Making Small Changes to Create Healthy Habits
Although many people make sweeping New Year’s resolutions to change their diets, begin exercise programs, lose weight, or stop smoking, big changes, made suddenly, rarely stick. Rather than attempting a massive overhaul of your life, starting with small changes can be a good way to develop lifelong healthy practices. Today, Feather’s Charm has some suggestions to help you get started on the right foot.
Getting Enough Sleep
If you aren’t already getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night, you can begin to make small adjustments to your schedule to make this more likely. For example, you could set a timer on your phone to go off each evening one hour before you hope to crawl into bed. When the timer goes off, it’s time to turn off screens and begin gearing down. You could use the time to pack your lunch for the following day, take a shower, do a bit of reading, water your plants, or do any low-intensity task that doesn’t involve staring at an electronic screen. The key is shifting out of high energy mode, and screen staring mode, to help your body prepare for sleep. Although this simple habit of setting the timer doesn’t guarantee sleep will happen, it certainly makes it more likely.
Stress management can mean different things to different people, so figure out what’s helpful for you. It might be a mind-body practice such as tai chi or yoga. It could include journaling, meditation, or going for a walk. One critical skill for reducing stress is being able to say “no” when appropriate. This can be challenging if you’ve always been a people pleaser. Start small, by making a plan to say, “I’ll let you know” whenever you’re asked to do something extra. Buying yourself a bit of time to think about whether the activity fits your schedule, and your desires can be very useful. It can also help you to come up with a courteous but clear way of saying no–for example, “I won’t be able to do that, but thanks for asking.” You won’t find this easy at first, but if you stick with it, you’ll get more control over your schedule, as well as dispense with the resentment that comes from being overscheduled.
Time spent outdoors contributes to both physical and mental health in many beneficial ways. This doesn’t mean you need to upend your routine and go camping for two weeks. Begin in the smallest way possible. Start by walking around the block, during your lunch hour, or walking to the bus stop, to meet your child after school. When the weather permits, you can sit outdoors to read or eat a meal. The key to getting this going is beginning with small actions so you don’t have to change clothes, drive anywhere, or add another time-consuming obligation to your schedule. If you find that you’re enjoying it, you might make a plan to meet a friend, for a walk once a week.
Protect Your Skin and Eyes
One of the best things you can do for your skin is purchase sunscreen, and keep it handy, in your car, purse, backpack, and at home. Over time, incidental exposure to the sun can take its toll, leaving you at risk for skin cancer, and having sunscreen readily available makes it far more likely you’ll use it. Your eyes also should be protected from the sun, and wearing high-quality sunglasses that screen out both UVA and UVB rays is critical. This will reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. You should also schedule an annual eye exam at a reliable provider, to screen for health issues and make sure your vision is as sharp as possible.
Whatever healthy habits you want to develop, the key is starting small. Ask yourself, “what’s the smallest action I could take toward this habit?” and do that, rather than expecting yourself to radically change overnight. With consistent follow-up on small changes, over time, they become habits, and you are on a healthier path. Not only that but more changes can be added later if you decide you want to do that. Be sure to reward yourself for your new healthy behaviours and take time out, to notice the ways they improve your life. These things will help you stick with the new routines.