During the coronavirus pandemic, we all became acutely aware of just how important the very basic foundations of our lives are. From our base; our family and friendships, our home and our community; to our body; the food and drink we nourish ourselves with, the sleep we get, the way we lead our daily lives; to our business; how we afford to live, what our priorities and goals are, and our own unique reason 'why'.
Health and wellbeing is a topic which I am a forever student of, and a forever advocate for. To me, one's wealth is their health, and one must never misunderstand just how important our physical, mental and spiritual aspects of our lives our.
In a 21st century, we are continuously 'rebelling' against what we really are - just slightly adapted cavemen! From a constant stream of information through news, television and social media, to continuous alerts, which our primitive brain can perceive to be 'threats', such as receiving an unexpected email, to a deadline or a even a simply notification on our phones.
On top of that, our everyday lives are a great evolution from our caveman days. Yet, our brains are still that very same 'caveman' brain, so as the theory in psychology goes, running from a sabre toothed tiger is the very same brain response we have to even the most minor of everyday 'threats'.
Learning to calm the nervous system is, what I believe, to be the key to living in this modernised world. I am not against any of our advancements, however it is important for us to understand that we are not 'robots', we are not as robust (sadly!) as we think we are, and that the toxic culture of 'more more more' of striving, perfection and keeping up with the pace of life is what misleads us from our true selves.
Health and wellbeing, however, has become an overwhelming space over the past years. Of course, all evolution in this department is gratefully received, yet when one is unsure of which supplement, which exercise, which diet, and which path to take in any aspect - it can be a very overwhelming place!
To me, health is both complex and yet really very simple. We overcomplicate and overcompensate for what is needed and necessary. Taking inspiration from our ancestors, our cavemen disciples, is certainly my greatest teachers in the never-ending exploration of health and wellbeing.
Ten Foundations of Health and Wellbeing
(In no order of priority)
Compassion is one of the keys to leading a healthier and happier life. In a world of striving and perfection, compassion can appear as 'for the weak hearted', however, compassion is one of the greatest resources to a richer, fuller life.
Compassion begins within, which is both a challenge for the go-go-goers, yet a profound path to encounter. 'So how can I get more compassionate?' I hear you ask. As with all health, there is no 'quick fix' or 'arrival', simply a never-ending journey of exploration and evolution.
Here are just some ideas of building compassion into your life:
- Be gentle with yourself, you are only human! Allow yourself to make mistakes, to fall, to fail, to steer off course, to say the wrong thing, to not have a good day, to not be perfect. In a world full of perfection, strive to be human (which is messy, complex and imperfect!).
- You can't do it all, but you can do most of it. There is great pressure to do-do-do and go-go-go in society, that we have developed 'over achiever' mindsets. Of course, this can be used to gain us great benefits, but it can be a hindrance when we beat ourselves up for not ticking everything off in a day, not being as 'busy' as everyone else appears to be, or achieving as much as so-and-so has in her lifetime. Be gentle with yourself. Know life is a marathon, not a sprint.
- Do lovely things for yourself, because you deserve it. You may read this and wince at the thought of being so 'selfish', but building compassion into your life is the gift that keeps on giving, and is never an act of selfishness. Of course, it is all about balance, and not over or under indulging, but simply making yourself a priority every single day. Start with the mantra 'do two lovely things for yourself every day'. It can be a 15 minute walk, cutting some wildflowers for your room to making yourself a good cup of tea.
Sleep is one of the very pillars of health, and yet so many of us struggle with it. There is no one-size-fits-all, however there are some basic tips which are proven to aid a better nights sleep:
- Wind down. Aim to get to sleep at 10pm, giving your mind and body a chance to wind down in the hours leading up to it. Our brain cannot distinguish between real vs reality, so try to avoid any stress-inducing content through movies or tv shows, phone calls or work in the evening - instead try a radio, gentler music, or reading a book. Instead of heavy exercise, try something more restorative instead, such as yoga, or a gentle walk, to help your mind wind down.
- Avoid stimulants. Stimulants come in all forms, from the well-known sleep interrupter caffeine, to tv, news, movies, social media, emails, heavy-exercise, a heavy sugar or chocolate load, to simply looking at your phone screen (the light is proven to interrupt sleep). Aim to switch off, or make better your wind-down time by dimming the lights, tv, phone screen and turning to a more natural sugary snack instead.
- The space that you sleep. Where possible, try to make your bedroom a space where you can really 'shut the world out' and wind down. Aim to keep your space as clean and tidy as possible, to help soothe your mind. A cooler bedroom is proven to aid sleep, as well as dark a room as possible, so try to work these into your bedtime routine.
- Headspace. Give yourself time to wind-down and reflect on your day. Pausing to think back encourages your brain to process the daily events, helping tomorrow's decision or bring to the front clarity on situations. Keeping a journal beside your bed and writing down any thoughts or worries which arise (as silly as they may seem), will help to relieve the mental weight of the day.
We are a very focused society on doing, that we forget how important simply being is! We cannot shut everything off, such as worries, concerns, tasks, to-do's or goals, but we can make a conscious choice to allow ourselves to 'just be' in our existence, now.
Here are some simple tips to encourage your inner human 'being':
- Allow yourself to pause. Take a breath. Ground yourself through simply being 'witness' to your present, looking at all that's around you. Look at nature and view it with great curiosity.
- Get creative! Whether its through writing, playing an instrument, doing a sport that you love, dance, drawing painting or cooking, these creative outlets help the mind to become still through presence.
- Reframe the belief that being busy is all you should ever be. Remind yourself you are human, that life is about balance, that slowing down and allowing your mind and body to recover, clarify, cleanse and repair is integral to a healthier self and healthier life.
4. Your circle
Your circle is made up of your family, friends, community and workmates. Life can throw us challenge, tasks and commitments, which can alter relationships consequently. However, building a rhythm into your everyday life on connection is key to maintaining a more balanced, happier life.
- Aim to phone a friend once a week. Catching up with friends over a call can be the medicine needed. Set an intention to call a friend once a week.
- Be part of your community. Whether that be through a running club, yoga class, religious ritual gathering or simply asking your neighbours how they are can help you feel part of something bigger.
- Treasure time with family and friends. Life is fleeting and moves at a very quick pace, if we so let it! Aim to treasure the everyday like gold, taking a moment to be grateful for simply being around your family and friends.
There is no one-size-fits-all, however finding a diet which works for you is ultimately all that matters. Here's some tips which may help you:
- Aim to build a balanced, not restricted, diet. Aim to eat as diverse a range of fruit, veg, grains, pulses and protein as possible. Our guts thrive off diversity, so try to encourage new dishes into your week and encourage 'eating the rainbow', as in, a wide range of colourful veg and fruit! Allow yourself to eat without guilt, to nourish and enjoy without judgement - so have that slice of cake, if you so want it!
'Without breath we have no life, therefore breath is our life force' is what I was reminded by a very wise yoga teacher. It could not be more true, as the breath really is our connection to the present moment, which some could argue, is the only 'life' we should be existing in (rather than worrying about the past and future).
Here are some tips to encourage breath work in your everyday:
- Aim for 5 before a meal. Breath into your belly as deeply as you can through your nose, holding for a moment, before letting it release through your mouth. Repeat an inhale/exhale 5 times before you eat, this helps not only your gut relax and prepare for food, but also gives you a sense of calm, clarity and energy.
- One deep breath. It is such a simple, yet effective tool which I reach to again and again! Taking one deep, elongated breath can help you feel more calm and in control. I often do this one before a business call/meeting!
Creativity is often overlooked, but it is such an important part of our health and wellbeing puzzle. We are all so different, but finding creativity doesn't have to be just one thing, it can be many!
- Do something different, everyday. It sounds strange, but doing something different everyday can be a real blessing in disguise to the part of your brain that holds creativity. Whether it be walking a different route, doing a different exercise, stopping to look at nature to cooking a new recipe, all of these little pieces build up a more creative outlook.
- Prioritise daily creativity. What brings you joy? What brings you a sense of calm, clarity and still? Prioritise to do this 1x per day, see it as taking a pill almost for your health!
- Allow yourself to think differently. Finding a different perspective when we are in the storm can seem almost impossible, however, it can be the very remedy needed to help us resolve what needs resolving.
Some of the greatest spiritual teachers often share a common belief, that curiosity is one of the most important aspects of our health. Remaining curious, in a deeper sense, allows us to be present with life, to be open to it course and direction, to question and wonder 'how', 'why' and 'where'.
- Look at a flower. Imagine how it became what it is now. See the soil it has grown from. Think of just how much rain, sunlight, time, warmth and love this flower took to survive.
- Life can be very different if you choose it to be. If you are finding life difficult and challenging, from a relationship to a job stress, allow yourself to take a step back and believe that things can, and will eventually change, that life naturally evolves. Often, it is through darker periods that bring us light - however, it is a choice!
- Believe in the impossible. Man did not get to the moon in believing it was impossible, man got to the moon only because he believed it were possible! You can create your own destiny, to an extent, so allow yourself to dream the impossible!
Nature and the environment are such key components to our health. Every day, intentionally connect with nature and the environment, whether thats through a run in the outdoors, to a long walk, to growing your own flowers, fruit or veg, to understanding how the environment is both helped and hindered through your everyday actions (without being hard on yourself!).
- Aim to get out in nature once daily. Nature helps us to unwind, reconnect, reflect, recenter, refocus and resolve. It has a whole host of benefits for us, especially in calming our over-stimulated nervous systems.
- Pause to look at what's around you. Take time to admire the nature around you, look at the colours, the textures, the season you're in. Admire it for all it is giving to the world.
Now for the final and more woo-woo of them all, your heart! We hear the saying all of the time 'follow your heart' or 'listen to your heart', but this is because it holds so much truth and power.
Connecting with your heart is a great way to align yourself with the life you want to live. It is about realising what is important to you and what is not. It is a continuous, daily effort of checking in with what feels right and what does now. It is about listening to that inner knowing (often it's the quieter voice under the mental chatter), of what you'd like to eat, what you'd like to do, how you'd like to be, what you need and what you seek.
Connecting with the heart comes in many forms, but creativity, adventure, art, meditation, connection and being nothing but yourself is a wonderful start!