A couple of days ago our minister asked: “What would it look like for 2015 to be a ‘Year of Well-Being?” Standing here at the beginning of the year and having the maturity to look back at those that have passed allows us a moment to reflect and set an intention for the days to come. What kind of year will it be? Many things will happen that are beyond our control, but there are many conscious choices that we make each and every day that have a big impact on how we could accurately describe that year when we get to December 2015. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I’d need to do to make 2015 a “Year of Well-Being.”
Clearly you know that the way that we eat is part of my attempt at ensuring well-being in our household, but in my zeal for healthful food, I confess that other aspects of well being are prone to slippage in some cases and downright neglect in others. I cannot eat my way to anything greater than relative well-being; I am more well than if I kept everything else the same and ate crap. Relative well-being achieved. However, having just come through the public incubation system month of plague and scourge, I have to consider deeply if I could make some other choices to great impact.
Apparently even fabulously successful people neglect their well-being, and Arianna Huffington has written a book about how her very successful and hardworking lifestyle led her to actual physical collapse in 2007. It would seem that less than 6 hours of sleep a night and 18 hour work days every day does NOT do the body good. Her doctors concluded that she had actually collapsed because of sleep deprivation. Ms. Huffington describes her journey back to a sane place of wellness in her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. In the book, Ms. Huffington works diligently to rethink the way that we define success and to enrich the meaning of well-being to raise the bar for a life that is meaningful, fulfilling, and deeply connected. Before any of those deeply fulfilling things can happen with any regularity, however, one must not be on the verge of physical collapse. Ms. Huffington recommends three key steps toward increasing your physical well-being so that you can get on with the business of enriching your life.
First step: sleep. I don’t know about any of you, but I could stop reading or listening right here. This is the one that has my (and Mr. Little Sis’) name all over it. Most adults need from 7-9 hours of sleep (bear in mind that these are averages, so some people need more; those who think they need much much less are likely fooling themselves). the amount you need fluctuates with age, so maybe you (and by you I mean I) could get less when you were 22…
Mr. Little Sis and I tend to go in cycles where we get 7.5 for a while (when we’ve recognized that we’re zombies) and then slide slowly back toward getting less than 7 for nights or even weeks at a time. And we slowly get REALLY tired. Know what it’s hard to do when you’re REALLY tired? Assess the amount of sleep you’re getting and make good decisions about what to cut so you can get more. It’s also really hard to work efficiently and effectively so you can accomplish what you need to in a reasonable amount of time. It’s also hard to decide what to put in your child’s lunch before you’ve had caffeine. Let’s face it, sleep deprivation makes pretty much everything we want to do more difficult and more time consuming. So why do we fail to go to sleep?
I can’t tell you why YOU do it, but I can tell you why we do it. After the children go to bed I enjoy the peace… I also have tasks that I save for night time like packing part of the kids’ lunch (to eliminate some of the pre-caffeine decisions), physical therapy exercises, blog work, knitting, bill paying, and occasionally when I really lose track during the day, putting laundry away (the ultimate self-punishment = leaving clean clothes on the bed to discover at bedtime). I also have the long standing habit of reading a little before I turn out the light and actually go to sleep. I’m laughing while I write this because that really is quite a lot. No wonder I have trouble going to bed at a reasonable hour. I do often turn on the TV while working on some of these things and with the exception of knitting, I’m sure this serves to slow me down as well. Mr. Little Sis fails to go to sleep because most of his life is online. His work is remote from a home office (translation: there is no end to the work day) and he blogs from home for an international audience that is very interactive (translation: there is no end to blog day). We have both set ourselves up for less sleep than two adults, particularly two adults with elementary school children, need to make sense of the world and feel reasonably well. While I don’t think we’re on the verge of physical collapse, I’m guessing there’s a lot of steps between that and feeling rested. We could definitely get more sleep.
Second step: more exercise. There are a ridiculous number of studies that attest to the fact that exercise improves not only our actual physical health, but our sense of well being. Exercise lightens our spirits, makes us feel better physically, and promotes SLEEP. While we may be wiped out after working all day, many of our occupations don’t tax the body. The mind is weary; the body is not sure why we’re sitting still so much.
Like my sleep, I tend to be somewhat cyclic with my exercise habits, although having a large dog has put me in the position of doing some walking every day and addressing muscular and skeletal issues has me on a physical therapy regimen that ensures I’ll be doing something with my muscles many days of the week. Still, I know when I’ve slipped. I can tell when I’ve stopped working just a little harder. I can feel my spirit sinking (along with my posterior). I catch myself, add a little (longer faster dog walk), and then usually feel well enough to add a little more (actually working out). Why the cycles? Who knows. Doesn’t seem to take much to interrupt my exercise routine. Sickness, family emergencies, pretty much anything that changes the timing during my day will unhinge my workout scene for weeks or more.
Third step: meditation. Yeah, ohmmm. I’m not gonna lie. I have never successfully meditated. I’ve tried a bunch of times. The times that felt better usually felt better because I fell asleep. Pretty clear I need to spend some time on getting more sleep before I can even hope to successfully meditate. If YOU get enough sleep and are interested in the benefits of meditation, this page has a number of links that will help you get started.
Where does that leave me? I’m not really much for resolutions, mostly because I used to make them about weight loss all the time and it was part of the cycle of dumb diets and bad results (see our thoughts on a real food resolution). I prefer to think of setting an intention for the new year, a focal point, a turning of my consciousness and attention. It’s pretty clear to me that if 2015 is to be a year of well-being for me, I need to get serious about getting more sleep. I’ve been working toward that and am now realizing how tired I actually am. As I continue to increase my amount of sleep in search of the number that actually makes me feel rested, I’m hoping my motivation to be a little more consistent with exercise will also increase. But I’m not even going to worry about that too much just now. I’m going to sleep. And it will be good. What will 2015 be for you? If 2015 as a year of well-being is about food for you, maybe our E-Book Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals can help. If it’s not about food, maybe it’s time to sleep. It will be good. Be well friends.