It is now 2020, and the world seems to be spinning crazily in so many different directions. We are grasping for well-being of the heart, mind, body and soul, as world events unfold, including climate change, vast economic and political upheaval, only the third impeachment of a president in American history, as well as the loss of trust in institutions that once helped relieve our fears.
We are worried and anxious about what is going to happen in the elections, who is leading in our communities, a health system which seems only aimed at sickness and symptoms, a globe with big issues needing tending and of course, how we manage our personal lives as we feel more disconnected from others and ourselves. This anxiety, worry and frustration breeds stress and raises our cortisol levels, which impacts our bodies and our well-being in every part of our life.
What are we to do?
We have both long believed that positive change in this world comes from having a big vision, which is accompanied by practical steps that can begin to build a solid foundation for our physical, mental and spiritual lives. One of us comes at this from a medical perspective and the other from a government, political and media focus. The big vision is that taking care of ourselves and those immediately around us in a compassionate way will begin to change our own personal worlds and also has the capability of changing the world we all inhabit and share together.
So we wanted to give you a list of seven commitments to help increase well-being for ourselves and those around the world. Doing some or all of these actions each day can help to ease our minds in turbulent times, increase our capacity to persevere, enable us to manage our daily technology interference, and open up opportunities to see the beauty that still exists on this planet.
1) Express gratitude for something or someone 2) Meditate for 20-30 minutes 3) Connect with a friend in person, if possible 4) Do something to help someone else 5) Take a walk outside for at least 10 minutes 6) Find humor in a situation and laugh 7) Take 5 deep breaths
These seven daily strategies have their roots in lifestyle medicine: a burgeoning practice area that works to use healthy habits to treat, reverse and prevent disease. Adhering to these seven strategies can enhance your sense of well-being and alter your mood in mere minutes.
Based on the latest research and a long history of spirituality, we know that if we express gratitude on paper in a journal or out loud, we can improve our moods.
Routinely meditating for 20-30 minutes a day can increase the brain matter in our pre-frontal cortex (involved with decision making and planning), insula (involved with self-awareness and perception) and the hippocampus (involved with consolidating memories).
By cultivating close connections with friends and family, we are increasing our stress resiliency and hugging helps release oxytocin, a feel good hormone. It seems so simple, but it is an area we often neglect in an individualistic era in the world.
When we are altruistic, we are filling our minds with unselfish love and compassion, leaving little room for anxiety, stress and worry. Service to others not only brings positive change to the world, but also makes us feel better about life in general.
Research shows that another way to reduce anxiety is to take a 10-minute walk, and doing so in nature allows us to appreciate the beauty of the landscape around us as well as provide us the proven benefits of natural sunlight.
If you can take a walk with a friend, perhaps you will be able to share a humorous story and let laughter reduce the levels of stress hormones, especially if you can laugh at yourself and not take life too seriously. And the benefits of adding more fun to our daily existence has been well-documented.
Finally, when we are feeling overwhelmed with stressful events in our personal lives or in politics, we can protect ourselves by taking deep breaths with long exhalations which will allow us to turn on our parasympathetic systems allowing us to “rest and digest” while turning off the sympathetic system which primes our systems for “fight or flight.”
One doesn’t have to be perfect in these seven strategies, and just the mere attempt will begin to bring us peace and refocus our lives on meaning and purpose that moves us.
Don’t let the desire for perfection be the enemy of the good. If we all try to enjoy these seven strategies for enhanced wellness, we can work together to ease tension and to creatively problem solve solutions to difficult situations. Importantly, this way we can all lead and serve, and not wait on somebody else to give us the peace and security we all so desperately hunger for in times of chaos.
Matthew Dowd is the chief political analyst for ABC News and Dr. Beth Frates is a lifestyle medicine specialist and faculty member at Harvard Medical School. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.