in the comfort from our own homes via the internet, we are also still in isolation, staying indoors and forming connections over computer screen. We need to actively go out and seek connection with others to avoid feelings of isolation and loneliness which contribute directly to depression and poor mental and physical health.
We need to balance our time on the internet with interaction in ‘real’ time and with real physical interaction and communication – real face time, not just Facebook!
Physical touch is very important to good health right from the beginning. Studies show that infants who are touched, picked up, played with and paid attention to thrive, and develop faster than those left alone in their cribs. Touch and interaction in our early lives contributes to healthy brain and nervous system development, as well as social development.
Intimate relationships also have monumental impact on our well-being and health. In one study of married men, those who stated that they were showed affection and love from their partners had significantly less angina or heart pain – even when the same individuals had high risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure. This demonstrates that perceptions of love, strong connections with others, and community is a risk factor just as other, more tangible factors (such as weight, genetic predisposition, etc.) Yet another study of women with metastatic breast cancer also proves this: of this group, women who met for 90 minutes weekly for a year in a support group to talk and share their feelings about their illness lived longer (on average, twice as long) as those who did not have this support group.
Our entire well-being – physical, mental, and emotional – is affected by our connections, communications and relationships with others. Maintaining connection with others on a daily basis is increasingly important even as our world becomes increasingly far-flung, overwhelming and disconnected.
Keep in touch with loved ones – even if they are far away. Letters, emails and phone calls are a great way to keep in touch, stay up on what everyone is involved in, and strengthen communication.
Express love and affection to your partner, friends, and family. Not only does this allow you to express your emotions in a healthy way, and not bottle them up, it also promotes intimacy and community for all involved.
Join a neighbourhood organization or various groups and clubs that appeal to you – sharing common interests with others is the basis of community and allows us to meet new people and forge new connections, as well as strengthen and enhance existing ones.
Pets are also have a huge role in helping to foster mental and physical well-being. More and more, pets are brought into nursery homes, hospitals and various places of therapy – their effect on the elderly, terminally ill, and the lonely is dramatic. Pets also help you stay healthy with their maintenance – taking your dog for his daily walk forces you to go on a daily walk. Pets are great for children, encouraging them to play and be active. If you can give it the space, care and attention it needs, consider getting a pet. You’ll bring joy to your life as well as to others.
Finally, try and connect, in person, with others every day – even if it is a short conversation with the barista as you get a coffee, a brief chat with your coworker in the office, or an evening walk with a neighbour. The relationships we have with others directly contributes to our health. They help us cope with everything from the large issues to the daily frustrations of living; they help us find happiness, to laugh and enjoy life; they can help heal us through tumultuous times.
Step 5: Express, Don’t Suppress
Healthcare today is recognizing, more and more, a traditional understanding of medicine which follows that emotional factors have a huge impact on health and illness. For this reason, emotions should be expressed freely and appropriately – one should not suppress anger, for example, but find a healthy outlet to channel it such as therapy, a friend to talk to, or anger management. How we feel emotionally can manifest itself in physical symptoms and problems. Continuing the example, if anger or frustration is not appropriately expressed, i.e. through talking, therapy or making positive change to relieve the source of frustration, it can negatively affect how our physical health. Such problems that might come about include depression, tension headaches, hypertension and inability to sleep.
As suppressing emotions or expressing them inappropriately can cause health imbalances and illness, it follows that cultivating an appropriate expression of our emotions, positive and negative, can be therapeutic, preventative and positive for our health. No matter if they are positive or negative feelings, we owe it to our emotional and physical health to find proper expression and healthy, authentic articulation of our emotional states and moods.
Finding the right ways to express ourselves strengthens our relationships and emotional bonds with others, helping us to live healthier, more fulfilling lives.