Discover the basics of healthy nutrition and tips on making it part of your lifestyle.
Healthy eating, or good nutrition, is simply eating adequate, well-balanced meals to support your body’s needs (World Health Organisation, 2018). At the heart of healthy eating is doing what helps you feel well. A healthy diet does not have to look a particular way and can accommodate many types of palates, dietary restrictions, and lifestyles. What matters is figuring out what foods help you feel like your best self.
Healthy eating can protect you from malnutrition, which is a serious condition that occurs when your body is not getting the nutrients it needs. Many diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, are linked to poor nutrition (World Health Organization, 2022) while healthy eating can help promote both physical and mental wellness.
Here are some more benefits of healthy eating:
Longevity (or living until old age)
Is positively associated with good nutrition, especially diets high in vitamins and minerals (Ahlberg, 2021). People who eat healthily are less likely to suffer from certain diseases which can cause long-term health issues or premature death, such as heart disease. Researchers found that longevity is not associated with specific “fad” diets, such as those that limit all carbohydrates or all fats (Lim, 2018). Rather, following a few basic nutrition principles can help people live longer, healthier lives.
Lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes
Is associated with eating a healthy diet (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022). If you are worried about a family history of diabetes or heart disease, or simply want to lower your risk of suffering from illness, you might benefit from speaking to your physician about incorporating healthy eating into your lifestyle.
Healthy Immune Function
Means the ability to fight everyday viruses and bacteria which cause disease. You may have started to pay greater attention to your immunity during the pandemic, and the good news is that it is possible to help your immune system function better through healthy eating. As we age, our bodies inevitably slow down, and immune function decreases, which is why older people are more susceptible to serious complications from diseases like the flu. Eating a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, such as one that has plenty of fruits and vegetables, can help our bodies fight disease (Calder, 2022).
Which reduce the risk of both mothers and babies facing difficult complications or diseases, are strongly correlated with healthy diets (National Institutes of Health, 2022). Eating a healthy diet during pregnancy can promote brain development and healthy birth weight for babies, while simultaneously reducing risks to the mother, such as anemia (iron deficiency), fatigue, and morning sickness (Allen, 2000).
Are a major part of wellness. This is true of children, whose bones are still growing, and adults, who can enjoy activities of daily life more easily when they don’t suffer from painful joints or conditions such as osteoporosis. A healthy diet is a major contributor to strong bones (Abrams, 2021).
Improved Mental Health
Has been linked to eating a healthy diet in many research studies. New research suggests that while we don’t fully understand all the ways in which a healthy diet promotes better mental health, we do know that there is a strong association between poor nutrition and disorders such as anxiety and depression (Adan et al., 2019). On the flip side, improving your diet can benefit your mental health (Adan et al., 2019).
Here are some healthy habits to get you started:
Eat Lots of Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods, such as mushrooms or herbs, are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, plant protein, and antioxidants. Eating five or more portions a day is excellent for your overall health and can help prevent many diseases (World Health Organisation, 2022).
Eat Protein Everyday
Protein helps to build and maintain your bones and muscles. Some foods rich in protein are legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, fish, eggs, chicken, beef, milk, yogurt, and cheese. If you eat seafood, consider having it at least twice a week because it provides many rich vitamins and healthy fats along with protein.
Don't Skip Breakfast
While you might be tempted to skip breakfast because you feel rushed in the morning, aren’t hungry right after you wake up, or think it might help you lose weight, recent research shows that people who skip breakfast as a habit are more likely to miss out on important nutrients and have more health problems than those who make time to eat a well-balanced meal to start their day (Fanelli et al., 2021).
Add Fermented Foods to Your Diet
Fermented foods, like kimchi, sauerkraut, or yogurt with live active cultures are not only delicious additions to your plate, they’re full of probiotics, which keep your gut healthy and happy. Probiotics, or friendly bacteria, have a whole range of health benefits, including better digestion, improved immunity, good skin and hair, and once again, improved mental health (Marco et al., 2017).
Healthy eating might seem daunting at first. But if you make small changes and lead from a place of treating yourself to the health and wellness you deserve, you might find yourself thriving and even enjoying the process. You might even choose to meet with a nutritionist or borrow a healthy cookbook from your library. Remember: even if those options are not available to you right now, it’s okay—a few simple tips can put you on the road to a healthier you.
Discover tips for managing time, disconnecting from work, and caring for yourself.
While work-life balance is something almost everyone knows about, very few people know exactly what it entails. To put it in simple terms, work-life balance is the amount of time you spend doing your job versus the amount of time that you spend at home – home time is, for example, time spent with friends, family, and pursuing your personal interests (Cambridge Dictionary, n.d.).
Since the pandemic, the term ‘work-life balance’ has been under increased scrutiny due to its suggestion that our work and our personal lives are in different and adversarial spheres competing for our time. This can result in an unhealthy relationship with our work or personal life where we end up feeling guilty no matter which one we prioritize (Hochwarter et al., 2007).
Some people believe in advocating for work-life integration versus work-life balance. They believe that a synergistic blending of our work and personal responsibilities is the best approach (Burke, 2006). This perspective places work as another spoke on the wheel of our lives, to be considered alongside other ‘spokes’ such as our family lives and personal well-being. Supporters of this approach argue that each element feeds into one another and is essential for us to thrive. Ultimately, whether you agree with work-life integration or work-life balance, overall the goal is to manage your time between work and home in a way that benefits you.
When your work-life balance is off-center, there can be a myriad of mental, physical, and emotional problems that arise. For example, when you work long hours, it can lead to serious health issues such as (Sultan & Nag, 2020):
It can be tough though because many people believe that working a lot equates to being a good worker. However, working long hours isn’t the key to increased productivity. A study in 2015 found that when workers hit a certain number of hours, their productivity also decreased (Pencavel, 2015). At this threshold, their potential for mistakes and injuries also increased. In general, achieving a work-life balance is best not just for your well-being but also for your productivity.
Here are some benefits of a better work-life balance:
We are happier when we have time for the people and things we care about.
When you have time to rest and accomplish things personally, you are more likely to have a productive career.
Better Care Satisfaction
When you are not always stressed about reaching deadlines and thinking about work 24/7, you are more likely to be satisfied with your work.
When you achieve a work-life balance, it can help reduce stress. This leaves you more time for healthier activities such as exercise or mindfulness meditation.
Tips for Work-Life Balance
Here are some tips to help with work-life balance (Bartlett et al., 2021):
The most important of the tips is learning how to best use your time. There are many ways to do this; You could keep a schedule and write down all the meetings or commitments you have for the week. This will enable you to organize your tasks more efficiently.
Prioritize and Set Goals
Once you have your schedule, you can prioritize your personal values and reassess your strategy to honor them. Ask yourself, what really matters to me, and am I doing it? Where am I making compromises, and should I? What are my alternatives? You may want to rethink what your values are and change what you prioritize. You may have different things you want to accomplish by the end of the day, the week, or even the year. Once you know your priorities, you can establish personal goals based on them to act as a guide in navigating your decisions.
Put Yourself First
Sometimes, you have to advocate for yourself. To have better health, it may help to ensure you have time to exercise, plan your meals, and in general to have downtime for yourself. Another essential skill is learning that it’s okay to say no sometimes. Be careful not to overschedule yourself and spread yourself too thin—in the end, this can negatively affect your mental and physical health and your performance at work
Develop a Support System
There is no shame in seeking support. We are fundamentally social beings, and building connections with our community is essential to a happy life. At work, it may help to join forces with co-workers that you know will support you and vice versa. At home, friends and loved ones may be able to help you with tasks such as childcare or household chores whenever you are overwhelmed at work. Making such bonds can help you when you are stretched for time.
Know When to Seek Professional Help
Life inherently can be chaotic, and trying to manage it while also dealing with work stressors can become too much for anyone. If you feel anxious or depressed due to a disrupted work-life balance, feel no shame in seeking a mental health provider.
Remember that a work-life balance will not look the same for everyone. In fact, it could even be said that the perfect work-life balance doesn’t exist. Instead, a work-life balance is a continuous process. It may be helpful to examine your priorities and make changes accordingly periodically.
Discover what makes something a need and how to know if yours are met.
A need can be defined as a “physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). In other words, a need is something that you won’t be okay without. This can range from food and water to human contact and socialization.
Our needs can also differ depending on the situation. In general, we have needs such as food because without it we can die. However, communication can also be a need since, without it, relationships can deteriorate.
Basic needs, or primary needs, are the most essential. These include:
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow first introduced his concept of a hierarchy of needs (Maslow, 2012). Through this, he suggested that people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to more advanced ones.
He was a humanist and believed that people have an ultimate desire to reach self-actualization, or in other words to be all they can be. However, to achieve this, the lower-level needs were required to be fulfilled first.
There are five levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that increase in complexity:
These include needs such as food, water, and clothing. These are also referred to as basic or primary needs.
We need to feel safe and secure in our environment. This can include financial well-being and health security.
This includes the need to be loved and to love. Belonging to a group of both friends and family is important to our psyche. Social needs are psychological needs.
This is the need to be recognized by others for our accomplishments. Esteem needs are also considered to be psychological needs.
This is the need to actualize our talents and skills. This includes obtaining the full use and exploitation of our talents, capabilities, and potentialities. People who achieve self-actualization are said to be fulfilling themselves and doing the best that they are capable of.
According to this model, we can only obtain higher-level needs once we satisfy the lower level needs. For example, we can only begin to meet our needs for safety once we have secured our physiological needs.
One method to analyze these questions is through a needs assessment. Here is a brief rundown on how to do one (Royse et al., 2009).
Identify the Possibilities
This first step is about discovering all the possible personal needs you may have. Write down things in your life that bring you joy and make you feel successful or unsuccessful, and then identify the related experiences. Then with this, try to identify the patterns of behavior that created these experiences.
Refine and Shorten Your List
Now that you have a list, let’s narrow it down to include only your most important personal needs. Identify the top ten experiences that appear most often then consider which of these include actual needs (again, your must-haves, requirements, essentials). Then from that list, select the top four personal needs that are most important to you from those experiences.
Create and Execute a Plan
From the previous steps you now have at least four personal needs. Make a list of activities/actions that will help you meet these needs, including the things you do every day as well as other extracurricular activities. For instance, if a personal need for you is to learn a new skill you may want to plan to go to a cooking class. Or perhaps if your personal need is creativity, you may take steps to start writing a new book or invest in painting. Whatever your need is, it could help to take initiative to plan and execute ways to fulfill that need.
Tips for Meeting Your Needs
After identifying your needs, it may help to try and meet them to feel fulfilled. If you ignore your needs, it can become detrimental to your physical and mental health.
Here are some tips to help meet your needs:
Needs are a natural and essential part of life. What is important is being able to differentiate between what we want and what we need and then being able to prioritize our needs.
Discover how wish lists work and how to use this tool to advance your goals.
Maybe you made wish lists when you were a kid and daydreamed about birthday and holiday gifts. Maybe you wanted to make sure that your parents picked out the right color clothes or the right version of a video game.
As adults, our birthday wish lists might evolve into Pinterest boards, bucket lists, wedding registries, and lists of goals and New Year’s Resolutions. Wish lists can be a valuable tool for anyone of any age to identify and work toward meaningful goals.
A wish list is a tool to keep track of what you want. These lists are often organized by theme–potential travel destinations, hair care products, and what you’re looking for in your next apartment. Wish lists can be fun, serious, private, shared, organized, messy, detailed, vague, practical, and/or fanciful.
You can keep a wish list in many formats–in a notebook, on an app, or as a collage. The list acts as a repository for and reminder of your wants. For instance, it can remind you to request a certain amount of vacation time when negotiating a job offer. The list can also keep wishes (or goals) at the forefront of your mind so you’re motivated to keep working toward them–if you remember that trip to Italy you want to take, you might be inspired to figure out a better savings plan or to ask for a much-deserved raise.
Wish lists could be a step toward creating clear written life goals. Writing down goals may help you achieve them (Matthews, 2007). Wishes, of course, aren’t quite the same as goals and can be as pie-in-the-sky as you want. Still, bringing wishes into written, spoken, or visual awareness seems like a prerequisite to making them real. After all, what is a goal but a wish with a plan and intention?
Ideas for Your Wish List
Wish List for Your Next Relationship
Similarly to a job wish list, a relationship wish list can remind you what you deserve and what matters to you when searching for romantic partners. Instead of looking for someone of a specific height or hair color, or someone who shares all your specific interests, try listing qualities like, “is attractive to me,” or, “someone I enjoy spending time with and feel intellectually stimulated by.” This strategy may help you avoid settling for less than you deserve while opening the search up to potentially great partners you may never have considered otherwise (Ury, 2022).
Books to Read
You could make a goodreads.com account for this list. It can help you keep track of new books you want to check out from the library; you can even set a reading goal for the year. If pen and paper are more your speed, a basic notebook or a reading journal work just as well.
Movies to Watch
Similarly, letterboxd.com is a good place to keep a watchlist of movies so you’re not stumped the next time a friend says, “So…what do you want to watch?” Basic accounts on both websites are free.
Wish List to Curb Impulse Spending
Groening et al. (2021) argue that keeping wish lists (especially private ones) might prevent purchasing items by allowing shoppers to “cool off” their excitement about the item or by making them feel that they own the item already (and so, don’t need to buy it). Adding an item to a wish list also introduces an additional decision point (to place the item on the list or not, and to buy it or not), which gives you extra opportunity to rationally consider whether the purchase is a good idea (Popovich & Hamilton, 2014).
Reverse Wish List
Just as you can make a list of what you want and need, you can make a list of deal breakers. It’s important to articulate what we will and will not tolerate–in other words, to set boundaries. For example, if you just got out of a troubled relationship, you can write down all the features you won’t accept in a new relationship.
Gift-Giving Wish List
You can keep wish lists for others as well as yourself. For example, if a friend says they want something, it’s a good idea to write down their birthday somewhere you can find it.
How to Make a Wish List
When making a wish list, you don’t have to be practical or realistic–you can write down anything you want. You can try the strategy of setting a timer for 5-10 minutes and writing down everything that comes to mind, without self-censoring. A wish list is a great place to dream big. There’ll be plenty of time to edit and rank items later if you want to.
When you review the list, you can amend anything that seems too out there. If something on the list seems out of reach at the moment, you can leave it on the list as a longer-term goal while acknowledging that a more modest goal is more attainable right now. A second draft is also a good time to do research. If you’re making a wish list for a car, for example, you can read online reviews and search available models.
Wish lists aren’t just for kids–they can be a powerful tool for people of all ages to clarify and remember their goals and desires. Wish lists can allow us to exercise our imaginations, expand our ideas about what we deserve and what is possible for us, and begin turning our half-conscious desires into active goals and real achievements. Making a wish list can also be an act of hope and an investment in a brighter future. Given the uncertainty of the modern world, many of us could use a little wish list whimsy.
Learn more about relaxation and techniques for slowing down.
In American culture, relaxation is considered a luxury, something only those privileged enough to have sufficient resources get to enjoy. However, relaxation is actually an important contributor to our mental and physical health. When we don’t allow ourselves to take time to unwind, the harmful effects of daily stressors begin to accumulate and can contribute to psychological and physical maladies like depression, memory loss, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes (just to name a few). Relaxing gives our bodies and minds a chance to recover from stress and live our best lives.
Physiologically, relaxation is the activation of our parasympathetic nervous system. This activation slows our heart rate, lowers our blood pressure, reduces muscle tone, slows our breathing, and prepares our bodies for rest and rejuvenation. Luckily, there are a number of ways we can activate our parasympathetic nervous systems and help our bodies recover from the damages of our stressful lives.
Here are a few examples:
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique that helps us learn what it feels like when our muscles are tense versus when they are relaxed so that we can notice the tension when we are stressed out and willfully release it (Cawthorn & Mackereth, 2010).
In general, the steps to PMR are the following:
Meditation has been used as a relaxation tool for centuries and the current body of research supporting the positive benefits of meditation is immense. Some of the observed effects of meditation include slower heart rate, muscle relaxation, increased cerebral blood flow, increased production of melatonin, and greater activation of brain regions associated with non-verbal, intuitive, and spatial processing (Perez-De-Albeniz & Holmes, 2000). There are many kinds of meditation and different people will benefit differently from each, so it might be helpful to try out more than one kind to see what works best for you.
Massage is often viewed as a particularly indulgent luxury, but studies show it’s a highly effective therapeutic technique. For example, massage has been associated with reductions in pain and anxiety, and improvements in mood, relaxation, and sleep in patient populations (Dreyer et al., 2015; Jane et al., 2011).
There are many forms of massage therapy, and each form is suited for different needs. For example, if your goal is simply relaxation, a Swedish massage might be best for you. Whereas if you are in need of pain relief, a deep-tissue massage could be the way to go. Before scheduling a massage session, it might be helpful to check out what your options are and discuss what type of massage will best meet your needs with your massage therapist.
Yoga is another highly effective relaxation technique that has been in practice for centuries (De Benedittis, 2015). Yoga is sometimes used as exercise, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Often, yoga functions more as a moving meditation, giving your mind a specific focus to help quiet the internal chatter as you become absorbed in synchronizing your movements with your breath.
Research has shown that yoga can help reduce pulse rate, and blood pressure, both of which are important physiological changes for relaxation (Jain et al., 2010). Yoga has also been shown to reduce other physiological symptoms of stress such as inflammation and the production of stress hormones (Ross & Thomas, 2010).
Music and Sounds
Listening to music is also well-documented as a helpful therapeutic technique for reducing stress. For example, listening to music has been shown to affect aspects of your physiology such as lowering your heart rate, reducing blood pressure, and limiting stress hormone levels (de Witte et al., 2022).
The neural mechanisms by which music improves mood, relaxation, and well-being are not well understood. One possibility involves the synchronization of our bodies and our brain activity with musical qualities such as rhythm and tempo (Kim et al., 2018). For example, you’ve probably noticed yourself involuntarily tapping your foot to the beat when listening to a song. This phenomenon is known as “entrainment” and is essentially the rhythm of the music influencing the rhythmic activity within your motor system.
In today’s fast-paced and often stressful world, taking time to relax is more important than ever. Without allowing our parasympathetic nervous system to take over for a little bit and give our bodies a break from the damaging effects of prolonged stress, we can end up exhausted, depressed, and even physically ill. There are many effective techniques for unwinding and reducing stress that can be simple to incorporate into our daily lives. Regardless of the relaxation method you choose, it is important to use it regularly, especially if you have many stressors in your life.
Learning how to heal ourselves can bring us back to a state of well-being.
We likely all struggle with the remnants of past emotional or physical challenges. So we probably would all benefit from some self-healing. However, self-healing may offer greater benefits for those who are feeling highly self-motivated to engage in the self-healing process—that is, to take the time to implement self-healing techniques and activities in their lives. Just as it takes time to build a new skill, self-healing can take time and effort. So effort here is key to seeing results.
The following self-healing techniques can benefit both your emotional and physical health. They may help you feel a bit better immediately but their real power emerges when you practice them regularly. Regular practice can result in long-term changes in your brain that can contribute to happiness, resilience, and well-being.
Oftentimes, we’re harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else. We might even get mad at ourselves for being sick or unable to get over past hurt or rejection. But by being extra hard on ourselves, we do ourselves no good. Instead, we just make it harder for our body and mind to heal.
That’s why self-compassion can be a great tool for self-healing. We might start by writing ourselves a self-compassionate letter—a letter where we say kind things to ourselves and write about how we will support ourselves moving forward. Related to this, we might also set better boundaries to keep others from crossing the line with us. Or, we might develop assertive communication skills so that we can advocate for our needs and take better care of ourselves.
Get More Sleep
Did you know that we do much of our healing while we’re asleep? That’s right—lack of sleep can weaken the immune system making it harder for the body to heal itself (Ibarra-Coronado et al., 2015.) Lack of sleep can also contribute to higher levels of stress hormones like norepinephrine and epinephrine (Zhang et al., 2011). These hormones can lead us to feel more anxious and burned out. That makes sleep absolutely essential for self-healing.
Too often, we stay up late, get up early, and force ourselves to stay awake when we’re exhausted. We might prioritize getting extra work done or going to the gym instead of sleep. But if we desire to heal ourselves, this is likely not the best move. Extra work and exercise just give our bodies a longer to-do list and if we’re not properly rested, we may just be hurting our bodies even further.
If we’ve been struggling with stress, trauma, or physical health issues, our sympathetic, “fight-or-flight” system has likely been activated for a while. To calm our sympathetic response, we need to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is largely responsible for calming down our fight or flight response and helping us return to a less stressed state.
One of the easiest ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system is with controlled and deep breathing. For example, SKY breathing—a technique involving cycling slow breathing (2-4 breaths per minute) then fast (30 breaths per minute), then three long “Om”s, or a long vibrating exhale—has been shown to lower anxiety (Zope & Zope, 2013).
Another popular breathing technique is “box breathing”. This involves breathing for a count of four, holding for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four, and holding for a count of four. Practice breathing this way for a little bit each day to help boost parasympathetic activity and help your body recover from past challenges.
Try Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness is a technique that involves “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (Kabat‐Zinn, 2003). Research shows that mindfulness interventions can help reduce both anxiety and depression (Khoury et al., 2013).
Here are a few other activities that you might find to be helpful for self-healing.
Try Positive Visualization
Visualizing yourself in a relaxing, positive space can help soothe your body and ease your mind.
Listen to Soothing Music
Calming music can help reduce stress and set the scene for greater self-healing.
Cut Out Unhealthy Foods
Unhealthy foods like hydrogenated oils, sugar, and caffeine put extra stress on your body and may prevent healing of all sorts.
Start a Gratitude Journal
Practicing gratitude is a great way to bring more positive emotions into your life. These positive emotions can help counteract the negative emotions that prevent healing.
Research suggests that gardening has multiple benefits for our well-being and can even help us reduce depression.
We all have challenges that we need to heal from. Some of us have emotional challenges, others of us have physical challenges, and some of us have both. Luckily, we actually have a lot of power to make positive changes to our well-being. We can shift the way we think and how we treat our bodies. As a result of these efforts, we can begin to heal and recover from the hardships we’ve experienced.
Pamela (Pami) Parker currently serves as a holistic practitioner, coach and teacher. Her intention is to be a compassionate guide to those who choose to experience a healthier, happier and more peaceful way of life.