Healthy habits to start the new year right.
BY NIKOLA HASSAN.
I have experienced burnout twice in my career. The first time was so severe that I needed a month of bed rest (doctor’s orders) and kept fainting when I tried to get out of bed to walk a few steps. 10 years later, it happened again – this time not as intense, but I was constantly sick and extremely lethargic for three months (and, of course, I got COVID during this time). During the second episode, I got really upset with myself – As if the first time wasn’t bad enough. How could you not learn, Nikola?
There is an adage that goes, “Only a fool repeats the same thing twice, expecting different results”. And that’s exactly how I felt – incredibly foolish from not learning such an important life lesson when it hit me in the face a decade prior: learn to slow down.
In the hustle culture where ‘busy’-ness is a status symbol, we get so caught up in our own versions of ‘Cirque de Life’ – juggling career, parenthood, marriage, family, and ourselves. We are in a constant cycle of deadlines, supermarket shopping, socialising, squeezing in hair appointments, planning play dates and birthday parties.
Being in constant ‘fight or flight mode’, as they call it in Functional Health, means we are relentlessly riding on adrenaline to keep at a certain pace. This stress reactor is in-built in us as humans, and back in the hunter-gatherer epoch, our ancestors needed this to survive. We still have this receptive sensor, but in today’s world, we are not running away from a wild animal hunting for its dinner. And yet we rush, dash, charge and sprint as though our life depends on it – day in and day out. And eventually, like a car, we run out of gas.
The new year is a poignant moment to reflect and not just go through the motions of daily life but to act, speak and do with intention. But most of you reading this will think, just as I have: Easier said than done with there’s pressure from every aspect of life demanding your attention and focus.
And I suppose that’s where the lesson lies – it’s not about creating peace but rather about finding peace (and quiet) in a noisy, clamorous world. In moments of chaos, we have to remember to pause.
How? And what does this mean exactly?
In this context, I’m not referring to the deep breaths we take when we’re caught in traffic and running late (ugh, Murphy’s Law) or when our toddler throws a tantrum in public. (Though yes, I am all for breathwork helping to calm us down in stressful situations. Wooosa…)
What I am referring to are healthy habits we can add to our daily routine for a constant state of calm amidst the hurricane of life.
Incorporate these healthy habits into your agenda:
Learn to say no
One thing being in lockdown taught me was that most of the stress and anxiety I was experiencing was self-imposed – needing to be everywhere at once and being there for everyone at once. But this was completely my own doing – and the actions were based on my own thoughts. As a reformed people-pleaser, I gradually learned that it’s totally fine to prioritise ‘me time’, which means declining invitations and not feeling guilty about it. (This guilt part takes time to shake off, but eventually, it goes away.)
Practice gratitude daily
When you first wake up and before going to sleep – train yourself to simply be in the moment. No gadgets, no talking, just you and the hum of your breath. List five things you are grateful for – and the first one should always be, Thank you for letting me experience this new day.
Eat whole to feel whole
Opt for fresh vegetables, fruits, lean meats, good fats, grains and nuts. I adopt a 90/10 rule – eating nourishing, home-cooked food for most meals and having 10% leeway for dining out. This choice of mine may seem extreme (no processed foods, refined sugars, gluten, or starchy carbs), but the point is – eat well most of the time, whatever that equation may be for you. I guarantee you will function better in all aspects of life if you clean up your nutrition.
The 5-year test
If you’re not going to remember it in five years time, it’s not anything major. Learn how to prioritize what truly matters most, and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Nurture genuine connections
Humans are naturally social beings, and we need to socialise to thrive. Visualise yourself as an empty glass as it refills with water – who are the people that come to mind during this visualisation exercise? They are the ones who feed your soul – keep them close and cherish time spent with them.
I hope these five healthy habits help you achieve a calmer outlook and confident mindset as we embark on a new year. Remember to be kind and gentle to yourself, as we are all works in progress.