Laura Weeks, Rehabilitation Counseling graduate student, Maryville University
We’ve all done it. It’s the start of a new year and we begin with grand intentions – lose twenty pounds, throw out all of the sugar, create a calming sleep routine, or finally develop that 6:00 am running habit that our sister, cousin, and next-door neighbor all seem to have mastered. After a month or two of gathering around tables to share food, friendship, cultural rituals, and more food at the end of the year, January often serves as a fresh start, a renewed awareness of the importance of physical health in the overall wellness picture. We set out to transform into a stronger, healthier, “better” version of ourselves, knowing that when our bodies function without pain or illness, we are better able to pursue social, intellectual, and other interests. Sometimes we follow through with our intentions, sometimes not; we could always try again the next year.
However, the past 24 months of living with a potentially life-threatening pandemic has added layers of complexity to this idea of physical wellness as we grappled with closures, restrictions, and the very real fear of exposing ourselves and loved ones to illness. The rules have changed. Suddenly, the stakes are much higher than numbers on a scale, and our ability to improve our body’s functioning no longer lies completely within our control. Every choice – going to the gym, visiting the doctor, buying healthy food at the store – involves some element of risk. Personal physical health has suddenly become a public, and at times, political, issue, intimately tied to the decisions of those around us. How do we adjust to this new reality? While our initial response of catching up on must see tv and over snacking in isolation worked as a temporary solution, perhaps we now need to reconceptualize what physical wellness means and to adopt new approaches to help navigate what could be a long term situation.
1. Stay Informed.
Put yourself in a position to make good health decisions by gathering scientific information from reliable sources. Fact Check is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that publishes articles and statistics regarding covid vaccines, new variants, mask effectiveness and more. In addition, the CDC updates state and local case numbers, hospitalization rates daily and is the most up to date source of quarantine, isolation and other safety recommendations.
2. Establish and Respect Boundaries.
We each have the right to make our own individual choices, yet we must also acknowledge that those choices affect others, perhaps even those who do not share our beliefs. Do you feel strongly about vaccination? Does wearing a mask in public make you feel the most comfortable or are you okay without one? Are you ready to go to concerts or other indoor events where neither of these are required? Decide what works for you and those closest to you and then communicate those needs as you interact with your work, school, social, or other community environment. It is okay to decline an invitation, choose a different path than your best friend, or express another opinion as long as it is done with respect.
3. Explore New Ways to Engage in Activities that Improve Physical Wellness.
The fitness industry, like many others, has evolved and adapted over the past two years to fit current circumstances. While many of us may feel fine returning to the gym and pilates studios, that is not the case for everyone, and persons with disabilities or suppressed immune systems may not have the choice to venture back into “normal” environments. If in-person activities are not a good option for you, try expanding your idea of what is possible; most gyms now offer online classes which can be safe and extremely affordable options. With a bit of googling, one can find yoga, meditation, pilates, and even dance classes via Zoom, both live and recorded, allowing flexibility whatever your current work or school schedule may be.
4. Do Sweat the Small Stuff.
Although grand, sweeping resolutions may feel better in the moment, change is best made in small increments. Given all the obstacles and stressors of the past two years, perhaps 2022 is the time to focus on the less glamorous daily habits that can make a huge difference in the long term: buy a pill case to make remembering daily prescriptions easier, establish a consistent bed time and stick to it, engage in physical activity where social distancing is easier to maintain such as walking the dog – it all adds up. Give yourself some leeway to set manageable, achievable goals.
5. Remember, we are all in this Together.
In many ways, Covid-19 has reduced physical wellness down to its most basic element, the prevention of active illness, which can only be achieved through community effort. Our actions can have a direct impact upon the health of others and those with less access to information and healthcare can be at a significant disadvantage. Be considerate of those around you, check in on neighbors with a phone call or wave through the front door, wear a mask if a friend or business asks you to, offer to drive a family member to a vaccination site if transportation issues prevent them from getting a booster shot. If the past two years of living with the uncertainty of a global pandemic has taught us anything, perhaps it is the lesson that in order to truly be well, we need to look beyond ourselves and take care of one another.