Breaking Free from the Chains

10 Ideas for a Fresh New Year

It goes without saying that with the new year also comes new opportunities for self-improvement. Health is not merely represented by someone’s physical fitness, weight or appearance. It is often your mental and spiritual health that deserves a closer look in order to live your best life, up to your greatest potential.

In our modern-day society, there are aspects of our ever-evolving culture that can seem extremely negative or difficult to navigate, which can impact society’s level of positivity and attitude (which quickly infiltrates our day-to-day lives). However, 2020 can be the year that the negative perspective changes … for everyone. Aren’t you tired of all the complaining? This is the chance to break free from aspects of your life that hold you back. Regardless of what chaos, change or life event may be going on in your world, your mindset and the example you set for others when it comes to issues everyone struggles with from time to time can really make a difference in your ability to experience joy and pass on a sense of hope. So, what are you waiting for? There are areas and struggles you can focus on overcoming in 2020, guaranteed to make a positive impact on the people in your sphere of influence. The time is now!

1. Body Image – Life is too short to spend another day at war with yourself.

One look in the mirror after a month of celebrating the holidays and hitting the food or booze a little too hard can really damage someone’s self-image. What is the most helpful hint to moving past that feeling? Understanding that, primarily, our bodies are always in a temporary state. Don’t like what you see? You can change that! But, most importantly, there is no “right” way anyone has to look to love what they see in the mirror. Consider you are a unique and special creation made for a purpose. God creates no accidents. Realizing and celebrating your uniqueness is part of fulfilling your ultimate purpose.

Our world portrays an impossible standard when it comes to physical appearance. As cited in the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, “Eighty-five percent of women say they opt out of important life activities when they do not feel good about the way they look.”

We could all look like models with a little Photoshopping, but having a positive body image is more than being OK with change. It is accepting where you are in your physical journey. What are some of the things you like about yourself? Maybe you have gorgeous eyes, fabulous hair or great skin. We can find much more wonderful things about ourselves than flaws. And you can easily help point out positive uniqueness in men and women, helping to give them new confidence, battle an eating disorder or stop punishing themselves with an abundance or lack of food. 

2. Giving Back – You can always show people how important they are to you.

Nothing feels better than giving back to the community you call home. Making a difference for someone or something bigger than yourself can demonstrate how needed and beneficial you are to your community and peers. Everyone is given a unique set of skills, so embrace yours and use them to give back! Empathy for others can help remind you of your blessings and the gifts you possess that can be used to enhance your community.

Amid a complex climate for charitable giving, American individuals, foundations and corporations gave an estimated $427.71 billion to U.S. charities in 2018, according to Giving USA 2019: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2018. From churches and local nonprofits to the PTA or a nearby animal shelter, people are always in need of a little help. You can get creative in your approach to giving back or simply get online and quickly sign up to make a difference.

3. Healthy Diet – Building a healthy body requires a strong mindset.

A lot of times, especially around this time of year, fad diets or diet aid information is plastered to social media newsfeeds. While programs like Weight Watchers or going on the Keto Diet produce temporary results for some, it is the ability to change your lifestyle and relationship with food that is the most impactful long-term. 

On average, Americans spend more than $60 billion every year to try to lose pounds with weight-loss programs. With the obesity rate among U.S. adults averaging at 31.1 percent, many need to instill practical, daily habits that help keep disease away. What you put in your body impacts what your body can do. It can harm or heal. Food is the most basic and important form of medicine for your life. So, choose the valuable stuff!

Having a healthier diet does not mean cutting out every carb or ounce of sugar for the rest of your life. Instead of taking drastic measures you cannot realistically maintain, create new habits like cooking at home or inviting others to share a homemade meal with you instead of eating out. The wine is just as good at home!

Ms. Simpson, the owner and wellness practitioner of The Well Nut Wellness & Nutrition Center Kerri Simpson, CHC, MH, says, “There are countless studies linked to the impact of nutrition on the health of the brain. Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen was the first brain doctor to look at the organ he was working with his patients to heal. In watching the patient’s brain scans throughout their therapies, he proved that the brain, like every other organ of the body, can heal if given the proper nutrition and environment. Some obvious nutritionals to focus on for brain health are healthy fats (omegas are not just available in fish, but also nuts, seeds and many leafy greens) and B vitamins. Deficiency in B vitamins has been linked to depression, OCD and other brain disorders.”

Jaclyn Garcia of Orangetheory Fitness shares, “Relatively new research has shown that more than 90 percent of the chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract. Simply put, this means that the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite while mediating moods, is highly influenced by the billions of good bacteria in your intestines. The types of food ingested, especially those that contain good bacteria (high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, fish/seafood and lean meats and dairy), positively impact anxiety, perception of stress and mental outlook (positivity).”

4. Gratefulness – Be the energy you want to attract.

It is far too easy to get caught up in your head or consumed by worry, whether the focus is on finances, relationships or work. Sometimes, it takes a shift in perspective to be able to see the good in a situation that has become twisted into something negative or stressful. This is where the art of gratefulness makes its play. 

Gratitude can help improve your mental health, help you get better sleep, improve self-esteem, reduce stress and improve your relationships. However, only 20 percent of Americans rate gratitude as a positive and constructive emotion. Grateful people sleep better, have reduced aggression and see an increase in mental strength. “Gratitude can reduce toxic emotions such as envy and resentment. Practicing gratitude also promotes pro-social behavior (less retaliation or revenge-seeking). We live in a culture that breeds negativity, so practicing gratitude is definitely going against the grain. However, those who choose to be rebels and practice anyway find themselves sleeping better, having higher self-esteem and are mentally more tough,” says Jennifer Bradt, MS, LPC-S, NCC of Frisco’s Planting Seeds Counseling & Coaching.

Gratefulness is a feeling of appreciation and a positive response shown by the recipient of kindness, gifts, help, favors or other types of generosity towards the giver of such gifts. How can you learn to be more grateful? Express yourself, practice mindfulness and live in the moment. Every day say at least three things aloud that were positive about your day. This is also a great way for your whole family to bond and share experiences. Use the gift of technology to connect with loved ones and send good vibes that remind someone you are grateful for them. You can even write a good, old-fashioned thank you note. “There are studies that show an attitude of gratitude contributes to an overall increase in one’s sense of well-being and positivity. Dwelling on the good in our lives invites more good,” Ms. Simpson says.

5. Self Love – The way you speak to yourself matters.

Regard for one’s own well-being and happiness should be at the root of all major life decisions. Why is respecting yourself one of the most difficult things to do? It is easy to admire someone else’s looks, family life, finances, accomplishments, etc., but when it comes to accepting ourselves for who we really are, it seems we often fall short. 

This is why mental health is one of the most important aspects of someone’s life. In fact, five percent of adults (43.8 million people) experience a mental illness within any year. While visiting a counselor or psychiatrist is a great place to start in addressing concerns you have for yourself or others, taking part in talk therapy on a regular basis can have an astronomical impact on someone’s personal growth and stability. Forget the dated stigmas society has taught people to believe about asking for extra help. Enduring difficult circumstances and overcoming any fears you have can help you be the best parent, sibling or friend you can be.

As cited in the recent Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, “Eight out of 10 women feel some pressure to never make mistakes or show weakness.” Impossible! You do not have to trade authenticity for the approval of others. Act on what you need rather than what you or anyone else wants. Set boundaries, forgive yourself and live with liberty and intention!

6. Sleep & Reflection – Taking care of yourself is how you take your power back.

“The big three, as I call them, are good sleep, eat and exercise. Sticking to the big three is the foundation for managing stressful chapters in your life,” shares Katrina Watland, the founder of TrueNorth Coaching and Consulting in Frisco.

Did you know the average adult needs at least seven hours of sleep every night? And, one in three adults do not reach that goal? Children need between eight and 10 hours of sleep to function properly. “Sleep deprivation is directly linked to increased cases of anxiety and depression. Getting restful, uninterrupted sleep could be the missing link for many people who struggle to find happiness and peace in life,” says Ms. Simpson.

“Sleep deprivation can lead to behaviors that mimic ADHD, can cause symptoms of anxiety and depression and can lead to numerous physical problems,”
adds Ms. Bradt.

When it comes to prioritizing exercise, according to guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adults should shoot for 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous physical activity every week. Simple, healthy habits can start with taking the dog for a walk through the neighborhood, joining a local dance studio, cleaning … anything that gets you on your feet and moving. Prioritizing exercise can entail more than just hitting the gym every day or an early-morning, torturous boot camp. “Exercise is known to increase production of endorphins, so we know it can contribute to a more positive outlook. In addition to that biochemical benefit, it is also very nice to just take time to make a healthy choice for yourself on a routine basis. Exercise will positively impact health, body image and self-esteem,” Ms. Simpson shares. 

“The biggest pieces of advice when starting a new routine are to start small and progress gradually – exercise is about you achieving your results – bringing out the best, most healthy version of yourself, independent of others. Exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality (specifically increasing the amount of time in deep sleep – the type of sleep needed to boost immune function and support cardiac health), increase sleep duration (how much time you spend sleeping), reduce stress and relieve anxiety (both common causes of sleep problems),” says Ms. Garcia.

While it may not come naturally, prioritizing time to reflect on your life, emotions, challenges and successes can provide some outstanding clarity. “Reflection or meditation/mindfulness is in short supply these days. We are all so plugged in, busy and in need of constant entertainment that it is difficult to slow down, close our eyes and just breathe for a few minutes. There are studies that show just stopping for 10 minutes in the morning for meditation increases focus and self-awareness while reducing stress and anxieties. There are great apps out there to introduce people to this mindfulness routine. ‘10% Happier’ is one of my favorites!” Ms. Simpson adds.

7. Social Media – Comparison is an act of violence against yourself.

It seems more people are deciding to take social media hiatuses or cancel accounts all together. While social media provides the ability to promote business, keep in touch with loved ones and a platform to share experiences and opinions, it can also breed a dangerous culture of comparison, jealousy and self-doubt. Social media is only a highlight reel, and if you are feeling particularly vulnerable and see how “perfect” someone else’s life appears, it can cause some real doubt and sadness.

The average Facebook user has 155 friends but would only trust about four of them if they were faced with an actual crisis. An even weirder fact? Less people own toothbrushes than cell phones to access social media accounts … and that is a problem! 

However, there are positive aspects of social media, including being able to stay in touch with people you do not see regularly, fundraising and spreading awareness of critical topics. Are you utilizing social media as a positive, healthy outlet, or should you examine your time spent comparing yourself to others and change those habits? 

“Social media is a mixed bag when it comes to mental health. Studies show that depression rates increase within minutes of scrolling on social media. And depression rates increase as the time on social media increases,” Ms. Watland shares. “On the other hand, many people find companionship and interest groups via social media and use various platforms to stay connected to friends. As with many things in life, moderation is the key! When I work with clients on this topic, I encourage them to set healthy limits for themselves. Turn off notifications and set aside a limited amount of time to check social media. View social media posts critically. We tend to put our most pleasant, best-self versions on social media. Remember, what you are viewing does not tell the whole story. Do not compare your life to what you see on your screen. You should be spending more time with actual friends and family than you spend monitoring and posting on social media.”

8. Stress & Time Management – Break patterns in your life that are no longer serving you.

From using bullet journals and planners to apps and digital reminders, sometimes, things still slip off the radar. In 2018, a third of U.S.-based respondents visited a doctor for something stress-related, 77 percent of people regularly experience physical symptoms and 73 percent regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress. “Paying attention for behavior changes like an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, loss of appetite, irritability or excessive tearfulness will help us recognize when we have entered into unmanageable stress,” Ms. Bradt says. “Our primary goal in managing stress needs to be to consistently engage in behaviors that will reduce levels of cortisol and increase oxytocin such as safe physical touch, smiling and laughing, active and engaged listening, meditation or prayer, crying, time with a pet or doing something creative.” 

This year, you do not have to say “yes” to every single activity or situation that comes up. Saying “no” can actually help you meet your personal priorities. “Having a good support system is also helpful in managing stressful life stages. Family, friends and community or faith-based groups can all offer support when needed. A life coach is also a good option if you are looking for a neutral professional to work with,” shares Ms. Watland. 

Ms. Simpson says, “Everybody can set aside 10 minutes a day to jump out of the turmoil and breathe. Focus on something beautiful or peaceful while closing your eyes. There is something calming about putting your conscious back inside your body where you can be segregated from the demands of the day. This little brief reminder that you are not a part of the chaos unless you allow yourself to be is refreshing and calming in the most difficult times. Also, take care of you. You are no good to anyone if you do not invest in yourself. Moms are notorious for putting everyone else first no matter how exhausted and broken they are. I remind parents all the time that there is a reason they tell parents on an airplane to put their own oxygen on first. They need to take care of themselves to be there for their children. Everyday life is no different.”

9. Stand Up for Others – Build someone up and remind them they are worthy.

Just stepping up and having someone’s back, whether you know them or not, can make a huge impact. You never know what someone may be going through. Your simple act of holding the door or asking how someone’s day is going could make all the difference in the world. 

If you see something that does not sit well with you, take action! Tell someone who can help and get the ball rolling. Check on people, ask if they need help and use your skills or time to help make a situation better. This builds trust, credibility and confidence in both you and the person you want to help. School-age children are faced with scenarios where they can help stand up for someone who may be being bullied or tormented by peers. 

As simple as it sounds, sometimes, treating others the way you would want to be treated solves a lot of problems. When you know your values, it can help you make clear and calm decisions to help others. So, surround yourself with people who add value to your life – who challenge you and build you up!

10. Eradicating Violence – Fear is the thief of dreams.

With public and school shootings on a terrifying rise, it can be easy to let fear get in the way of day-to-day life. The heartbreaking conversations parents find themselves having with kids are extremely difficult. Terroristic threats and governmental issues completely out of your control can leave you with a sense of hopelessness … not to mention resentment toward that one over-opinionated friend on Facebook.

According to The Associated Press, “A majority of Americans see schools as less safe than they were 20 years ago. Bullying, availability of guns and social media are often blamed for school shootings.”

While raising kids comes with more than enough challenges, it can be encouraging when young adults take a stand against the violence they are often exposed to at such young ages. And this generation is seeing kids of all ages defend what they believe will make their futures, and the futures of their peers, as bright as possible. 

As a society, we are (slowly) learning more about helping each other and recognizing when an individual could be at a breaking point. Despite the unbelievable tragedy U.S. families have to face, there is hope. Counselors and safety officers at schools have taken countless new precautions and measures to keep children safe. This generation has the opportunity to implement real change in how violence is viewed and managed in society. 

“In the 2018-19 school year, the Frisco ISD added dozens of new positions to relieve school counselors of duties unrelated to counseling, giving them more time to support students’ social, emotional and mental health needs. The FISD hired more student assistance coordinators and implemented new processes for referring students in crisis for intervention, support and treatment,” says Stephanie Cook, the FISD managing director of guidance and counseling. The focus on student mental health and emotional well-being will continue and the FISD plans to introduce threat assessment teams that will use a defined process to identify students who may exhibit warning signs or behaviors that could compromise school safety and will connect students to support resources.

Jon Bodie, the FISD emergency manager shares, “The FISD has partnered with the Frisco Police Department to provide ongoing, in-person active threat training to employees. The hands-on, scenario-based training provides staff members with options for responding to an active threat, which will better prepare them to protect themselves and others during an actual incident. We are constantly reviewing existing safety and security procedures to identify potential areas for improvement.”