Have you ever thought of spring cleaning for your health? We pay a lot of attention to our house and surroundings. Spring is an appropriate time (and a gentle reminder) to clean up the “house” we carry around—our bodily temple! In the spring, we’re a few months removed from New Year’s resolutions and perhaps have slipped back into less-than-healthy routines. Just like spring cleaning the different rooms in your home, there are several areas in your life you can freshen up before things get too messy!
Spring Cleaning Your Diet: Back to Basics
Food choices affect all aspects of your health. Some foods make you feel amazing, and some make you feel heavy and bogged down. So, when you’re looking at how you’re choosing to fuel your body, go back to nutrition basics. Think about whether you’re meeting your needs with your diet. Ask yourself: Am I nourishing my body? Do I have enough energy to tackle my tasks every week, or do I feel depleted? Am I having trouble focusing? If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know if you’ve gotten off track; there should be no surprises here. If you’ve been frequenting the drive-throughs too often you’re likely not getting adequate servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. Here is an easy and fun fix: venture out as a family to a local co-op or farmer’s market to find the freshest, most abundant and least expensive seasonal fruits and veggies.
Don’t forget that your diet affects your mental health. For example, if you tend to be anxious, consider decreasing the amount of caffeine you’re taking in. Are you drinking extra coffee or eating extra chocolate? To help you avoid the jitters and feel more in control, replace coffee (at least some of the time) with herbal teas, and keep your mitts out of the chocolate chip bag!
Remember, your gut health affects both your mental health (it’s called the second brain for a reason) and your immune health—you may have heard “immunity starts in your gut.” You can maintain a healthy gut through your diet by eating fermented foods like yogurt, getting enough fiber (through fruits, veggies and whole grains) and supplementing with a probiotic daily (especially during and after a course of antibiotics).
Teenagers and Nutrition
Many adolescents view food as an enemy rather than an ally. Unfortunately, they equate food with something that makes them fatter instead of providing nourishment. You can probably guess why: they’re comparing themselves to others, especially to what they see on social media. As the weather warms up and more bathing suits appear in videos, teens will find even more opportunities to compare themselves. This tendency is seen mostly in girls, but even boys struggle with body image.
However, we can’t lay all the blame on social media. Watch the language you use around food; your kids will take cues from you. Voicing your own constant preoccupation about whether a food is going to make you feel bloated or fat will not foster a good relationship with food in your family. If you choose nutrient-rich fuel and talk about food that way, you’ll set a good example and send the correct message to your kids.
What to do with picky eaters? You know, the ones that want nothing but mac n’ cheese and chicken nuggets? Younger kids crave familiarity—the routine. Sometimes, change can make them feel unsteady. One of the basic needs of survival is food, so if it’s predictable, then they’re going to stick with it. If they must try something new, they may put up a little resistance. Ask your kids to try a new food at least once. If they say no, don’t just hold it in the spoon and not serve it. Put it on their plate so they have a chance to warm up to the idea. They may taste one bite and concede (eventually) that mommy’s vegetables aren’t so bad.
Checking In: A Mental Spring Cleaning
By the time spring has sprung, three-fourths of the school year is complete, and several scenarios could be going on in your household: some kids are at risk for retention, some are approaching high school graduation, some are visiting colleges, some are playing spring sports or practicing for recitals and other final activities. ALL of them are excited about ending the school year! There’s a lot of mental and physical movement going on, so it’s a good time to check in mentally.
Catch Up With Your Kids
Schedule one-on-one time with each child. Resist the urge to ask questions that encourage one-word answers. “How was school?” will only elicit “fine” as an answer. “Tell me about school” starts a dialogue. It only needs to be ten minutes, maybe before bed, since kids tend to open up at that time. If you’re going to talk on the way home from school, make sure you bring a snack. No child will feel like talking if they are “hangry.” If you have more than one child in the car, do a round robin. If your kids want to talk at the same time, draw names and have a time limit so there’s no arguments.
Dinnertime is an excellent time to catch up with your kids. Eating together around the table (not the TV) is very important. There’s so much out in the world influencing your kids. Insisting on family time gives you a chance to instill values that come in handy when you’re not there to help. Even if you experience some resistance now, your kids will always remember family meals. Later in life, your kids will appreciate that you fought for that time together.
What’s On YOUR Mind?
Your kids aren’t the only people you need to pull thoughts and feelings out of. As an adult, you’re likely on autopilot with all your responsibilities. However, taking time for introspection is an essential part of good mental health. Spring is a great time to let some rays of sunshine reveal the thoughts and feelings that might be piling up in the dark corners of your mind.
There’s no one right way to do this. You can do a “brain dump” where you jot down what’s on your mind, using either paper or an app on your phone. Writing can give you the mental space to process your thoughts. If you don’t want to write, at least take the time to think; analyze your thoughts and your feelings and take deep breaths. Envision negative thoughts and feelings being released from your body. This is very therapeutic and helps keep you feeling balanced and centered.
Nobody said life was rainbows and sunshine. Sometimes you’re going to feel as if you have a dark cloud hanging over your head. Give yourself permission to take out your frustrations on that tennis ball or cry in your room for a few minutes. Allowing yourself to feel your emotions and work through them disburses the black clouds instead of allowing them to accumulate. This refills your tank. In this state, if life knocks you down, you’re able to get up and dust yourself off a little more easily. On the other hand, if you stuff your feelings and don’t process them, you’ll likely to explode later, which can hurt all your relationships.
Sleep Hygiene: An Often-Overlooked Candidate for Spring Cleaning
The definition of sleep hygiene is: habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis. Sometimes, we don’t realize how important sleep is and even pride ourselves on how little sleep we manage to function on. Now that we’ve completed the Daylight Savings Time shuffle, it’s time to focus on maintaining consistent sleep patterns once again.
Analyze Your Bedtime Routine
Check in on your sleep habits to see what needs some spring cleaning. Are you getting in all the hours of sleep you need? Can you fall asleep without a device or some sort of stimulation? Are you sleeping through the night or are you restless? Are you going to bed, but then looking at your phone for two hours?
Tips for better sleep:
- Go out in the sunlight during the day (this helps maintain your circadian rhythm and melatonin production)
- Don’t go to bed with a full or empty stomach
- Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark
- Stop using devices and wind down an hour before you go to bed
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day
If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your health care professional about supplements, like melatonin, that can help. When you have healthy sleeping habits, it’s the foundation of a good day. You’ll be more alert and mentally capable to tackle all the challenges that come along.
As an adult, you may be thinking, what are these naps you speak of? If you’re fortunate enough to find time for a nap, these pointers are also for you, but let’s talk about our sweet adolescents and teens, who love to nap if they don’t have anything else to do. Taking three-hour naps on a consistent basis can disrupt our natural circadian rhythm, which gets the body out of sync and can cause sleep problems. So, if your kids are taking long naps, teach them about the power nap! A power nap is no longer than 10 to 20 minutes and is refreshing, so that they can still tackle homework. And of course, resist napping too late in the day.
We hope you find these spring cleaning tips useful as we head into the summer, and all the activities that come with it. Putting these tips into action now can slowly build into habits that can last you all year long!
Special thanks to Diana Shaw, Ed.S, LMHC for her help with this article. Diana is a neighbor to CIPC and The Salt Room Longwood. Her practice, Chaos Solutions Counseling, LLC, is located in our building. She specializes in integrated wellness (mental, emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual and vocational). Diana helps her clients (ages 3 +) have a better understanding of themselves to better work through such challenges as anxiety, depression and grief. She joins them on their journey as she teaches them tools to add to their toolbox of life. Diana lives in the Orlando area with her husband and four daughters. Call 407-708-9012 for appointments. Follow her Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/ChaosSolutionsCounseling/