Now that we’ve taken the time to spring clean our homes, let’s look inward to “spring clean” our bodies and minds. As winter fades away and the new life of spring emerges, let’s look at some ways to create a rejuvenated body and mind.
First of all, let me say that I LOVE having sunlight later in the evenings. The time change, although it can be difficult to adjust to at first, is a welcome reminder that spring is on the way. It feels like there is more time to live in each day. The downside is, for those early risers (like me), waking up in darkness. Nevertheless, I try to use the quiet darkness of the morning to mentally prepare myself for the day.
On this note, let’s look at ways to refresh our minds. One of easiest habits to add to your life is to make sure you are getting the proper amount and quality of sleep that you need. How do you accomplish this? Take a look at your bedroom. Is it a place that is peaceful and inviting? If not, you can make some changes. Take out your television. Make sure your cell phone is not right next to you. Add some plants to your room. Add a small fan, or white noise maker (I find a little white noise is essential for good sleep i.e. it drowns out the sound of snoring). You can even rearrange your furniture to make the room more inviting. The next step would be to set a consistent time to go to bed. If you are night owl, this may be difficult for you. Pick a time that works for you and stick to it. The point is to make sure that you get enough sleep. You don’t have to go to sleep right away. You can read, journal, or pray. Going to bed at the same time, and making your room a place of peace will help your mind settle and the end result will be better sleep.
When its warmer outside, I like to physically prepare myself for my day as well. What does that mean? Exercise. Some of you are probably saying, “No way! I’m not exercising. I don’t have time”. (Especially, first thing in the morning). I understand (I used to say that too). Whether you choose to exercise in the morning, evening, or afternoon, it doesn’t matter, as long as you are doing it. As with sleep, pick a time that works for you, and with your schedule. Adding exercise to your day can be a struggle at first, especially if you are doing it in the early morning, but it pays off and it gets easier. You will have more energy. You will be happier (yes, it’s true!). You will feel stronger (because you are). You will be healthier. You will sleep better. I choose to run in the morning because it fits my schedule (before anyone gets up), is basically free (just the cost of running clothes and shoes), and is right outside my door (where I live getting to a YMCA or gym is time consuming). The other reason is that I love to run. This form of exercise works for me. Don’t like running? That’s fine. Pick something that works for you. You might choose yoga, swimming, walking on a treadmill, or using an elliptical. Maybe going to a gym is your thing. Maybe you like at-home workout videos. (I love mine). Maybe simply taking a walk is what can work for you. As you add the new habit of exercise, take it slow, make it enjoyable and don’t give up.
Look at us now! We are sleeping better and exercising. So what’s next, you say? You guessed it. Diet. Now, I’m not talking about going on a diet. I’m talking about taking a look at what you are eating and drinking, and make a real effort for healthy change. For some of us, changing what and how much we eat is a huge challenge. It feels restrictive. It seems difficult. Well, I don’t think it has to be this way. It can be simple and attainable. The question you have to ask yourself is, “Am I willing to make small changes over time that will turn into healthy habits?” I know I am. Remember, we are “spring cleaning” our bodies. Literally.
Here are a few small changes you can make to create a healthy body:
Drink more water. Add fruit, mint or cucumbers to your water to make it taste good. Not only does drinking more water have huge benefits, adding “extras” to your water gives you additional nutrients and vitamins as well. Are you wondering what is so beneficial about drinking water?
- Water flushes out toxins.
- Water aids in digestion.
- Water is essential for cognitive function and mood.
- Drinking water can eliminate a headache.
- Water energizes us.
Drinking enough water is also essential for regulating body temperature, maintaining a healthy heart, adequate blood circulation, and gives us smooth and supple skin. On the flip side, studies show that chronic dehydration can lead to chronic stress, higher inflammation, kidney stones, constipation, depression/anxiety disorders, and extreme fatigue. So, the next time you are cranky, or you hit that afternoon slump at work, drink a glass of water. It will do wonders! Here is a tasty recipe:
Cucumber-Mint-Basil Germ Buster (www.organixx.com)
Cucumber is a super-hydrator and also contains silica, which can detoxify heavy metals. Mint can help digestion and uplift the mood. Finally, basil adds the germ-busting element to this savory-tasting water.
1 cucumber with skin on, sliced
½ cup fresh mint sprigs or 3 drops peppermint essential oil
½ cup fresh basil or 3 drops basil essential oil (rosemary can also be used)
1 gallon fresh, filtered water
Ice as needed
Make healthier food choices. Now, I’m not saying to radically change everything you eat. That would be no fun, and you won’t stick to it. Make small changes. Since you are drinking more water, try cutting back or cutting out sugary drinks- soda (even diet), sports drinks, bottled tea, and juice.
Here are a few more ideas:
- Eat real food. What a concept! Have you ever heard of shopping the perimeter of a grocery store? Do you know why that is a good idea? That’s where the real food is. Produce. Meat. Seafood. Dairy. The good stuff. The less processed your food is, the healthier it is. If you pick up a box of something and you can’t pronounce all the ingredients, or even know what they are, then look for an alternative.
- Eat more vegetables. (I know we’ve all heard this one before). Add ranch dip to fresh veggie slices. Add peanut butter to celery sticks (kid favorite). Add veggies to a fruit smoothie. There are tons of ways to add more veggies to your daily diet. I add ½ of an onion and two carrots to my taco meat. Shhh!! No one knows! The key is to make an effort.
- Make the switch. Use brown rice instead of white rice. Better yet, use quinoa instead of rice. Use a veggie pasta instead of plain pasta. Use whole grain bread instead of white bread. Use bagel thins instead of regular sized bagels. Do you see a pattern here? Choose healthier versions of the foods you love. One of my favorites is using cauliflower as pizza crust. In my house, it’s only my favorite.
- Cut Back. Cut back on your carbs (bread, pasta, rice). Cut back on sweets. This is a tough one for me because I LOVE sweets. I could eat dessert every night. However, I choose to eat dessert once or twice a week, and I try to substitute healthy things for less healthy things (using apple sauce instead of oil in baking). Maybe you could cut back on sweets during the week but indulge thoughtfully on the weekends. So, what does cutting back mean to you? Think about it. Try it.
So now that we are sleeping better, exercising and eating well, what’s next? Here are some more ideas to consider as you begin to make small changes in your life. Not only will you reap the benefits, but so will others.
- Create an outdoor space for reading, relaxing, reflecting/prayer or socializing. You can invite your neighbors or friends over for a BBQ, or lawn games. Have fun. Make the space work for you.
- Bring the outdoors in. Decorate with flowers and plants. Open the curtains and windows to let the sun and fresh air in. Plant some herbs to use in the kitchen.
- Set a goal. It can be work related, family related, personal growth related, or community related. Have you ever wanted to volunteer at a soup kitchen? Do you want to get your extended family together more often? Do you want to start going to church? Do you want to achieve something new at work? Have you been wanting to take a cooking class or learn to bake your own bread? Is there a book you’ve been wanting to read? Do you want to save money for a special vacation? Whatever it is, do it. You won’t regret it.
- Cut back on technology. Technology is fun. We all use it. Do you notice that it’s being used too often? Yep, I do. So, let’s cut back. Set a timer for the kids and stick to it! What about adults? Set a rule for yourself as well. No phone at home rule? Phone only after kids are asleep rule? Whatever rules you set. Stick to them. Fill that time with fun. Board games. Read a story. Play cards. Take a walk together. Play in the yard. Just sit outside and listen to nature. Whatever you choose, it will be worth it.
- Get outside/try a new outdoor activity. Add a walk to your day. Walking after meals helps in digestion and lowers your blood sugar. Check out local clubs for weekend adventures (rock climbing gym, pottery, gymnastics, or attend a gardening club). Look for hiking and biking trails at your local park. Get a partner, or get the whole family involved. Go fishing, take photographs, or take your dog for a walk. The options are endless.
One final topic that we must reflect on is stress. We all have it in one form or another. Stress can wreak havoc on both your mind and body. It can impede memory, suppress the immune system, and make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to help keep your stress levels in check and better manage the daily stresses that you encounter. Start with identifying your sources of stress, and think about some of the things you can do to minimize them. Are you stressed about money? Make a budget and stick to it. Do you feel like you are always rushed in the morning? Plan ahead the night before. Set out your clothes. Prepare your lunch. Wake up 30 minutes earlier (to wake up, pray, or meditate). If you have stress that you can’t identify or minimize, then talk to someone. A trusted friend. Your pastor. A parent. Take a deep breath and remember that it will pass. Here are a few more ideas to consider:
- Cut Down on Some of Your Commitments- Living a full life is great, but when you're exhausted and overwhelmed, you are probably enjoying everything less than you could be. Sometimes cutting out some of the most stressful or least necessary activities can do wonders for your stress levels.
- Try Breathing Exercises- These stress relievers are wonderful because you can use them anywhere and they work—quickly!
- Take a Mini-Vacation- Many, many vacation days go unused by people who think they don't have the time or money for a larger trip. Fortunately, mini-vacations can really be enjoyable and relaxing!
- Pray- Prayer can be emotionally comforting and spiritually uplifting. The next time you feel stressed, don't forget the power of prayer.
- Keep a Gratitude Journal- Counting your blessings does more than remind you of those things you have to be grateful for; it puts you into a mindset where you more often notice other things you have to be grateful for, and your stressors feel smaller in comparison.
- Learn to Say No to Demands on Your Time - Setting boundaries and refusing to overbook yourself can be easier said than done, but it eliminates a whole host of stressors you would have to otherwise manage.
As you consider what you’ve just read, please don’t think you have to do ALL this ALL at once. Making changes and adding new habits take time. Pick one or two things and do that for a while. When that becomes the “norm”, add a new habit. Whatever positive changes you choose to make realize that your health and well-being are in your hands. This new season is a time to take the positive steps towards a healthier body and mind. Choose the change that works for you.
Stress Reduction Ideas adapted from www.verywellmind.com