By Susan Spina
We’d all love to feel our best—mentally and physically—all the time, but the reality is that we face challenges and difficulties to reaching that goal. In a world where we see and hear so much bad news, increased stress can keep us from our ideal physical and mental health. When you’re stressed, you may not have the energy to take care of yourself as well as you should. The good news is that just a few small changes will help you start to live your best life today and prepare for a better tomorrow.
When we’re stressed, our bodies produce a chemical called cortisol, which, over time, can lead to heart conditions, high blood pressure, poor sleep, cancer, and diabetes. Being able to identify sources of stress and finding ways to reduce them through small changes sets us up for better health, relationships, and happiness. No one is promised a tomorrow, so it is so important to enjoy your gift of life and live your best life today.
- Identify your stress and focus on problem resolution.
What situations or people in your life cause you stress? Look at what you have control over and what you need to let go of. What positive changes might you see in your life if you let a stressful thing go? Think about how what you would tell a friend to do if they were in the same situation. Figure out a way resolve the problem or let it go. Know that it takes time to figure all of this out so be patient with yourself as you work toward making positive change. Identify things or people that cause negative emotions and find ways you can reduce your exposure to them. You will have greater peace of mind because of this change.
- Identify your values and what is important to you.
Prioritize what is important to you. Do you want to spend more time with your family or friends? Would you like to start going to a place of worship? What about volunteering to improve your community? Spending positive time with people who make you feel good, establishing solid relationships, and feeling like you’re making a difference are values that can improve your quality of life by increasing support, happiness, and meaning.
- Keep organized and set priorities with boundaries.
Disorganization increases stress. Organization promotes a sense of control and reduces stress. Take the time to organize your home and life so you maintain balance and have time for activities that are important to you. Free up your space by getting rid of things you don’t want and donating them to a person or organization who can really use them. At the same time, respect your time by not making commitments that are difficult for you to follow through on. Be fair to yourself and others and set boundaries by saying “no” when you need to.
- Address your medical concerns and maintain compliance with medical treatment recommendations.
You are the one with the most control over your physical health and well-being. If you want to feel better, be honest with yourself about your health. Are you taking more medications just to feel better? Have you improved your exercise and eating habits? Are you doing everything your doctor recommends? Following your doctor’s recommendations today will increase your quality of life for a better tomorrow. Small improvements like walking and simple exercises and eating healthier can make a big difference in your quality of life.
Food can give you instant gratification but a long-term wellness plan focused on healthy eating will help you achieve real happiness. Your doctor can give you guidance or refer you to a nutritionist to help you make a plan that really works for you. Pick small changes over time that you can stick with, because little differences will add up to a big impact. If you find yourself snacking mindlessly or eating just because it’s something to do, start replacing the choice to eat with other activities that make you feel good, like a game, a walk outside, or calling a friend. At the same time, plan a weekly reward for your accomplishments that makes you feel great about your progress. Remember to always talk to your doctor prior to making any changes regarding your health, medication, and diet.
Taking many medications at the same time can be a challenge. Make sure you actually need every prescription and that none of them are unsafe to take together. Bring a list of all medications to each appointment and make sure you show it to every one of your medical doctors so they can assess what you really need. If a medication makes you feel unwell, always call your doctor instead just discontinuing it. It may feel overwhelming but taking control and ownership of your physical health will contribute to feeling better mentally and physically and increase your quality of life.
- Put your personal affairs in order.
What will happen if you become unable to make your own medical decisions? Does your family know what your wishes are? No one wants to think about dying but many families have been torn apart while having to choose medical treatments for their loved ones who have nothing in writing. It’s your right to determine your own medical treatments and what happens to your possessions and finances. Laying out your medical choices in an advanced directive through a health care proxy is easy and simple and can be completed at your next medical appointment. A will and power of attorney will also reduce stress on your family and ensure your wishes are respected. Take the time to give your family peace of mind and ensure all your wishes are honored by contacting your doctor and attorney today.
- Take time out for relaxation.
You deserve to feel happy and healthy. Make yourself the priority and take time out for relaxation and activities that bring you joy every day. A simple activity such as taking a break from work and sitting for five minutes outside feeling the warmth of the sun is enough to brighten any mood. Read a few pages or a chapter from a great book. Do a word or logic puzzle. Find something you look forward to. Treating yourself to little pleasurable activities and learning to feel like you deserve them will improve your ability to manage everyday responsibilities with less stress. You will feel better body, mind, and spirit. I guarantee it!
Editor’s note: Susan Spina is a licensed clinical social worker at Nascentia Health.