During a recent weekend getaway, my girlfriends and I were gathered around the dinner table and the topic of wellness habits came up. “What do you guys think of celery juice?” someone asked and “Have you heard of those weird hormone drinks? What are they called… adaptogens?” Followed by, “What about probiotics?”
The conversation naturally veered toward Instagram influencers. “So-and-so says to drink warm water with lemon every morning” and “So-and-so puts tahini on everything and she glows!” We quickly grew frustrated from the crossfire of conflicting information and looked down at our plates of cheesy baked ziti and glasses of wine with suspicion.
Homemade granola makes a great midday snack
With dozens of new #selfcare rituals, skincare products, and trendy workouts popping up weekly – all promising us the elusive “glow” – it’s easy to feel like we’re missing out by not getting on the [notably pricey] bandwagon.
Here’s a fact: wellness is now a 4.2-trillion-dollar global industry. These basic yoga pants cost $95 and people are paying $7.50 for a bottle of this presumably special water. It’s easy to see that the current perception of “wellness” in the media is exclusionary, like some fancy club you can only get into if you’re in a certain economic class. This is insane – because we all know the things that truly make us happy and healthy are free (or almost).
With the arrival of 2019, many of us are contemplating how to feel better in the new year and I figured now is the perfect time to share my own wellness non-negotiables. Below are the 5 things that truly make me feel good – things that I always prioritize no matter what else is going on in my life, that cost nothing or very little, and have been prized for centuries.
1. Eating mostly plant-based whole foods
There are dozens of benefits to basing our meals on whole grains, legumes, and fresh produce, and reducing the amount of animal products and processed foods we eat. I talk about them at length in this video but to summarize, eating mostly plants: gives me stable energy throughout the day; reduces cravings for sugary and rich foods; helps strengthen my immune system; helps keep my skin clear; and lowers my grocery bill. Cutting meat and dairy from our diets is also imperative to saving our planet – Deliciously Ella summarizes the stats well in this amazing podcast episode. It’s a must-listen!
Tip: Eating healthfully doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing and you don’t have to convert to full-on veganism (I haven’t). It’s the small changes that add up to big differences. If you’re a heavy meat-eater, why not try eating vegetarian once a week on Meatless Monday? And if fresh produce is scarce in your life, make an effort to include a fruit or vegetable you love in each of your meals.
My favorite green smoothie
2. Sleeping 8 hours every night
Research shows that mice who are kept awake for prolonged periods of time die not from exhaustion, but from infections. That’s because not getting enough sleep compromises immunity. Sleep deprivation can also increase anxiety (my personal arch-nemesis) and irritability, as well as the risk of hypertension, diabetes, and weight gain. For us budding entrepreneurs, there’s a lot of pressure to work round the clock and get by on just a few hours of sleep. However, sleep actually makes us more productive and creative. Lastly, good sleep also contributes to healthy skin.
Tip: Lavender oil is my favorite sleepytime companion. I rub some on my wrists, neck, and under my nose and the scent relaxes me immediately. Also, don’t look at your computer or cell phone for at least an hour before bed – the blue light emitted by screens signals to your brain that it’s daytime and makes it harder to fall asleep.
3. Prioritizing movement
I love that no matter how I feel when I enter the gym, I always feel amazing when I leave. That’s because exercise gives us endorphins, which make us happy. Moving and sweating also energizes me, makes my body feel strong, and improves digestion. Another favorite benefit of working out is that it makes me focus on my body instead of my mind, which is a fantastic way to naturally reduce anxiety. Lastly, sweating is also important for skin health because it clears our pores and encourages collagen production.
Tip: Don’t think of working out as a chore, but rather as a special treat, or “me time,” and only exercise in ways you enjoy. For me, these are walking, going to the gym, and dancing. I wouldn’t be caught dead at SoulCycle or any place with the word “bootcamp” on the door.
Love my long walks through the city!
4. Maintaining a community
Kale salads are awesome and so is going for a jog, but if I’m feeling lonely, there’s no way I can feel well. Belonging to a community – be it your family, friend group, colleagues, or sports team – gives us a sense of purpose outside of ourselves and is one of the biggest predictors of lifelong happiness. One of the most difficult things about self-employment is the isolation and I still miss having coworkers to this day. That’s why I make sure to schedule in plenty of social time each week, be it lunch meetings, happy hours, or date nights with Rene.
Tip: If you’re struggling to find community (or just moved to a new city), join a club/team or pick up a hobby you’ve always been curious about. I signed up for salsa dancing when I moved to Syracuse and have made many new friends as a result!
5. Nurturing my mental health
Many of us go through each day holding on to anger and resentment. We see life through a negativity lens, think the world is out to get us, and generally lack the skills of self-reflection. This results in a constant self-pity party and stress, which effect our hormones and brain physiology, which can actually make us sick. Up until recently, this was me. It wasn’t until a friend pointed out how negative I can be that I realized I didn’t want to live my life that way.
Then I discovered positive psychology thanks to this podcast. The principles I learned have helped me feel more mindful, grounded, in control of my emotions, and less judgmental to the world around me. Stream-of-consciousness journaling is another tool I’ve started using for sorting through difficult emotions and jotting down a quick gratitude list can do wonders, too.