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  • Writer's pictureVirginia Hurdon

How many Pillars are you standing on?

Six pillars of health: social connection, play, sleep, stress management, nutrition and movement. One of the things that functional health study taught me is a holistic approach to health that comprises not just physical and psychological factors but social and spiritual ones as well. Let’s dive in and look at how we might optimize them, especially in difficult times. We’ll tackle these three at a time.

Let’s acknowledge how difficult it’s been to maintain and grow social connections (including spiritual connection) for many of us through this time. Zoom and other forms of electronic connection have come to the rescue, yet have fatiguing side effects of their own. And many of us working primarily from home find there is no longer any ‘out of office’ time. How about if we took a bit of time away from the search to connect with others, to reconnect with ourselves? What do you really want and need in terms of social connection? How can you best meet those needs? How has the pandemic opened up new avenues of connection for you?

Play is something that may feel out of reach in this very serious time. But really, doesn’t that mean play is more important than ever to bring some balance to our experience?

What does the concept of play mean to you? To me, it can mean anything from doing a silly celebratory ‘the first cup of coffee is ready’ dance in the morning to make my partner laugh, to knitting snowflake ornaments, to trying a new workout. It’s a sensation of lightness, of recreation, sometimes a flow state of engagement and concentration. What can bring a sense of play to your everyday? Reading humorous material for a few minutes a day, watching a favourite comedy, a spontaneous dance contest with your kids (or your pets, or your partner), laughter yoga, jokes with your colleagues, listening to music on the way home or playing an instrument are some possible ideas.

The importance of quality sleep to our overall health can’t be overstated. And by quality, I mean quality (especially enough REM sleep) and quantity- at least 7.5 hours/night. Many people need more, up to 10 hrs/night to function optimally. I think we still underestimate the importance of sleep, especially to mental health- not just in worsening issues such as major depression, bipolar disorder and burnout, but in healing from them as well.

There’s no magic pill or formula that will fix inadequate sleep, but paying attention to biological rhythms and accommodating them as much as possible helps with quality and quantity. Getting bright daylight into our eyes as soon as possible during the day (preferably outside) sets the hormonal dance in motion for the rest of the day; likewise, limiting exposure to artificial light and especially blue light after sunset assists with the appropriate hormonal shifts to sleep. Turning off electronics (or, if necessary using a blue light blocker) at least 2 hrs before bed is also beneficial. If your phone must stay on at night, cover it or put it somewhere the light can’t be seen. In your sleeping environment, try to set a cool temperature and create near total darkness conditions.

Experts suggest that when you wake during the night and can’t get back to sleep within 15 minutes or so, get out of bed, and read or meditate or listen to soft music until you’re sleepy again. Meditation apps (eg. Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer) have meditations designed specifically for encouraging sleep. Become aware of body sensations, and repetitive thoughts (especially those worries about not being able to sleep!); try shifting your focus to the present moment. Make a list of tomorrow’s tasks instead of ruminating about them. Finally, if sleep quality is a chronic issue, consider whether you may have a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or restless legs.

Stay tuned for the next installment where we’ll cover nutrition, movement and stress management. In the meantime, let me know how you’re building out your first 3 pillars!

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