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3 Small Hacks for a Healthy New Year


Dec. 15, 2019 Psychology Today

As another year winds down, are you feeling a little exhausted and worn out?  If you’re nodding your head, know that you are in good company, with less than 20% of people reporting that they’re feeling on top of the world at this time of the year.  So as you head into a new year, how can you find the energy to be at your best for the people you care most about?

“Often we put in so much effort trying to serve others, that we can overlook what we need ourselves,” explained Tom Rath, author of Eat, Move, Sleep, when I interviewed him recently.  “Unfortunately, the reality is that when you’re run down and low in energy, you’re likely to be less effective at work and home.”  

In fact, studies have found that when your energy levels are high, you’re three times more likely to be engaged in your work, and be at your best for others.  The reality is that if you want to make a difference for others, you firstly need to take care of your own health and energy.

So what are the smallest choices that can have the biggest impact?

Research suggests that eating, moving, and sleeping well are the keys to having more physical and emotional energy throughout your day, and can act as buffers against stress.  When you eat, move, and sleep well, you can do more for others.  

Tom pointed out that it’s important to tackle each of these areas simultaneously, as letting one area slip can lead to a negative spiral of energy.  For example, a poor night of sleep can lead to skipping your gym workout and grabbing a high sugar snack from the vending machine later in the day.  On the other hand, doing any one of these things – eating, moving, or sleeping – well can lead to an upward spiral in the other two areas.

The good news is that changing the way you eat, move, and sleep doesn’t necessarily require a grand plan, but can start with the next small choice you make in your day.  Tom suggested trying:

  • Eating Wisely – Making better choices about what you eat can improve your energy and mood.  Foods that are highly processed and include sugars or trans-fatty acids can have a negative impact, whereas when you eat more green leafy vegetables, whole fruits, and whole foods, you’re more likely to feel calmer and happier and have more energy.  Studies also suggest increasing your protein intake while, at the same time, reducing carbohydrates, improves your health over time.

Your Wellbeing Hack: Be A Food Accountant – Most meals contain both good and bad ingredients such as high nutrient content, as well as an excess of sugar, and chances are you may eat some foods that are less than ideal, several times a day.  Try to do some mental accounting based on what you know about the components and ask yourself if what you are about to eat is a net gain or loss.  When you make a choice that does more good than harm, such as opting for a salad over a burger, the resulting net gain gives your body a positive charge.  But deciding to drink a sugary soda instead of water produces a net loss.  As you continue to ask this question, you should become better at making decisions in the moment.

  • Moving Regularly – Not moving well is one of the biggest global public health problems, and this includes not enough physical activity, as well as too much sitting.  When we sit for long periods of time, the electrical activity in our legs shuts off, and that can do more accumulative damage than not getting 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity each day.  Moving regularly, in small bursts of activity, improves your physical energy, and can also help you think better.

Your Wellbeing Hack: Get Moving – Challenge yourself to add a little bit more activity into your everyday routine.  For example, walk around while you’re on the phone, or go out for a brief walk to the second-closest coffee shop to grab your coffee.  And when you start to see the returns on energy from these movements, look for ways to move even more, while you’re getting work done, such as having a treadmill at your desk.  

  • Sleep Well – It’s important to see every hour of sleep as an investment in your future, not an expense.  Unfortunately, many of us have experienced cultures where you get bragging rights for how little sleep you can survive on.  However, losing 90 minutes of sleep can cost up to a third of your productivity the next day, and can reduce your competency and creativity in afternoon meetings.  Over time, a consistent lack of sleep can be dangerous, as the effects are similar to being intoxicated as you go about your work and life.

Your Wellbeing Hack:Create A Bedtime Routine – Create a routine where you minimize bright light from any sources in the hours leading up to your bedtime, and ensure your bedroom is a few degrees cooler than the temperature you are accustomed to throughout the day.  Try to create a culture in your organization where enough sleep is highly valued and sacred, by discouraging late-night emails and having discussions about the effects of lack of sleep.

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