The end of the year is a great time to reflect. We learn, experience, accomplish, struggle and celebrate so much in the course of 12 months. I won’t bore you with the intimate details of my year, but I wanted to share some of the most valuable – and surprising – things I learned about wellness this year. While not groundbreaking, I hope they’ll offer you an insight or two that resonates as you look forward to a happy, healthy 2019!

It doesn’t have to be hard.
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say, for years, I have felt like I need to be deprived or suffering in order to be living a healthy lifestyle. I don’t know, maybe it’s because of the mountains of media messages I receive that tell me I should look a certain (albeit unrealistic) way, the popular philosophy of “no pain = no gain,” and the prevalence of beauty and wellness rituals that are downright painful (ie. heels, waxing, juice cleanses). This year, I finally, truly understand that what’s healthy for me doesn’t look like the cover of Women’s Health magazine. The tenets of a healthy lifestyle should include eating lots of vegetables, moving regularly, getting your annual check-ups, and spending time and energy on relationships and activities that bring you joy. Everything else – spot-train-away your love handles, get a flat belly in 30 days, eat this for shinier hair – is unnecessary at best and downright fraudulent at worst. If trying to be “healthy” is stressing you out, it’s probably not making you healthier.

Small changes work.
It can be tempting to try and overhaul your entire life when you’re trying to create habit change. Resist that impulse! Think about a bad habit you’ve acquired. Chances are, it started as a little shift in your behavior. An example:

One night you were watching a show that had a killer cliffhanger, so you watched another episode. You decided to stay up an extra hour. A few nights later, it happens again. Suddenly it’s three weeks later and you’re staying up until 1am every night. When you try to go to bed earlier, you’re restless and can’t sleep.

Good AND bad habits start from small repeated actions. Change is hard, and to make sustainable change, we need to create those habits. Start super small. Every time.

The gut microbiome is crazy important.
Science has been telling us for years that the microbiome in our gut is important to our health (hello, probiotics anyone?). I’d been paying attention but didn’t realize until this year just how significant our bacterial cohabitators are on our wellbeing. Scientists have linked the health of our gut bacteria (or lack thereof) to everything from obesity to depression. If you want to help your gut bacteria flourish, be sure to eat lots of prebiotic and probiotic foods.

Community is critical.
Humans are social creatures. We are evolutionarily, culturally and socially motivated to seek connection with one another. This imperative can work for us or against us when it comes to our health. Finding communities that promote healthy behaviors, or coordinating with our existing communities to promote those behaviors collectively makes a world of difference. On the flip side, if our move towards healthy behaviors makes us feel disconnected from our community, it can sabotage our efforts. In other words, if you’re part of a community that isn’t on board with your healthy behaviors, it’s going to be twice as hard to make and sustain changes.

It’s because of this critical community aspect to health that we focus on wellbeing in the workplace at Opportunity Kitchen. If a third of our lives are spent at work, and many of us spend more hours with our coworkers than our families, doesn’t it make sense to start creating health-promoting communities there?

If you’d like to join the movement and make your workplace a happier, healthier place, sign up for our mailing list to receive weekly tips and updates on new resources.

About the Author Aubrie Fennecken

Aubrie Fennecken is the Chief Alchemist at Opportunity Kitchen | work + wellness strategist | nonprofit fundraising expert | providing productivity and self-care support for mission-driven humans

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