Coming out of COVID in 2022, here's how we work toward better mental, physical and personal health

Let’s shift the monotonous New Year’s mantra of 'diet and exercise' to 'feeling better'

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The New Year is the perfect time to displace the trepidation and panic from the preceding two years with health and happiness. 

It is easy to say, "Eat healthier, exercise more, limit social media" – yes, we should all do that. However, we are coming out of a pandemic that has killed more than 800,000 Americans in less than two years. Repeating the same New Year’s resolutions hardly seems enough after what people have been through. 

Heading into 2022, let’s shift the monotonous New Year’s mantra of "diet and exercise," to "feeling better." Getting to a place of feeling better is all encompassing, from improving physical fitness to silencing anxiety-provoking background noise to bringing renewed life to passions.   

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Overall well-being, an intricate web where you can’t have one strand without the others, can be broken down into three main groups. Within those groups there are a couple key actions that will not only advance one but work toward overall improvement. 

Mental 

Mental health is the foundation of overall well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic brought forth new challenges and exacerbated existing ones, resulting in many struggling mentally. But here’s some good news – there are things that can be done to help. 

Start by celebrating the small victories. A win is a win, regardless of how big or small. Sometimes a win can be getting out of bed in the morning and accepting the day. While it is good to set bigger goals, such as finding a new job, improving relationships with friends and family, and finding new hobbies, make sure the smaller triumphs that happen on the way are also acknowledged. 

To allow changes in your life that consist of more positive experiences, it’s important to drown out the noise that often results in anxiety and loneliness. If eliminating social media entirely is out, then select a time for checking it during the day, preferably midday so the remaining afternoon’s activities distract from any negative feelings that ensue, and then stay away from it the rest of the day. 

Some will argue that personal health is a result of physical and mental health, but that’s the point: it is all connected. 

The challenges of the pandemic have touched everyone, but resilience and solidarity can come from not only making small changes in your life but knowing when to seek help from others. Asking for help with mental health is equivalent to seeking care for high blood pressure. Without mental health, the physical health becomes obsolete.  

Physical 

You don’t have to be a fitness model or wellness expert to feel good. In fact, I would argue many of the people touting their fitness on social media may have a good physique in the moment, but long-term satisfaction, which should be more important, is lacking.   

Don’t focus on the scale. Americans are notoriously overweight, so if you are too, you aren’t alone. Everyone can increase their physical activity levels. Simple modifications to normal routines can make a big difference, such as forgoing drive-thrus, parking in the last row of lots, taking the stairs instead of an elevator, riding a bike rather than driving short distances and even playing outside with your kids! 

True, this won’t shed pounds instantly, but done in combination with increasing fresh fruits and vegetables while decreasing complex carbohydrates (processed foods, soda), the body will begin craving more activity because it will have more energy. This will help propel you into having more motivation to follow a nutritional plan tailored to your individual needs. If you don't know where to start, ask your doctor so they can help point you in the right direction. 

Personal 

Some will argue that personal health is a result of physical and mental health, but that’s the point: it is all connected. Personal health is bringing a level of satisfaction to your environment, which in turn improves physical and mental health. 

For starters, the best way to bring positivity into your life is to bring joy to someone else. Compassion and kind-heartedness increase both parties’ self-esteem, improve mood and can even decrease blood pressure and overall stress. In the new year, make a point to pay someone a compliment, spend an afternoon volunteering, or simply say "hello" to a stranger as you pass on the street. It might make you feel so good that you find yourself with a new friend or passion. 

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Before you head out to start your new goals, be sure to tidy up. Keeping your living (and driving) spaces clean brings a level of accomplishment and satisfaction to the moment rather than a feeling of disorder and idleness. Not to mention, if you want to invite someone to join you, there won’t be hesitation because of the mess. 

Bottom line, change doesn't have to come all at once. As 2022 begins, your resolution doesn’t mean you have to stick to just one thing. In fact, most people can’t, as less than 10% of people follow through each year.   

A better way forward is to try something new each month. Add some physical activity, get outside and if you're a foodie, consider trying a new restaurant or healthy ingredient. Find passion rather than frustration in your daily activities. If the negativity outweighs the positive, make the change to try something else. Whatever you decide to do, start small, and be sure to celebrate the small victories. Collectively, all these little changes will help work to an overall sense of feeling better. 

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People often don’t get the mental health services they need because they don’t know where to start. If you are struggling, talk to your primary care doctor or another health professional about seeking help with your mental health. 

If you do not have a health professional who is able to assist you, use: 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat 

Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These centers provide crisis counseling and local mental health referrals. 

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