Courtesy of Jennifer Hanway

5 Tips to Prioritize Your Wellness During a Pandemic (and All the Time)

4 Min Read

It's challenging to think that it takes a global pandemic to force us to prioritize our health and wellness, but instead of dwelling on the past, I am encouraging my clients to use this time to create a healthy and sustainable wellness routine — for the pandemic and beyond.

Healthy habits work just like compound interest in the bank and building your wellness routine in this way means you are more likely to stay consistent in the weeks and months to come.

However, in these stressful and uncertain times adding on even more to our busy schedule can feel overwhelming and even somewhat paralyzing. In this article I'll guide you through the tools and strategies I use with my clients to create a routine that works for you, enabling you to prioritize your wellness during the current pandemic.

1. Small Changes Equal Big Results

Even the most level-headed of us can take the wrong approach to prioritizing wellness and think that to improve our health we have to overhaul our entire lives. In fact, it is the small changes, completed on a regular basis that achieve the most effective, long-lasting results

Rather than an all or nothing approach, try adding in one new healthy habit a week. In the first week, you could take a great quality multivitamin, such as this daily multivitamin for women, to boost energy and immunity. The next week, add a 30-minute walk to your daily routine to improve insulin sensitivity and manage your stress. Week three could be adding one more serving of vegetables to every meal, increasing your antioxidant consumption.

Healthy habits work just like compound interest in the bank and building your wellness routine in this way means you are more likely to stay consistent in the weeks and months to come.

2. Make Simple Swaps

Why not see if you can "hack" your existing habits to make your regular routine more beneficial to health? For example, if you typically have a coffee and a muffin mid-morning, switch this to an organic, low acid coffee such as Puroast, or even a matcha latte made with unsweetened almond milk (I love Elmhurst 1925).

Stop "shoulding" on yourself just because JLo works out twice a day in her fifties or your favorite Instagram influencer forces down a celery juice every morning.

Pair this with one serving of a collagen glow for a healthy mid-morning treat that won't spike your blood sugar and provides some skin-boosting amino acids that will have you looking great on those zoom calls.

3. "Habit Stack" Your Wellness Routine

A term typically used by performance and productivity experts, "habit stacking" is the act of adding an additional habit to a pre-existing one. For example, if you typically listen to a particular podcast every morning, can you jump on the treadmill or the bike as you listen? Can you walk outside or even around your house when taking work calls? If you already take a multivitamin can you boost your supplement routine with a multi herbal. (I love this particular multiherbal for its benefits for brain, mood, heart, and whole-body health.) Cooking a meal? Can you make extra servings of chicken breast or roasted vegetables for lunch the next day? These additions can make a huge difference, without taking up any extra energy or time or adding any more stress to your day.

4. Make Your Wellness Work For You

Stop "shoulding" on yourself just because JLo works out twice a day in her fifties or your favorite Instagram influencer forces down a celery juice every morning. Your wellness routine should be based on your health needs and goals, should fit into your lifestyle, and the most important "should" is that it should be fun and enjoyable for you.

For example, Intermittent Fasting is such a huge trend right now, but it just doesn't work for me as I get super hungry in the mornings, and I love breakfast! So, I choose to balance my blood sugar and stay full and energized until lunch by having a Breakfast Smoothie made with organic plant protein, a handful of veggies, some avocado, berries, and almond milk.

5. Don't Forget the Health in Health and Wellness

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against crystals, candles and a rose petal bath from time to time, but when they replace the key health practices needed for disease prevention and optimum wellness, I have to draw the line.

I have the word "holistic" in my job title, but that doesn't mean I eschew conventional medicine completely.

Know your family health history. Schedule your annual physical once a year. See your OBGYN. Get a mammogram or a prostate check. See your eye doctor (especially important now as we are spending more and more of our time in front of screens).

Move your body. Sweat daily. Eat more vegetables and include a daily vitamin and supplement regime. Manage your stress during the day and prioritize sleep at night.

I have the word "holistic" in my job title, but that doesn't mean I eschew conventional medicine completely. Use your insurance dollars to get your tests, your check ups and your prescription reviews. In the UK we refer to a holistic approach as "complementary," which to me is a far more accurate term for the way we should see our health and wellbeing.

There is room for conventional medicine (testing), a functional approach (eating well, taking targeted supplements and moving your body) and self care in all of our wellness routines, but I definitely recommend probiotics over pranayama every time.

5 min read

3 Healthy Ways to Relieve Stress Each Evening (Instead of Reaching for Another Cocktail)

When we envision a person who is suffering from substance use disorder (SUD)—defined by having a history of past misuse, experiencing increasing mental health symptoms, or having a family history of addiction—we often picture someone waking up and instantly grabbing their first drink. However, in my experience working with those battling SUD for nearly a decade, I've learned that everyone's relationship with alcohol looks different and having a few too many drinks at night can be just as dangerous.

The time of day, amount, or type of alcohol one drinks doesn't define if they suffer from SUD or not—it's the compulsion to drink. By focusing on healthy stress relievers and implementing them into your daily routine, you aren't just avoiding another glass at night, you are curbing any inclination for SUD that you may have.

While you may feel the desire to reach for another drink after dinner and putting the kids to bed to relieve some of the stress you incurred that day, there are other things that you can do that are much more beneficial to your mental health and wellbeing.

Risks of Reaching for Another Drink

Reaching for another cocktail or glass of wine can feel like a great way to relieve the stress of the day at the time, but over time it can actually lead to the opposite. Excessive drinking is known to lead to increased anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders such as increased risk of family problems, altered judgment, and worsened sleep quality. These can all lead to increased stress and create a continuous cycle I have seen in many of my patients, which often prove difficult to break.

Increased alcohol consumption can directly impact an individual's mood and temperament, too. In my patients, I've seen a connection between increased alcohol consumption and irritability, fatigue, and loss of interest in activities that previously brought that person joy—activities that people should always put time into, especially right now during the pandemic.

While drinking in moderation doesn't have serious implications for some, others are already at increased risk for SUD. One drink per day is considered moderate for women, while eight drinks or more in a single week is categorized as heavy drinking. It's important to monitor your intake—whether you are at increased risk for SUD or not. It is all too easy for one glass to become another, and then another. And if you keep reaching for just one more drink, you can start to build a tolerance, as it requires more and more alcohol to achieve the desired effect. This can result in dangerous, addictive habits that will alter your life, and the lives of those who care for you.

Three Healthy Ways to Relieve Evening Stress

Stress relief from alcohol is short-lived, but choosing healthier, alternative stress relievers can provide long-lasting benefits for both your mental and physical wellbeing. At Wellbridge, our team not only focuses on treating addiction but also on teaching healthy habits to support ongoing sobriety. And many of these learnings can be implemented to avoid addiction by handling stress better as well!

Below are three healthy stress relief ideas you can implement into your routine:

  1. Mindfulness exercises can be a powerful and mentally stimulating stress reliever. Throughout our therapeutic program at Wellbridge, we provide different opportunities to cultivate mindfulness. For example, breathing exercises, such as box breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, mindful walking, and progressive muscle relaxation. If you're looking for entry, guided meditation, check out this YouTube channel where experts post mindfulness exercises each week.
  2. Human connection is invaluable. Whether it is your spouse, your children, a friend, or even a therapist, connecting with someone else can be a great way to relieve stress. The additional perspective that another person provides can also help us feel that the anxieties and stressors we are experiencing are more manageable. If you are feeling increased stress from loneliness or isolation, reach out and schedule a Zoom coffee hour with a friend, or call a loved one to check-in and chat.
  3. Physical activity is an excellent stress reliever as well, for so many reasons. Not only can it help us get our mind off of stress, it enables our bodies to release endorphins and provides long-lasting physical health benefits. Physical activity doesn't need to be a full-blown workout if you don't feel up to it, or simply don't have extended periods of time to dedicate to a longer exercise regimen. Even a short walk or some stretching can go a long way towards improving your mood. I enjoy following guided, online yoga practices for both mindfulness practice and physical activity.

Despite my years working in this space, I am no stranger to giving in to stress. However, I've learned that by allotting myself a little time each morning and evening for activities that set a positive tone in my life—like meditation, journaling, and exercise—I've been able to better manage my stress and feel more prepared for heightened periods of stress. Do I manage to set aside personal time every morning and evening? Definitely not—life happens! But by doing our best to take regular time out for ourselves, we're all certain to be in a better place emotionally and mentally.

Putting Your Mental Health & Wellbeing First

It's important to also recognize that it isn't just stress that causes us to reach for another drink at night. With the added pressures and responsibilities of women in today's world, having another glass of our favorite drink at the end of the day can often seem like a quicker and easier option than other healthier ways to relieve stress.

However, it's essential to put your mental health and wellbeing front and center in your priority list—something that many women struggle with. But just like the oxygen masks on an airplane, you can't take care of others if you don't take care of yourself first. By focusing on implementing small, healthy habits and making them a seamless part of your daily routine, you ensure that you can show up in all aspects of your life and for all the people in your life.

If you are struggling with increased stress, be specific and honest with your support system about your need to preserve your mental wellbeing. Prioritizing your needs will help you be there for other people you care about in your life.

I always refer back to a quote from a Dar Williams song—a song about therapy no less! "Oh, how I loved everybody else when I finally got to talk so much about myself." Talk about your needs with others and find time to develop healthy coping habits. And if you feel as though you've already created an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, discuss that relationship with a medical advisor to learn if advanced treatment is the right option for you.