We’re so tired of…all that is this year. The bad news: We can’t control everything. The good news: We can take the reins of our own lives and make things just a smidge better by practicing daily habits that help give us a boost. “With the upcoming election, the pandemic, virtual school, and all the stress 2020 has brought us, self-care is vitally important right now,” says plant-predominant cardiologist Nicole Harkin, MD, founder of virtual preventive cardiology practice Whole Heart Cardiology breaking down why such daily rituals are more important than ever.
So what can we do these days to make ourselves feel better stat? To be honest, we were looking for some new inspiration, too. That’s why we reached out to plant-forward nutritionists and doctors to reveal their go-to techniques to feel better during the long days of hunkering down at home. Read on, and we bet you’ll find a few you want to incorporate into your own daily M.O.
1. Start that gratitude journal.
For real, dearest readers. “I’ve been recommending a focus on positive affirmations, such as a daily gratitude practice. Building on the ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ motto, studies have shown that individuals who participate in what the literature refers to as ‘positive psychology interventions’ have improved indicators of well-being and depression,” explains Harkin. “It is particularly important for those of us with chronic illness, and in a pilot study, it has even been found to be helpful in patients hospitalized with a major heart attack.”
Harkin recommends a variety of ideas that fall under the practice: journaling gratitude or positive life events, planning future events and acts of kindness or writing down your personal strengths. “Personally, I’ve had a lot of major life changes this year, and have found that taking a moment to journal what I’m grateful for to be so uplifting,” she says.
2. Get out into nature.
“Each day I spend quality time outdoors to absorb the sunshine on my skin, appreciate the beautiful cacti and desert landscape, observe the hummingbirds, quails, rabbits, and other desert dwellers,” offers Alison Ozgur, MAT, MHS, RD. And even if your local park or riverwalk isn’t quite as awe-inspiring, you’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes to ensure you carve out time each day to spend time around trees, flowers, or a body of water. “This practice helps me to stay present and always improves my mood. Nature naturally creates balance and calmness within the body.”
3. Wind down with “active relaxation.”
To help get a restorative night of shut-eye — that’s at least seven hours — employ this strategy every evening before bed. “Don’t eat or drink three hours prior to bedtime, discontinue use of all electronics 90 minutes prior to bedtime, take a relaxing shower and make sure to dim the lighting in the house 60 minutes before you hit the hay,” shares Ozgur.“Quality, restful sleep is a non-negotiable in my self-care routine. Studies show that inadequate sleep can take a toll on psychological well-being and significantly increase stress levels and emotional reactions.”
4. Set daily intentions.
Want to be an overachiever? Weekly, monthly, and yearly intentions are golden, too. Katherine Kimber, a registered dietitian in the U.K., breaks down why this practice is so important: “Setting intentions allows me to be more intentional with my working day, and most importantly, intentional with my time off too,” she says. “Just like I need to schedule work meetings and social occasions, I need to schedule downtime and off-time too to ensure this can be honored and that I make time to do things that fill up my happy tank!”
When you first start jotting down your intentions, try writing down a few sentences each morning, or simply pick a guiding word or phrase like “open to trying” or “grounded.”
5. Try an incredible new vegan recipe.
There’s something so soothing about being in the flow of the kitchen, simply dicing a tomato, roasting squash, or watching pancake batter bubble up in a pan. “When I’m getting in a rut or experiencing low energy as the colder, and less sunny, months approach I find myself wanting to try new vegan comfort recipes,” shares Trista K. Best, MPH, RD, LDN —Balance One. “It has been good for my soul to find new cold-weather apple and pumpkin dishes, like vegan apple crisp or pumpkin muffins,” she continues, adding that pumpkin is a nutrient-dense starchy vegetable which provides almost two grams of protein per cup and three grams of fiber.
6. Breathe deeply
Inhale for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, exhale for six counts. Repeat, repeat, repeat, for at least a few minutes a day. “[Don’t underestimate] the power of a deep breath to reset your anxiety, your negative thoughts or when [you’re] feeling blue,” comments doctor, nutrition specialist, chef, and author, Uma Naidoo, MD. “Science is now showing that breathing exercises can be a powerful self-care tool: you don’t need a doctor or nutritionist to engage in this to help yourself feel better,” she adds.
7. Delight in your meals.
Speaking of being mindful, it’s key to apply an attitude of mindfulness when we’re eating. So often, whether we’re whipping up berry and chocolate cinnamon rolls or vegan “shrimp” tacos, we sit down at the table, and rather than slow down and savor, we gobble away. “The Japanese, one of the healthiest populations on the planet, promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living. In our culture that seems to moralize food and is more obsessed with thinness than health, we fail to see one of the most basic offerings of our existence. And that is pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in eating,” says Kimber. “Research shows that Epicurean eating — a concept that involves appreciating the aesthetics of food and its symbolic value and pleasure — is correlated with a preference for smaller portion sizes, higher well-being and is not associated with a higher Body Mass Index (BMI). In short, eat more of what bring you pleasure and makes you happy!” We second that notion, folks.