7 wellness changes I made in 2020 that will help you conquer 2021

Dr. Alok Patel
·5 min read
New Year
New Year

Dr. Alok Patel is In The Know’s wellness contributor. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter for more.

How did you pass your sheltered-in-place time in 2020? Some of us picked up unique hobbies, while others binged television (The Queen’s Gambit is awesome!) or played a pathologic amount of Nintendo Switch with our high school friends (don’t judge me). 

With all the new adjustments we also, hopefully, learned something about ourselves. I’m not talking about spiritual reckonings; I’m referring to functional changes to keep ourselves motivated and energized, despite being stuck at home.

Throughout this year, I felt overwhelmed and developed headaches, my digestion turned on me, my productivity fled town and my sleep cycle was non-existent. I went back to the basic tenets of good health to keep my battery charged, and I’m going to let you peer into my 2020 health diary.

Here are the seven life changes I made this year that I should’ve made a long time ago:

I learned to avoid “tech neck

The dome on top of your shoulders weighs around 10 to 12 pounds. Like many others, I spent a lot of time year tilting my head forward whether I was on my phone or on my seventeenth Zoom call of the week. All this took a toll on the muscles in the back of my neck and during summer, I began having daily headaches, all courtesy of “tech neck.” I made a few adjustments to my computer height and stretched — a lot! — during long work sessions. Problem solved.

I stopped multitasking

I know several people who claim to be “great multitaskers” and talk on the phone while watching the news while writing an email. Reality check: Our brains are not designed to multitask. In the spring, I noticed it was taking me hours to get through my to-do list. I put my ego aside, ditched the multitasking and, all of a sudden, I didn’t feel as rushed. Neuroscience doesn’t lie.

I upped my fiber intake

This is the least sexy change I made, but one of the most important. During the summer, I made a video bashing on “slimming tummy tea” and talked about the importance of dietary fiber. I was one of the many Americans taking in only half the recommended amount of 25-30 grams of fiber per day, even though I was well aware of all of its health benefits. I started practicing what I preached, made friends with fiber and — voila! — I felt more energetic and more… regular.

I started a “diet and productivity” journal

I told my virtual trainer about how burned out I was and, alongside other tips, he recommended I track my mood with what I had eaten that day and when. Thanks to patterns I identified, I now eat breakfast at a specific time interval after coffee, avoid legumes at night and eat three small lunches, in addition to other small changes. Try it out for yourself — your blood sugar, gut and work efficiency will applaud you.

I kept journaling, for gratitude

Prior to this year, I had zero drive to write down my thoughts. That all changed after I met an entrepreneur who is on a mission to eliminate the stigma of mental illness. She sent me a journal with prompts about goals, intentions and gratitude. I gave it a whirl and found more mental clarity. Speaking of which…

I welcomed meditation back into my life

I used to regularly meditate. I then stopped for no great reason. My wife noticed I was becoming an anxious mess and recommended I read 10% Happier, written by ABC News journalist and meditation practitioner, Dan Harris. Later, I was interviewed by the founder of Headspace, Andy Puddicombe, and after this and the book, I reintroduced meditation into my life. Meditation can be a tool for many medical conditions and can keep you from spiraling out of control during long hospital shifts — I speak from experience.

I paid attention to sleep hygiene

No, that is not referring to the cleanliness of your bedsheets. Sleep hygiene refers to a routine that’ll help you go to bed and stay asleep. The benefits of sleep are widespread — gone is the mantra, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I find it ironic when people preach immune-boosting supplements, which don’t work, and ignore the proven immunity benefits of sleep. I learned to put down the screens, stayed consistent with meditation and did everything I could to keep a consistent bedtime. As a hypomanic soul, this was the most difficult health goal of 2020, but it’s done wonders for my mood and workflow.

__________

By now, you either think I’m weird or that I’m a walking motivational poster, but either way, if I can convince you to adopt a few of these practices, I’ll live with the ridicule. 

The changes you never knew you needed could be as simple as a 10-minute meditation, placing your computer at eye level or treating yourself to a source of insoluble fiber in the morning. The basic principles of wellness don’t require you to shell out money for fad diets, magic pills or superfoods. Take a moment and listen to your body, your aches, pains and groans. 

Then, raise a glass with me to highly anticipated 2021 and the end of this hellish excuse for a year.

If you enjoyed this story, check out Dr. Alok Patel’s rundown of how to spot health misinformation online.

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