Wellness Practices That Carried Me Through 2022
Written by Laura Oviedo-Guzmán
Okay, so it’s not January anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to talk about wellness practices that helped me last year. We evolve our habits and understanding of wellness through trial and error, which is an atemporal process. Plus, what better time to talk about simple wellness habits than after the new year’s excitement has worn away and you’re about to hit midterm?
Before we get into the list, I will tell you that I’m a simple gal. Since 2021, I’ve abided by the principle of “this is the year of good enough.” For example, doing a six-minute pilates workout is better than not doing any exercise at all. I also abide by the KISS principle–“keep it simple, silly.” I refuse to have elaborate routines that increase my friction with my goal activity/mindset. Read on for my favorite, doable wellness practices that carried me through last year (and that I’ll be carrying onto 2023).
Years ago, a family friend said that if the benefits of exercise could be bottled and sold, it would be flying off the shelves. I was probably young enough where it was less cringey to scowl and walk away as a response. Despite my disdain about being reminded that movement is a basic need for us, their words were stored in my brain. Years later, when taking Personal Health and Wellness (HLSC 1010), I came across an article that called exercise the “polypill” against many mental and physical conditions–“a single treatment with at least 13 documented health benefits” (Sims-Gould et al., 2017)–, essentially echoing my friend’s words.
I tried many forms of exercise in 2022–barre, HIIT, hot yoga–and while they all have their place, I could not stick to any one of them because there was too much friction between me and my target action–exercising. From too-long fitness classes to special equipment, there were too many steps to complete before I could begin to reap the benefits of exercise. For me, walking was the answer.
Walking epitomizes the KISS principle where exercise is concerned. I can do it anywhere, and it doesn’t require any special equipment. If available to you, all you need is comfortable footwear and weather-appropriate clothing before you’re off. Additionally, you can walk outdoors at your gym, around the uni, or at one of the few near-ghost malls in Lethbridge. If all else fails, you can walk in circles around your living room. For example, I did this for 1,000 steps once, and I was determined to hit my goal of 10,000 steps daily.
You’ll be happy to know that the 10,000 steps a day is not as important as some people make them out to be. In a journal article from 2018, Hallam et al. report that you can reap the mood-boosting benefits without reaching the step target when walking, especially if you’re walking with someone (p. 5). What matters is that you meet the 150-minute-per-day requirement set by the World Health Organization (2022), which works out to about a 22-minute walk a day. If that sounds like too much at once, you can always split it into two, 11-minute walks. Remember, KISS!
Okay, I can feel the eye-rolls from here, across space-time. You do not have to be religious or even spiritual to practice gratitude. What I do is that I spend a few minutes each night thinking about all the wonderful beings in my life–my family, my partner, my dog, the aunts and uncles I haven’t seen in a decade, and even the neighbor who kindly sets our garbage bins out for collection each week. I basically run down the list until I fall asleep. You can think about anyone you want. Include your friends, your favorite profs, and the kind barista you see on your regular trips to the Coffee Company. There is no limit to who you can feel grateful to, and I truly believe that I’m better off recognizing the value in the people with who I share tangential relationships.
The next day, upon waking, I open my eyes and think fondly about last night’s sleep, the bed I slept on, and waking up. If I still struggle to get out of bed, I think about how grateful I am to have the opportunity to go to work (school for you, probably) and learn something new. Some days getting out of bed is a little harder. If this happens to you too, and you happen to share the habit of showering in the morning, you have a second opportunity to do this exercise.
A while ago, I came across an Instagram post from one of those borderline-sigma male pages where the creator stated they shower with cold water at the beginning of their shower, typically for one minute. They use this minute to list everything they’re grateful for. From experience, I can tell you it’s really difficult to get through a full minute–I’ve only managed about 40 seconds. I can also tell you it’s really difficult not to find something or someone to add to the list of little gratitudes, even if it is to distract myself as the clock runs out.
Lastly–and look away if you hate prayer and mentions of a higher power–I do put things in “God’s hands” when I don’t know when I’m freaking out. I’m not saying anything new when I say life is full of unpredictable events and situations that frustrate us and make us feel pain. Before I pray, I fall into the trap of mulling things over, thinking that if I think enough, I will find myself an answer to whatever weirdness is happening. When my hippocampus is all tuckered out, I realize I’m getting nowhere and say to myself I don’t understand what’s going on, and it sucks, but I know I will learn something from this. I finally accepted that doing this was okay and not a cop-out when I wrote a paper about how refugee survivors of torture coped with the aftereffects of traumatic events. One of the salient coping skills was having faith in a higher power because it allowed them to interrupt trying to find the cause of their experience (Taylor et al., 2020). In other words, it puts the distance between themselves and their experience, giving their brain a break. The distance allowed them to focus on hope and all the new possibilities that were available to them in a safer environment. I figured that if it’s good enough for people with deeply disheartening experiences, I could at least try it for the stress I feel about scary-to-me situations. Ultimately, understanding that life is not under my control is really helping me navigate it in a more mindful and calm way.
The final tip I have for you is to eat breakfast if you can stomach it. I had always been a breakfast person. In my country, it’s typical to eat scrambled eggs, scallions, and finely chopped tomatoes mixed together for breakfast. Add to that some bread, a little prism of cheese, and fresh orange juice, and you have a wholesome, nutritious breakfast. In 2021, I strayed from my typical, varied breakfast and began relying on some sweet pastry and coffee to start my day. I was so cranky and felt like I couldn’t really enjoy eggs if I ate them in the morning because I felt a little nauseous.
One day, at the start of Soup Season, I googled breakfast soup and was met with the most offending obvious answer–changua, a soup from my home country Colombia. I felt secondhand embarrassed for myself through my grandparents and resolved to make it the next morning.
Here’s the dead-easy recipe (sorry, vegans!):
1 cup water
2 cups milk
2 scallions chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
Cilantro, optional but strongly recommended
Bread and butter
Combine the liquid ingredients with the salt and pepper. Once it boils, crack the eggs into the mixture and add the scallions. Wait three minutes. Add the cilantro and serve with buttered bread on the side.
You can always halve the recipe if you don’t want leftovers, but I recommend cooling the rest if you have time and storing it in the fridge for the next day.
Another easy breakfast? A half cup of cottage cheese, a few raspberries, and honey, with a piece of toast on the side. If I have time, I’ll scramble an egg, but I’ll always start with cottage cheese and fruit.
Bonus tip: Dry brushing!
Dry brushing has changed me for the better. Yes, it’s wonderful to have a smooth canvas on which I can apply lotion later, helping my legs feel like dolphins when I rub them against my sheets at night, but the biggest thing for me is how it prevents and treats ingrown hairs. Dry brushing helps promote circulation and exfoliates the outer layer of the skin. Increased circulation means that our skin gets the nutrients it needs to power cell turnover. Exfoliation mean that the outer layer of skin is removed, bringing the ingrown culprit closer to the surface.
Dry brushing is also great for waking yourself up because the firm bristles leave your skin feeling invigorated. The slight discomfort (read, pain) that you feel when the brush makes contact with your skin promotes the release of endorphins, which help you feel well and counteract pain. It will be uncomfortable for as long as you do it, but the more you do it, the more you begin to crave dry brushing for its after effects.
Remember, don’t dry brush if you have sensitive or broken skin. Begin from the lower half of the body–the ankles–and work your way up. You do not need to mash the brush against your skin; medium-light pressure is all you need. For a great guide on how to drybrush, visit the Cleveland Clinic’s Health Essentials page on dry brushing.
Hallam, K. T., Bilsborough, S., & de Courten, M. (2018). “Happy feet”: evaluating the benefits of a 100-day 10,000 step challenge on mental health and wellbeing. BMC Psychiatry, 18(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-018-1609-y
Sims-Gould, J., Vazirian, S., Li, N., Remick, R., & Khan, K. (2017). Jump step – a community based participatory approach to physical activity & mental wellness. BMC Psychiatry, 17(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-017-1476-y
Taylor, S., Charura, D., Williams, G., Shaw, M., Allan, J., Cohen, E., Meth, F., & O’Dwyer, L. (2020). Loss, grief, and growth: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of experiences of trauma in asylum seekers and refugees. Traumatology. https://doi.org/10.1037/trm0000250
Wellness Team. (2015, January 26). The Truth About Dry Brushing and What It Does for You. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic; Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/the-truth-about-dry-brushing-and-what-it-does-for-you/
WHO. (2022, October 5). Physical activity. Physical Activity; World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity