This is the second installment of the series “Feed Yourself to Vitality.” Check out Part 1, “Finding Balance Through Food.”
Have you ever arrived at work with no clear recollection of how you got there? Or ate an entire meal without paying attention to a single bite? Or walked away from a conversation with no clue what the other person just said?
You’ve probably experienced this state of “waking sleep” before, and you might not think much of it. But when you’re in this state day after day, week after week—going through the motions while deeply centered on own your internal thoughts—it’s actually a big problem.
For one, you’re distracted from having mindful, meaningful interactions with other people and the outside world. But what’s more, when you’re in this state, your thoughts are highly subject to worry and fear, and that leads to ongoing stress. Stress is one of the factors of chronic inflammation, which is the foundation for many serious diseases including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, certain cancers, and more.
So, taking care of yourself and achieving health and vitality isn’t just about nourishing your body—it’s about nourishing your mind, too. Here are three ways you can make time each day to clear your head, reduce your stress, and maintain a better mental balance.
Set the Tone
If you get off to a bad start in the morning, your energy and mood will likely follow suit. So, start your day with a meaningful morning practice that prepares you to be mindful and alert during the day.
First, set your alarm a little earlier than usual, leaving yourself enough time so you won’t feel rushed. Don’t groan—keep in mind that even though you’ll be waking earlier, this practice will eventually be a big boost of energy.
Next, drink a large glass of water directly after you wake. It will kick up your metabolism, hydrate your body, and leave you invigorated and refreshed. Sounds good, right? Now, stretch your whole body. This not only gets your muscles ready for the day, but increases blood circulation to your brain, giving you energy.
Last, engage in a breathing exercise, meditation, yoga, or tai chi—even if it’s short. This sort of quiet offers an opportunity to enter new levels of relaxation, recharge your mind, reignite your focus, and uplift your mood—a natural energy boost for the day.
Keep it Steady
Of course, as the day goes on, we’re exposed to a constant flux of stimuli—stress, responsibilities, relationships, and deadlines—that can lead to a roller coaster of emotions. To counteract these mental ups and downs and recharge both your mind and body, take breaks in the middle of your day to have a moment (or more) of silence. The all-too-infrequent experience of absolute stillness is extremely powerful—it allows you to experience a pause in your constant stream of thoughts, plus gives your nervous system a chance to refresh.
Yes, it’s easier said than done, but the truth is that you can squeeze these moments into your routine as often as you need. You might step outside the office for a 15-minute walk to connect with the natural world around you. Or you can take a yoga class and focus on your breath. You can even practice stillness while eating lunch: Put all your attention on your food, chew slowly, and be aware of the flavors, the colors, the aromas—silently enjoying the whole experience.
We all know that there’s no substitute for getting a good, regular night’s sleep. But what we often forget is that, even when our body is properly nourished, long days of sensory overload can hinder a restful night’s sleep. Watching TV or having intense conversations right before bed can overstimulate your mind and sabotage your ability to rest.
So to reap the full benefits of sleep, give yourself plenty of time and space to unwind. Begin by choosing a regular bedtime and starting to wind down at least one hour before you hit the hay.
Next, make a list of at least five things you can do in that hour to rest your mind and relax your body. Maybe it’s taking a hot bath with dim lights and burning candles or putting on some comfy PJs and curling up to read a good book. There are endless ways to come to a restful state, so choose what’s most enjoyable for you. If it’s helpful, keep a journal or notepad at your bedside so that when any thoughts or reminders pop into your head, you can write them down and save them for the next morning without fear of forgetting anything.
Then, be sure your room is comfortable and that you have adequate blankets, a pleasant temperature, and all lights off. Turn all your ringers to silent, let your family and friends know it’s bed time, and rest your head.
Soon, you’ll not only look forward to winding down every night, but also to waking up feeling rejuvenated and ready to start a new day. One where you’ll be rested, aware, and ready to be fully present in all of your experiences.