2020 is here! Lots of people are thinking about how to make this decade their healthiest ever.

If you have big goals for the decade but don't know how to get started, we've got you covered. That's why we've asked Vera Whole Health coaches and providers to help us round up five great ways to improve your health. They may not feel like resolutions, but they're powerful tools to help you set goals, achieve them, and lead a healthier, happier life.

1. Set SMART goals

We all have goals for our health. It might be to lose weight, stop smoking, eat healthier, or perhaps exercise more regularly. But taking action isn't always easy. That's where effective goal-setting comes in.

"When we set meaningful goals, it can be a really empowering experience for us," says Lindsay Leeder, Vera ARNP.

Goals break up bigger aspirations into small, achievable blocks. For example, a desire to lose weight might start with a goal as simple as drinking more water. Achieving smaller goals empowers us to keep going, setting more goals as we work toward better health. "There's no sense in setting goals that are going to be miserable for people, because why would anyone want to do that? We always have to start where we are," says Leeder.

The most important thing is that the goal has to be relevant to you. Leeder says, "It has to be meaningful." Finding out what that means for you requires some self-reflection, but it will yield big dividends in the long run.

2. Be open to behavior change

Goal setting and behavior change are closely related. "The path between where you are and where you want to be is behavior change," says Victoria Andrews, Vera ARNP. Changing your behavior allows you to accomplish your goals and ultimately create a happier, healthier life.

Just like with proper goal setting, the first step is identifying where you are in your own journey. For example, if you want to eat healthier, are you really ready to start cutting out junk foods? Or are you simply ready to start thinking about it? Or perhaps you've already started eating a bit healthier, but aren't sure what to do next.

Take time to think of where you are in your own path toward behavior change and use that information to guide your next steps. Remember, you don’t have to change everything at once.

3. Practice self-care

It’s easy to push ourselves too far. Whether it's working too many hours, not getting enough sleep, or simply taking on too much, there are lots of ways we can get burned out and fatigued.

Burnout and fatigue are often associated with other health problems. When we don't feel well, we tend to make poor choices, don't eat as well, and have poor mental health. That's why practicing self-care is so important.

"It's not self-indulgence. It's a necessity," says Melanie Dockery, Vera health coach. "Self-care is an activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health." It's not a selfish act. It's critical for our health. And it doesn't take much to incorporate self-care into your daily routine.

Anything that reinvigorates or energizes you is an act of self-care, like taking a hot bath, setting aside time to read a favorite book, or just treating yourself to a night out with friends.

4. Be mindful

You've likely heard the term "mindfulness" before. It’s often associated with practices like meditation, but mindfulness at its core is about taking time to be aware of the present moment without judgment. "In other words, you're not stuck thinking about the past or the future," says Vera health coach, Kristin Dorn.

Dorn says, "I think that every single person could benefit from practicing mindfulness. It can affect everything in our life. It doesn't matter who you are. It's just a strategy in helping you be a healthier person overall in all areas of your life."

Being mindful can reduce stress, support the parasympathetic nervous system, increase energy, and induce a sense of calmness. Many people with chronic pain, anxiety, and depression use mindfulness to relieve and manage their symptoms.

There are lots of ways to practice mindfulness, so take time to find out what works for you, from simple breathing exercises and meditation to more active methods, like mindfulness walks.

5. Learn to manage stress

Everyone has experience with stress. It has many causes, including work-related issues, big projects, or looming deadlines. Stress can also be associated with personal relationships, from friends and family. Learning to manage your stress is a critical part of maintaining good mental health, and it starts by recognizing the difference between good and bad stress.

"The word stress is not what I would call a bad word," says Vera health coach, Cathy Moore." Stress is a term that is about pressures on our system — whether it's our mind, body, or spirit — and those pressures create a story in our head. What we do and how we choose to experience it will turn it into something that might be toxic for us, or that helps motivate us."

When you do experience stress, Moore recommends tackling it with an exercise called KNOW. Here's how it works.

Practice KNOW to manage stress

  • K — OK, you accept the situation for what it is and stop resisting it. "Let it flow around you," says Moore.
  • N — Notice the story going on around you. What are the facts, and what are the assumptions you're making at the moment?
  • O — Own it. If you've made assumptions, own that and do what's necessary to qualify or reject those assumptions. If you've made a mistake, own that you need to fix it. In other words, don't fight the situation, lean into it.
  • W — What do you need right now? Do you need a deep breath? A vacation? Help from co-workers? Time to get to the gym before work? Whatever it is, determine what you need to transform your stress from overwhelming to something that you manage.

Managing your stress calls into practice many of the tools we've already talked about, like being mindful and practicing self-care. Even setting goals and changing your behavior can help lower stress in your day-to-day life.

And don't forget, your Vera health coach is always available, whether you need help managing stress, setting SMART goals, or practicing mindfulness.

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