By: Regina Taylor
Needless to say, 2020 was a year that we could not have predicted last January when we were planning out our resolutions and goals. Many of us faced tremendous loss, anxiety, and stress that interrupted our progress in a lot of areas this year — whether it be athletic competitions, traveling, job opportunities, or other things we were looking forward to. Going into 2021, it is important to prioritize our wellbeing without pressuring ourselves to constantly be productive and on-the-go. To get started, here are three attainable, simple changes that can have a positive impact on your mind and body for the new year.
- Give yourself time to be creative.
Studies have shown a link between engagement with artistic activities (either as an observer or initiator) and enhancement of one’s moods, emotions, and other physiological states and processes (Stuckey, 2020). Especially during COVID, as we find ourselves spending more time indoors, channeling our artistic side can help keep our mind occupied to lower anxiety levels. Take time to sketch, write, listen to music, dance, or even watch cooking shows. Time spent engaging in creativity promotes a positive mental and physical state and has the potential to reduce stress levels, and even reduce the burden of chronic disease (Stuckey, 2020).
- Prioritize your sleep schedule.
As you have heard again and again, adequate sleep is one of the most important aspects of healthy living. Studies have shown that while most people are in agreement that sleep is important for their overall physical and mental wellbeing, “the time dedicated to sleep is often consciously reduced due to work demands and social activities” (Magnavita, 2017). As students, we’ve all had to sacrifice sleep to study or prepare for an assignment. While pulling an all-nighter once in a blue moon might have to happen when in a crunch, it is important to prioritize healthy sleep schedules as they are associated with higher productivity, better regulation of emotions, and a lower risk of obesity and other morbidities (Magnavita, 2017). While severely limiting the number of hours you sleep in general is associated with reduced health, it is the quality of your sleep, not the quantity, that is most important. Some people are able to function with fewer hours of sleep than others, but what is most important is to maintain a schedule of uninterrupted sleep. Two strategies for achieving a healthy sleep pattern include limiting screen time before bed and developing a night or bedtime routine. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping electronics out of bed altogether in order to promote better quality, distraction-free sleep (Harvard, 2019).
- Recognize the impact of mindfulness, reflection, and goal setting.
Meditation, yoga, and other forms of mindfulness have become increasingly popular ways to decompress and recenter. For those who may not be familiar with these practices, mindfulness can be described as setting aside mental distractions to pay greater attention to the here and now. Studies have shown that engaging in mindfulness programs and activities can help with depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, to name a few key areas (Powell, 2018). Boosting the body’s awareness in the moment, a process called interoception, has been shown to reduce self-rumination and produce a “Relaxation Response” with incredible mental and physical benefits. Similar responses have been found from expressive writing, including writing about minor intrusive thoughts or stressors to calm down after a difficult day or event (Carpenter). Reflecting about events and decisions in a journal is a valuable tool for promoting stress relief that should be incorporated more this upcoming year for its positive benefits, as well as its help with writing down and visualizing your goals.
No matter where you are now as you step into 2021, you should be extremely proud of yourself and the resilience you have shown throughout one of the most challenging times we’ve had to live through. Create, give yourself time to rest, and don’t forget to be mindful and reflect on all you’ve been through and where you are going. Let’s start the new year off by showing kindness to ourselves and compassion to others as we look ahead.
Carpenter, S. (n.d.). A new reason for keeping a diary. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/sep01/keepdiary
Harvard Health. (2019, July). Bedtime screen time may reduce sleep quality. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/bedtime-screen-time-may-reduce-sleep-quality
Magnavita, N., & Garbarino, S. (2017, November 6). Sleep, Health and Wellness at Work: A Scoping Review. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5707986/
Powell, A. (2018, August 27). Harvard researchers study how mindfulness may change the brain in depressed patients. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/harvard-researchers-study-how-mindfulness-may-change-the-brain-in-depressed-patients/
Stuckey, H., & Nobel, J. (2010, February). The connection between art, healing, and public health: A review of current literature. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/