What if instead of trying to make sweeping changes in your life to improve your health you could make a series of small tweaks that would allow you to maximize your overall health, your mind, body and spirit?
Health is a package deal. Focusing on your mind can help you safeguard your overall mental health, reduce stress and improve your outlook on life.
1. Slow time down by resting more. We’ve all experienced the phenomenon of time moving more quickly the older we get. A study by Duke University professor Adrian Bejan found that this phenomenon is due to how your brain processes the images of daily life. When you’re young and experiencing a lot of novel stimuli, time seems to slow down. Bejan has found the best thing you can do to slow down your perception of time is to get enough sleep and mental rest. “Productive days happen when the body and mind are rested, after periods of regular sleep, when in the morning you look in the mirror and you see a younger you, not a tired you,” he writes.
2. Start a mindful habit. Hobby crafts, like knitting, hand-sewing, coloring in adult coloring books or hand lettering, can function as a kind of moving meditation. Research shows that repetitive motions like these can help you focus and reduce stress, in the same way meditation can. The added benefit is that these types of activities also tap into creativity. One study found that participating in these types of mindful crafts can also reduce the risk for developing mild cognitive impairment.
3. Schedule your screenings. You know all of those screenings you’ve been putting off scheduling? There is no better time to schedule your screenings for everything from breast cancer to heart disease to diabetes. The Department of Health and Human Services maintains a comprehensive list, organized by age and gender (you can also ask your doctor).
4. Add stretches to your day. So many of us sit hunched at desks, which causes our muscles to get shorter and tighter. Short, tight muscles can eventually lead to pain and injury. One simple way to counteract the effect of sitting hunched for much of the day is to do some basic stretches at your desk or kitchen table. Specifically, you might try a standing back extension called the “one stretch,” which a recent Japanese study found may help improve or prevent low back pain. To do this stretch, stand with your feet slightly apart. Slowly stretch backward (without bending your knees) while exhaling for three seconds. You can place your hands at your low back for support. Repeat one to two times.
5. Start a gratitude journal. Each day, try writing down one thing you’re grateful for, either in a journal or on a slip of paper you drop into a jar. According to a report by The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, people who make an effort to focus on gratitude tend to be happier and more satisfied with their lives. They are less driven by materialism, and not at as much of a risk of burnout.
6. Be more honest. We often avoid being honest with friends and loved ones because we overestimate how difficult it will be, and fear that it will have disastrous consequences. However, a recent study by two psychologists who research honesty and lying found the opposite. “We find that people significantly mispredict the consequences of communicating honestly. The experience of being honest is far more pleasurable, leads to greater levels of social connection, and does less relational harm than individuals expect,” the authors write.