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  • Writer's pictureVirginia Hurdon

More Pillars in Your Foundation

In my previous post, we looked at 3 pillars of health: social connection, play, and sleep. We’ll examine 3 more today.

Nutrition. It’s easy to forget that what we consume literally comprises our anatomy and physiology, and influences how we function on a daily basis. I think it’s also easy (or at least simple) to follow formulas that various experts set out as the optimal human diet- whether that’s specific macronutrient proportions, number of servings of specific foods, espousing or eliminating certain food groups, etc. I suspect there are many optimal human diets, but not every diet suits the needs of every individual. In other words, they can be considered templates rather than dogma. Have you thought about what your unique individual dietary needs are? Some data-gathering and reflection may lead you to realize that certain foods lead to worse function on physical or mental levels (for example, an abundance of sugar or refined flour), and others help you function better (for example, green leafy veggies, or grass fed organ meats [yeah, I know-liver! a topic for another day]). What’s optimal for mental health? The same as for physical health, but perhaps attention to micronutrients and a healthy gut microbiome are even more crucial.

Next up is movement. I have deliberately chosen that word instead of exercise, as there is good evidence that our total movement habits are much more important for health and longevity than a few workouts a week in the gym, or a few runs. How much time we spend NOT SITTING is the most basic and crucial component (and no, laying down doesn’t count). Standing vs. sitting improves metabolic parameters (see article), engages core and balancing muscles, and burns slightly more calories (although that doesn’t seem to be the driver for metabolic benefits). I suspect that your time for exercise is close to nonexistent right now, or you feel too fatigued to exercise. Try starting small: how could you substitute 5 minutes of non-exercise movement for sitting? Standing to chart or to make phone calls? A walking meeting? How can you vary your daily routine to bring more joy and play into movement? As with nutrition, there will be an optimal amount and kinds of movement that make you feel your best.

Our present stressors exceed what many of us have the resources to manage, and burnout, depression and anxiety have all increased as a result. What can we do to mitigate the effects of stress? And where do we find the time?

Part of the answer lies in 1) acknowledging the immense stress we are carrying, and that 2) we are not alone. As well, 3) bringing an attitude of kindness to ourselves and our feelings helps make them more manageable. Those 3 elements are the basis of self-compassion as defined by researcher and psychologist Dr. Kristen Neff. Practicing those steps takes very little time and can be done ‘on the fly’.

Another effective brief mindfulness practice is termed RAIN, which you can use when experiencing a strong negative emotion. R: recognize the emotion(s) you’re feeling- name them to yourself; A: acknowledge and allow the emotion to be present, and be present with it; I: investigate- mentally explore what you’re experiencing in your body- does your throat feel tight, or your chest or abdomen? Are there heat or cold, or painful sensations? Muscle tension? N: non-identification- observe yourself and this emotion, and recognize you’re not the emotion, you are the person feeling the emotion. A second N is sometimes added, which can stand for nurture (yourself), or need (what need do you have right now that led to the emotion?). Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach has a popular RAIN meditation on YouTube (here).

All these pillars help create a healthier, more resilient and more vital you. I’d love to hear what you’re doing to honour your health and build on these foundations.

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