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  • Writer's pictureAileen Fullchange, Ph.D.

Back to Basics

It's a new year but that doesn't mean we can just forget last year. The nation has seen a multitude of stressors, many of which will continue well into 2021 and perhaps beyond: the COVID-19 pandemic, racism, economic hardship, and homegrown terrorism, just to name a few. With such unprecedented circumstances, many are feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, feelings which may be counter to our cultural narrative around what we should be feeling with the start of a new year. There is much which may be out of your control as an individual. Yet, there are a few things which you might have more control over: your basic needs. For example:

1) Sleep

A multitude of studies have shown the positive effects of adequate sleep on mood, attention, and behavior. In our modern society, there are some barriers to this, such as increased time in front of devices that emit high-frequency light, shown to disrupt normal sleep patterns. One thing you can do to address this is to develop a healthy sleep routine that includes wind down time, when light-emitting devices are turned off, and regular sleep and wake-up times.

2) Nutrition

The body and brain are connected, and what feeds the body feeds the brain. There is substantial evidence of certain foods having beneficial effects on mood and behavior. Consider seeing a registered dietician or nutritionist or reading more about the connections between food and mood to determine what foods might help or hinder your mental health.

3) Physical activity

There are studies that show that regular and rigorous physical activity can be just as effective at reducing depression and anxiety symptoms as traditional psychiatric medications or even gold-standard therapy. Physical activity, especially that is outdoors, can release endorphins ("feel good" chemicals), release tension, improve sleep, and increase feelings of self-worth. And it's free!

So, when the world does not make sense or you feel your life is out of control, remember that you can always go back and start with the basics.

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