If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past couple of months, it’s that our health really does matter...a lot.
It’s easy in the constant busyness of our day to day lives to focus on everything—and anything—else other than our health, but when it comes right down to it, the only thing we really have any control over is how we take care of ourselves. We have one body, one mind, and one soul, and it’s up to us to make the absolute best decisions we can on our own behalf.
But here’s the thing: Even though it seems like putting our own health first is a no brainer, so many of us struggle with consistently making ourselves a priority. Sure, we may start a new exercise regimen and resolutely stick with it for a month, or we might commit to a lovely new meditation practice that slowly fades away after the first few enlightening days, but it’s making our health top of mind day in and day out for the long-term that really makes a difference.
So, why do so many of us neglect this incredibly important aspect of ourselves? For most adults it comes down to all the other things in our lives that we make a priority first—our family, our kids, our household, our work, our friends, our volunteering, and even our hobbies.
We’ve all heard the airline instructions to put on your own oxygen mask before you assist others, and there’s a reason it’s an oft-used statement: you can’t really be there for or help anyone else unless you are there for yourself first.
And when it comes to your health, nothing could be more true. How can you possibly take care of your kids, nurture your relationship with your partner, excel in your career, and otherwise give of yourself to others if you are feeling tired, stressed, worn down, and unwell?
It’s a new decade and, in a lot of ways, a whole new world, so this is the perfect time to revisit those self-care resolutions for a new, healthier you—your best version yet! Here’s how to get started.1. Begin With the Basics
The good news is, vibrant health starts with the very basics—quality sleep, healthy food, and an active lifestyle. If you can make these (very simple) tasks real priorities in your everyday life, you’ll be well on your way to nurturing your health from the inside out.
• Sleep. After feeling the effects of a few sleepless nights, it’s easy to grasp just how important sleep is, but we often let work, household responsibilities (hello, late night cleaning!), and various other activities interrupt our precious shut eye. As adults, we require anywhere from 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night depending on our unique body, but if we don’t get enough, chronic sleep deprivation really does a number on nearly every aspect of our health, including our emotions, weight, memory, productivity, immune function, and even our gut health. The solution? During sleep, your body recovers and repairs itself from the day’s activities to enable you to get up and go the next day, so revitalize your sleep routine by making it one of the central pillars of your new health regimen.
• Eat. With so many diet fads out there, it can be overwhelming to try to figure out the best eating plan for our individual needs and tastes, but it is possible (and even preferable!) to keep it clean and simple. If you focus on gut-healthy whole foods with plenty of prebiotic fiber—and nix the sugar, processed foods, and refined carbs that are so detrimental to your health—then you’ll be giving your body (and your microbes!) everything it needs to help you really thrive.
• Move. Staying active is crucial for glowing health and wellness, especially when we’re busy working sedentary jobs that keep us sitting for most of the day. The benefits of exercise are endless, from a serious reduction in all sorts of health issues to improved gut health, uplifted moods, and even better sleep! Incorporate at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day and don’t get caught up thinking a gym or structured workout is your only option—an online yoga class, gardening, a brisk walk outside, or a hike in nature all fit the bill.
2. Be Mindful of Your Mental Health
It’s easy to think of health as purely physical, but our emotional and physical health are inextricably linked, so making our mental health a priority will pay dividends in long-term well-being and happiness. Make it a daily practice to check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling—meditation or a gratitude journal can be wonderful methods for turning down all the noise of day to day life and honing in on your feelings.
And if you find that you’re struggling with some of your emotions, remember that you are never alone. Everyone experiences mental health challenges at some point, and a kind friend or supportive family member can be an amazing sounding board. If you don’t feel like you have a good listener in your close circle, a professional psychologist or counselor can also help you work through any hard times to discover a much more positive frame of mind.
3. Just Say No
Even if we love volunteering at our kids’ school or relish the challenge of organizing a local sports league, if we’re not putting our health first and truly taking care of ourselves, we’re just expending energy without refilling our tank—and the deficit will surely catch up with us eventually (the proverbial “hitting the wall” is a sure sign that it’s time to take a giant step back and reevaluate).
If you come to the conclusion that you have too many commitments to make your health a priority, it’s time to learn to say no to anything that doesn’t directly or indirectly support your most important goals. Developing the ability to set these boundaries in order to protect what matters most to you is similar to developing a muscle; it often requires practice and will get easier over time.
If you’d like more insight into how to make this lifestyle change, you might enjoy The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. In the chapter called “Put First Things First,” he introduces a time management matrix that can help readers uncover how to view their commitments in such a way that they begin to live in harmony with their goals and with what matters most to them instead of according to what feels most urgent in the moment. By putting tasks into one of four quadrants (1=Urgent & Important, 2=Not Urgent & Important, 3=Not Urgent & Not Important, 4=Not Urgent & Not Important), he shows us how we can more easily decide where to put our focus, time, and attention on a daily basis.
As Covey explains, the quadrant 1 tasks require our immediate attention because they are urgent and important, and have to be done (calming a crying baby or responding to a house fire, for example). Quadrant 4 tasks—like busywork or online trivia—should be eliminated as much as possible, while tasks in quadrant 3 (emails, interruptions) need to be restricted.
The real honey pot is quadrant 2, where taking care of our health resides. By focusing the majority of our time on important, long-term tasks in this quadrant, we are giving our attention to crucial aspects of our lives before they become crises. Most people spend most of their time in quadrants 1 and 3, but if we can figure out how to say no to the unnecessary and live as much as we can in quadrant 2, we’ll be much more able to achieve our personal health goals.
(If you’re looking for more clarity on how to prioritize and focus on the more important tasks, Essentialism by Greg McKeown is a wonderful resource!)
We’ve all heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but how many of us actually put it into action? The fact is that it’s much better to take care of ourselves all along the way with little steps here and there to nurture and maintain our health, than to wait until something is wrong and then have to work feverishly to find our way back to a state of well-being. This is where today’s environment is particularly relevant to putting our health first—starting from a state of wellness makes us much more likely to stay both emotionally and physically well through any sort of health challenge.
Prevention comes in many forms, from living a gut-healthy life and caring for your marvelous microbiome to practicing mindfulness, staying fit, and listening to your body along the way. Every little bit helps, so start with the basics and build from there—every inch of you will appreciate your efforts!
Crises, pandemics, and other challenges that we have very little control over will come and go in our lifetimes, but the better we care for our physical, emotional, and mental health, the more able we will be to weather all the storms and come out the other side stronger than ever before.
Here’s to putting first things first now and for many years to come!
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.
This Healthy Living section of the Hyperbiotics website is purely for informational purposes only and any comments, statements, and articles have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to create an association between the Hyperbiotics products and possible claims made by research presented or to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease. Please consult with a physician or other healthcare professional regarding any medical or health related diagnosis or treatment options. This website contains general information about diet, health, and nutrition. None of the information is advice or should be construed as making a connection to any purported medical benefits and Hyperbiotics products, and should not be considered or treated as a substitute for advice from a healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.