Although I’m a doctor, wellness doesn’t always come easy for me.
Perhaps some people are hardwired for health-sustaining habits so that, no matter what curve balls arrive, they still engage in behaviors that promote optimal health. I am not one of those people. Most of my patients aren’t like that either.
I require deliberate planning to create routines that help me feel and look my best. Through my years working in the health and fitness industry, I also have learned that during transitions, I need to be particularly mindful of my habits.
Many of us are still trying to find our equilibrium in this post-COVID world. But what I am writing about applies not only to our current global situation, but to all of the other life transitions as well: starting a new school year, getting a new job, falling in love, becoming a parent, etc.
Time and time again, patients tell me that things were going really well with their home-cooking and their exercise routines — and then some event happened. Their schedule changed, and they fell off the proverbial wagon. Getting back onto the wagon can take some people days, weeks, months or even years.
Can we avoid these gaps in self-care? Absolutely! However, avoiding these health pitfalls requires planning and thoughtfulness.
Here are the tips I use to maintain strong routines, even when life changes.
Make a list of health essentials. After 35 years, I have a list of routines that I know I must do to feel my best. I need to exercise for my mood, energy, flexibility and pain management. I require home-cooked meals to avoid constipation, migraines and mental fogginess. I have to schedule relaxation time with my spouse, or I’ll become unhappy. You get the point.
You likely have a list, whether you know it or not. Your body has been keeping a list, anyway.
Be honest — but not overly ambitious — with yourself about these routines. This list is nothing like making New Year’s resolutions. It may not even reflect your ideal health routines. You don’t want to set yourself up for failure. Focus on representing your foundational needs. You can build on and add more, but what are the most essential core items that you require to be at your best? Write those down.
Plan ahead for change, if you can. Let’s say you’re starting a new job in two months. Do you know your new schedule yet? How are you going to fit that workout into those new hours? Who will be with the kids during that time? What meals can you prepare on the weekends so you have weekday evenings free for your yoga practice? Work through those the nitty gritty details and develop a game plan.
If you are thrown into life changes that you couldn’t plan for — a pandemic, for example — start your planning process as soon as you become aware. Try to avoid dwelling on the past, and instead get to work figuring out how to configure life with your essential health list as a priority.
Share your needs with others. Your life is not happening in a vacuum, even though it may feel like it during periods of quarantine. The more you communicate your intentions with others, the better.
For my family, it’s been helpful to express what I intend to do, and why I intend to do it. Once my spouse understood that I really must exercise five times per week to feel sane, they became my ally in getting this exercise.
This is also a great time to learn about the things that are essential for your loved ones. The more your family members are following through with their own essential list, the more harmonious your entire household will become.
Stay focused until the routine carries you. Many yogic and religious practices teach that routines take around 40 days to become established. I’m not sure if that really is the magic number — but what I am sure of is that in the beginning, a new schedule with new routines requires more mindfulness.
The more you intentionally follow your routine, the more it becomes a habit. Eventually, you fall into this wonderful place of ease where the habit carries you forward. The routine can become more unconscious and goes with the flow of your day.
When your life transitions again, you’ll have these recommendations to help you find your new equilibrium.
My wish is that you find your healthiest routines during these odd times. Most of us have found ourselves on an emotional roller coaster at times. May you find self-care and self-kindness as you seek balance in your life.
Dr. Lauren Gresham is a naturopathic physician and a community health education specialist. Learn more about her by visiting www.totallylovablenaturopathic.com.