Social media overconsumption. The COVID 19 pounds. Stresses about money and about life. UF experts in wellness, exercise and more share tips for making 2021 a little calmer than last year.
5 Ways to Improve Your Health
Expert: Kathryn Ross (MS ’09, MPH ’12, PhD ’13), UF assistant professor of clinical and health psychology, focuses on how people make and maintain healthy changes
In the best of times, health and behavioral changes can be hard to make and stick to long term. Compound that with the complications of the pandemic, such as working from home, homeschooling children, avoiding social events and the like, and it may feel impossible to attempt and keep virtually any New Year’s resolution. This is why a change of approach is in order. Here are tips to consider:
- Get up and move. Like many teachers and office workers, I’m sitting in Zoom meetings all day now. Just getting up and walking for five minutes between meetings can do wonders for your mood and health: every little bit matters. You don’t have to run a marathon to experience the benefits of activity — many of the health benefits come from the initial movement of getting up and taking those first steps. You can also split up activity to reach larger goals. We know from research that you get similar benefits from three 10-minute walks as one 30-minute walk.
- Get more sleep. Sleep is a huge driver of physical and mental health, but you can’t will yourself into sleep. Try to make changes in your schedule to leave room for enough sleep, and limit electronics before bed. Being consistent with your sleep schedule is also important. We think we can make up sleep on the weekends, but it often doesn’t produce the restoration we need.
- Make small, reachable goals and avoid “all-or-nothing” thinking. We are often ambitious when setting new goals, but that can backfire. It is important to set goals that are attainable even when your schedule doesn’t perfectly follow your plans. For instance, plan to go for a walk two or three days this week instead of every day. You can still go for more walks on other days if you have time, but leaving flexibility can help you not feel like you’ve failed if you can’t fit in a walk one day. Similarly, it is important to avoid overly-restrictive changes if you are trying to change your eating patterns. Many fad diets are like get-rich-quick schemes: they often suggest huge changes that aren’t sustainable. In the end, they often don’t work and can make you feel worse. Small changes build over time and allow for the things that make you feel good.
- Stop focusing on willpower. While we tend to blame ourselves for what we eat and how active we are, our environments have a huge impact on behavior. Some aspects of your environment may be hard to change (e.g., if your town doesn’t have sidewalks that make walking safe and easy), but you can often make changes to your home and work environments to support your health behaviors. For example, put the foods you want to eat more frequently front and center in your refrigerator. Prep fruits and vegetables to make it easy to grab healthy snacks on the go. For foods you want to limit, try the “out of sight, out of mind” approach: avoid keeping them at home or store them in cabinets or harder to reach areas in your refrigerator/freezer.
- Don’t forget stress management. Staying physically active plays a huge role in managing stress, sleep and weight. The pandemic has created many additional stress layers that can undermine progress and result in giving up quicker. When you feel like you’re spinning, try taking three to five deep breaths while focusing on the feeling of the air moving in and out of your lungs. Little breaks throughout the day can add up.
With all of these tips, remember that we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Be kind to yourself and know that coming up short on any of your goals does not mean you’ve failed. Instead of focusing on what you haven’t accomplished, practice gratitude toward what you have been able to manage and set small goals for moving forward.
7 Tips for Controlling Social Media Consumption
Expert: Andy Selepak (PhD ’11), UF’s social media master’s program coordinator and lecturer
When looking at your social media accounts and timelines there are two main sources of negativity that can drag you down: people who post inflammatory or negative messages, and those who share or retweet those messages. During 2020’s litany of challenges, those negative messages exacerbated our collective sense of doom and gloom.
Here are a few ways to adjust your SM consumption to make you feel better about yourself and the world in general:
- If you want more positivity, stay away from Twitter. That platform is often used by those who want to rant and express unnecessary vitriol. For instance, I follow Pope Francis on Twitter and I am always shocked by the number of negative comments on his posts. This is because of the anonymity of Twitter and because the platform is 1:everyone, whereas Facebook is 1:1 or 1:your network and comments are limited to people you know.
- Set yourself up for success. Subscribe to a few accounts that consistently post positive, funny or uplifting messages, such as British actor Sir Patrick Stewart’s YouTube channel #ASonnetADay. Also, try following nostalgia accounts. I follow nostalgic video game, sports and hometown accounts that share old pictures and memories. Since the pandemic, people tend to look at the past as being better than the present. It’s a nice way to reflect and take a break from what’s going on now. I follow my mother’s hometown in Northern Ireland, my dad’s hometown in Pennsylvania and the elementary school I attended.
- Be selective with your rabbit holes. SM platforms use algorithms that are built to keep feeding us content that will keep us using the platform. It’s not in chronological order. The stories we’re fed are based on our own actions and behaviors (the more negative content you consume, the more they’ll feed you negative content). Retrain your brain to look at more positive things. Search out, like and comment on the more positive stories, and then the algorithm will give you positive content.
- Stop the rubber necking! “Doom scrolling” happens when we consume all this negative content and almost can’t stop. With so many negative stories in the world — protests, civil wars in other countries, natural disasters, etc. — it becomes like a car crash that we can’t look away from. This drags us down in how we’re feeling, which can influence our mood, our decisions and our human relationships.
- Force yourself to take breaks. Schedule a few times a month when you set your phone aside for hours or even a whole day. It’s difficult to do because SM is almost Pavlovian in that when we hear a notification, we have to look. Platforms know we respond this way. I challenge my students to not look at their phones when they hear those notifications. Just let your phone sit there. Do opposite what the SM platforms want you to do.
- Use SM to your advantage. It’s easy to feel like we’ve spent so much of 2020 at home with our lives passing us by. So, use your SM accounts to learn something new about history, hobbies, pop culture or current events. You can use this time to avoid the world or you can use your time to make it better. YouTube, in particular, can be a great outlet because I pick exactly which videos I watch and how much I want to watch. Consequently, YouTube has learned my interests and tailored suggested videos and I have learned more about areas I never studied in history and psychology.
- Be proactive. Facebook offers a “30-day snooze” option that can hide posts from people or pages. It’s better than “unfollowing” because it allows you to hide their content for a month and avoids the chance you’ll forget to refollow that person. Try it out. You can always “unsnooze” them too.
7 Steps for Better Financial Health
Expert: Mike Gutter, associate dean and expert in personal finance for UF/IFAS
2020 profoundly affected the personal finances of many of us, whether a change in expenses or loss of income. While we cannot control some of these variables, here are seven ways we can work on improving our financial health moving forward (with links to UF/IFAS resources):
- Talk openly about finances and changing economic conditions at least once a month with household members. Being transparent can reduce feelings of isolation and help everyone understand why certain decisions are being made. (Learn more at 9 Important Communication Skills for Every Relationship.)
- Set financial growth goals. These can be as simple as increasing savings for a vacation, reducing debt or paying bills on time. Setting goals and sharing them with others makes you accountable. (Visit Building a Spending Plan, Step 1.)
- Organize. Simplify decision-making by putting all electronic statements and paper records in one master system. Your system should encompass income, expenses, financial assets and financial obligations. (See Building a Spending Plan.)
- Automate your savings. Save the right amount in the right account for your goals. This can be an Individual Retirement Account or maybe a 529 plan for your child’s education. (View Slam Dunk Your Savings.)
- Build an emergency fund instead of using credit for hard times. Start small and work toward eventually having enough for three to six months of expenses. (Learn how at Saving for Future Use.)
- Stretch your dollars with a flexible savings account, which allows you to use pretax dollars for out-of-pocket healthcare and/or childcare. (Check with your employer.)
- Become a frugal food shopper. Feed your family nutritious meals while saving money at the checkout. (Follow UF/IFAS guide to savvy grocery shopping.)
Reclaim Your Emotional Balance
Expert: Carol Lewis (MS ’83, PhD ’86, MPH ’14), UF clinical associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and founding member of the trauma-responsive initiative Peace4Gainesville
The trials of last year have left many of us anxious, on edge and depressed. Commit to a better 2021 by taking daily steps to restore your emotional balance. This begins on the physical level with sleeping seven to nine hours nightly, eating three times a day and aiming for at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise a day. On top of that, follow these calming routines.
- Do at least one pleasant activity daily and pay attention while you’re doing it. Put your mind on the pleasant activity (instead of worries or sad thoughts) and redirect your attention back to the activity as many times as you need to.
- Breathe slowly, deeply and rhythmically for five minutes or more each day, inhaling calm and exhaling tension. Maybe breathe to music or use a phone app or website like calm.com or Stop, Breathe & Think.
- Practice mindful thinking. It’s healthy to bring attention to the present moment as often as you can:
- Step 1: Notice your thoughts. Thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky. When you find yourself thinking a worry thought or a sad thought, you don’t have to keep thinking about it. It’s not always the right time to think about issues or problems.
- Step 2: Allow yourself to gently let go of your wandering, worrying or sad thoughts without judging.
- Step 3: Find a different focus, gently redirecting your attention to something else, like an image (maybe your pet or a beautiful place), a word (maybe “relax” or “calm”), your breath or your five senses (like the taste of a mint). You’ll get better at this the more you practice.
- Step 4: Set aside time to think about the issue or problem that was bothering you. Aim for 30 minutes or fewer one to two times per week, during daytime hours, followed by an activity to direct your thoughts away from the problem and back to now. When your mind wanders to the problem or issue later in the day, notice it, gently let it go and find a different focus.
3 Tips to Jumpstart a New Exercise Program
Expert: Joslyn Ahlgren (PhD ’09), master lecturer and undergraduate coordinator in the UF Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology
A recent survey revealed 50% of Americans making New Year’s resolutions consider “exercising more” their top priority. However, if you’ve mainly been heavy-lifting Pringles these last six months, you need proven strategies to ease into and maintain an exercise routine. Follow these tips for long-term success:
- Start low and go slow. Select a plan of action that avoids excessive soreness and/or injury. Injuries are more common among those who don’t exercise regularly, and there’s nothing quite as deflating as getting all hyped up for a healthy year just to be benched by an ankle sprain or stress fracture. For safety and the longevity of your new lifestyle, start with lower intensity, shorter duration exercises and slowly work toward longer and harder sessions. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Doing 10 to 15 minutes of exercise a day is far better than none at all. You do not need to do a 60-minute sweat-your-brains-out spin class to do something good for your body.
- Give yourself options. If there’s one thing we should all take away from 2020, it’s that knowing how to pivot is pivotal. Build in options to your weekly exercise routine. For example, if you have more time on a given day, go for a longer walk or bike ride. If you’re crunched for time, have an alternative routine ready to pull, perhaps a 15-minute circuit you could squeeze in somewhere. Having planned options at the ready will help you stick to your exercise commitment and not feel guilty for having a busy life.
- Look – and feel – for positive changes. One of the best ways to increase exercise adherence is to notice positive effects. For many, this equates to seeing pounds drop on a scale or discovering new muscles. But those effects can take a while to happen and aren’t the only goals of exercise. In fact, the psychological benefits of exercise are much more immediate, including decreased stress and anxiety, better sleep and greater self-confidence. Until the physical changes arrive, consciously focus on how exercise is making you feel. Let the positive changes in your mood carry you through the beginning stages of your new exercise program.
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