Dr. Madalyn Otto
This period of suffering & solitude amid chaos has reached the intolerable twelve-month mark. The winter has felt extra cold this year, has it not? Yet, the sun is peeking its head out from hibernation. The chirps and songs of birds are starting to displace the quiet of winter air. Many of us have been vaccinated or are scheduled for vaccination. We are turning a corner. But we are utterly exhausted. It has been a harsh twelve months without routine, without normalcy, and without respite from worry. The experience of constant stress is tremendously burdensome to us physically as well as emotionally. Non-stop stress is a primary contributor to the development of many chronic illnesses. It’s the reason we often develop health problems during or in the months following a stressful event like a divorce, bereavement, an accident or trauma. And believe me, no person will have come out of this pandemic period unscathed. We are approaching calmer waters. There is a light at the end of the metaphorical tunnel. I too am reluctant to acknowledge it. After the many ups and downs, last minute changes, last minute disappointments and sudden painful losses, it’s hard to trust the whisper of a positive future. But now that we’re close, we need to think about the next step in this journey: re-building the health that we lost to grief, worry and rumination.
Repletion, Restoration and Re-balancing are the broad strokes that represent the re-edification of our emotional and physical foundations that allow us to be hopeful and motivated about the future and be strong and resilient in the face of challenges that future will bring.
What has your body and mind been deprived of over this past year? What nourishment have you lacked? What relaxing habits have gone by the wayside? Which relationships have been neglected? Here are some of my simple strategies for repletion:
- Drink a fresh green juice or green smoothie in the morning. Then, no matter what the rest of the day brings, you can feel confident that you provided at least one solid dose of micronutrients to your brain and body.
- Drink at least 1/3 of your body weight in water each day, making sure that any filtered water is remineralized.
- Make a thoughtful connection each day. This could be a lighthearted text to a friend to let them know you’re thinking of them, pause and have a friendly chat with a neighbor, be kind to a customer service representative you speak with on the phone and sincerely thank them for their help, show gratitude to someone who is working hard at the grocery store you patron, write a letter to a friend, even write a letter to a local politician, health care worker or other individual whose hard work and time you’ve appreciate during this pandemic.
- Take a few minutes with yourself each day for quiet. This time can be used to practice mindfulness, to journal, to talk a walk, or even take a nice, hot shower and really appreciate the warmth and peacefulness you feel during it.
- Make time for even a short walk outside during the day, especially when its sunny. You do have 10 minutes that you can choose to allot to a walk during your workday and get some sunshine on your face and fresh air in your lungs.
- Make sure you are taking your prescribed supplements and medications. Just like a team is only as strong as its weakest player, your body is only as strong as its weakest system. Prioritize healing your weak spots. If it’s been a while since you’ve caught up with your doctor, it’s time to check in.
What restorative habits have been eroded in the past year? Have you been getting enough sleep? Are your muscles being fed enough exercise? Are your hobbies and passions being nurtured? Here are some of my strategies for restoration:
- Make sure you are getting at least 7 hours of actual sleep per night. To do this, you will need to spend at least 7.5 hours in bed. If your body needs more than this, listen to it. If your sleep is interrupted, identify the cause and correct it. Don’t underestimate the power of good sleep hygiene. You may not need a medication or supplement if you follow these tips. If the whole family has gotten off its routine, it’s time to pull everyone back on the wagon.
- Activate your muscles in some way every day. Your musculoskeletal was designed to be pressured, otherwise it becomes ill. This can be anything from a short yoga practice, going for a run, hitting the gym or doing a home HIIT workout. You can even weave in a few simple exercises while working at your desk! If you need to start slower than these options, that’s okay. Start where you are.
- Enjoy one of your hobbies at least once each week. Whether it be reading, sketching, hiking, building, sewing, crafting or volunteering, make time in your schedule to do it.
Rebalancing is about re-evaluating your priorities. What’s most important to you? Are you making time, space and allocating resources for those main priorities? 24 hours in a day may often not seem like enough time, but it actually is enough time to accomplish what is truly most important to you. It likely means that you need to cut out the extraneous stuff that is clogging up your schedule. Here is an action plan to get back on track:
- Decide what specific aspects of life, activities or outcomes are the most important for you and your family. You may use some of the bullet points above as a guide if health is one of your priorities.
- Referencing your day planner or digital calendar, write down what your days are actually filled with these last few months. Be specific.
- Compare your priority list with your actual schedule. What doesn’t match up? This can be an eye-opening exercise and provide an explanation for why you feel so exhausted and depleted.
It will take time to cut back (or cut out) the things that are unimportant to you and may involve setting up boundaries with other people who are vying for your time and energy, including your workplace. In the mean-time, strategize when to schedule your missing priorities into your daily and weekly life.
This has been an incredibly difficult year, and I’m not saying that it’s all over. We’re definitely not at the end of this yet. But remember that hope is something we first create within ourselves. And it starts right now with taking care of your body and mind.