By Rachel Welch
March, with its hopeful sunny days, still plays host to chilly temperatures, but also a welcome reprieve from holiday chaos and a little time to think before the busy summer months. Now is the time to pause and reflect: How is your health? Have you kept up with your New Year’s resolutions so far? Maybe you feel swept into the monotonous day-to-day and need a refresh already. If that’s the case, then this post is for you, on how to use March to prepare for a healthy and amazing spring and summer.
Multiple factors affect a person’s overall health. To find mental calm, peace, and some pep in your step, you need to have your physical health in check. It is all connected, after all. With the goal of addressing physical health in mind, there are organizations that help to keep us on the right track.
The Essential 8
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute uses each February as a chance to remind us about heart health, and how to keep cardiovascular health in check. They provide resources like the Essential 8 list, which goes over some key factors in heart health and a healthy lifestyle. Those factors are:
Nutrition is one of our favorite topics at Health by Principle because it is a foundational factor in everything you do, and how you feel. To achieve overall wellness, proper nutrition is a must. This involves taking in the right amount of healthy nutrients through a healthy diet, or added supplements. With the majority of Americans showing deficiency in one or more vitamins, nutritional education must be available, including good practices to implement for a sustainable lifestyle. A few ways to achieve this are to:
Exercise is another popular health topic that many of us grew up learning about. From mandatory gym classes to school-sponsored fitness tests, exercise has been instilled into various generations, and for good reason. Various studies have proven that exercise is the key to living longer and being healthier, both now and in the future (2).
Focus on Whole Foods
The term” whole foods” means natural, unprocessed food. Examples include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, or minimally processed items. It is generally best to shop for and consume natural foods, as the chemicals added to processed food are almost never for our benefit. Does that mean you should never eat potato chips again? Not necessarily. It is just a reminder to be mindful of moderation and keep whole foods as the main focus of your diet.
Veggies with Every Meal
This goes hand-in-hand with a focus on whole foods. A good rule of thumb is to incorporate vegetables into every meal. This can be done in a number of creative ways and can be adapted to suit anyone’s palette. For breakfast, you might try avocado toast or an omelet filled with spinach, onion, and garlic. For lunch, you could have a salad, or a side of sweet potato or squash, and so on. The options are endless.
Fresh Fruits Over Processed Sugar
I know, I know. This may not seem like the easiest one to accomplish, especially if you have a sweet tooth, but fresh fruit is a much healthier alternative to foods that are filled with processed sugar and who-knows-what-else. There are ways to be creative with this, also. If you really want ice cream, for instance, you can make a fantastic cacao-based smoothie with all of the same flavors, and none of the processed stuff. This recipe, for example, is a cacao, avocado, and banana smoothie that tastes like chocolate ice cream, but is packed with nutrition! If you need to fix a cookie craving, there are some great mug cookie recipes out there that are also completely based on fresh fruit!
As discussed, supplements are a great way to fill in any nutritional gaps where your regular diet is lacking. As of 2022, there is data to support that vitamin deficiency is still incredibly common. It is estimated that 6-20% of the American population is deficient in vitamin B-12, with 50% of the population deficient in vitamin D. Many people are also lacking in magnesium, calcium, and potassium, which all play a pivotal role in overall health (3).
In case you’re still not convinced that physical health is pivotal to mental calm, here is another tidbit for you: Researchers from Brigham Young conducted a study that analyzed over 6,000 individuals at the neurological level and studied their DNA – specifically their telomeres. Telomeres are the DNA sequences at the end of a chromosome, which are correlated to cancer risk, and change as a result of exercise, good diet, nutrition, etc.
In layman's terms, a long telomere is a healthy telomere and means that the person is likely to live longer and be healthier.
Scientists have found that shorter telomeres are related to an increased risk of cancer, (although they are not entirely sure why). They have also found that shorter telomeres relate to higher chances of a person having heart disease or suffering from infectious diseases (2).
Now, who would have thought we would start obsessing over our DNA? The research unequivocally supports the benefits of exercise and proper nutrition. These lifestyle practices are confirmed to lengthen telomeres, create healthier DNA and therefore, improve a person’s health.
Now that our physical health goals are checked off the list and put into action, how do we stay chill and calm mentally?
Hack Your Brain
To stay calm, peaceful, and mentally relaxed during the chilly seasons and all others, there are a few mental hacks that you can try. Obviously one primary goal is to reduce stress, but how do we do that? To start, you need to have grace with yourself.
According to data from the CDC, the past three years were especially challenging in terms of stress management (lookin’ at you, 2020). This makes sense, considering that our society and world experienced several stressful years that were unlike any we have ever seen before. The data from the CDC shows that 2020’s impact alone, led to increased reports of mental health issues, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation (4).
The 2020s so far have presented health crises, political strife, societal breaking points, and a slew of natural disasters. So, before you think that stress is all on you to master and control, give yourself some credit for surviving the absolute craziest years of your life, and acknowledge the impact that those years held.
Yes, stress management tools are something that we can all individually work on, but also, it is important to consider the outside factors that we cannot change, and realize that they can change us and our baseline for stress tolerance. So, the first hack is to have grace with yourself.
The Flexible Toolbox
The second tip for stress management is to let the plan change as it needs to. Stressors come in so many different forms, that it is highly unlikely that one tool will fix all of them. That’s why it’s important to let your plan change. Ideally, you can establish a stress-less toolbox. This would not be a physical toolbox, but a mental one, that you can go back to in times of stress, and select the “tool” best suited for the job. Some common tools could be:
For certain stressors, each of your tools will have a different impact. For example, if you feel scatterbrained and unable to focus, meditation might be the solution! But, let’s say you just left a frustrating meeting and have anger you can’t forget about. In that case, exercise might be a great outlet to let off some steam and release some endorphins. The same is true for the other tools. Use them as needed, on a case-by-case basis, and be flexible.
Breathe Through It
Another tip for staying chill and calm is to do what our body does best, and breathe. It may seem like a silly suggestion, but one of the first things to go out the window when our bodies sense stress is proper breathing. When stressors hit, the body goes into overdrive. Blood pressure increases, your heart rate speeds up, and your breathing starts to become shallow and fast. This is why controlled breathing is one of the best things to help you stay chill. The easiest route is to take in a deep breath, hold it, and release it the moment you realize you are stressed.
Another breathing technique for really intense stress is combat or tactical breathing. Combat breathing is pretty extraordinary, as it is taught to soldiers on the battlefield, and is very powerful. This form of breathing involves breathing in for four seconds, holding for four seconds, and breathing out for four seconds. Continue this pattern until you feel your body start to calm down. This form of breathing is so impactful, that it has been proven to slow down your heart rate and calm the nervous system (5). Amazing!
Supplement the Stress Away
Please note: Consult your doctor before adding a new supplement to your regimen. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin levels, so that you can be well-informed when choosing the supplements that are right for you.
Nutrition overall is tied to mental health (and the ability to feel calm), but there are a few vitamins in particular that are important to focus on when stress starts to creep in. Magnesium and vitamin D are two of the most powerful nutrients to help you stay chill and relaxed.
Magnesium: A symptom of magnesium deficiency is stress because magnesium provides necessary support to your nervous system (6). A stressful situation causes the body to excrete its magnesium, thus reducing the overall amount. With the cyclical nature of stress and magnesium, it may be helpful to supplement the stress away and maintain proper levels of the seemingly “magical” magnesium.
Vitamin D: The happy sunshine pill is one that we just can’t get enough of – literally! Considering that close to half of the US population is deficient in vitamin D, it’s highly likely that a supplement could help. Vitamin D is closely related to mental health as well as physical health and is important year-round, but especially in the winter months.
Chill as a Cucumber
To stay chill this chilly season, remember to prioritize your physical health and your mental health. Aim for balanced nutrition, scoop up some supplements as needed, and hack your brain for the better. Give yourself grace, use your mental health toolbox, and give yourself loving support with practices like meditation and mindful breathing. With these actions, you will surely stay chill and calm this winter season.