The Health Benefits of Remaining Curious and Open-Minded Throughout Your Life

 
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Being curious and open minded is yet another wellness essential that supports living a long, healthy, happy life of vitality. While it may seem obvious that eating well, exercising, restful sleep and even sound relationships improve longevity and wellbeing, keeping your mind curious and open may not be as obviously linked to wellbeing. When you consider the mind-body connection, yes, reduced stress is a primary focus which can be supported through maintaining a sharp, active, curious mind. Flexibility in your viewpoints and perspectives allows for longevity and vitality as well.

When you spend time with a child who is just beginning to learn about the world, they ask a million questions. Then those questions are followed up with “why?” At some point we stop asking why and just respond to life based on what we think we know. Being curious and asking why can increase your learning and personal growth and wellbeing.

When you are considering a viewpoint contradictory to your own in a curious and open-minded way, rather than becoming defensive and possessive of your views, you maintain lower stress levels because the defensiveness causes your stress levels to rise. You also create more awareness and understanding of the other person or groups viewpoint which allowing for less of a sense of “us against them” which also is associated with stress. Knowing that we can improve our wellbeing by moving from a fixed, negative world view to a more positive, flexible one allows for personal growth by increasing kindness, tolerance and acceptance.

Life can become rudimentary and mundane so easily. Becoming entrenched in a certain routine and way of being and not creating the energy or time to expand your mind can happen without even noticing it. Life is busy and these days can get filled up with a lot of seemingly important tasks. When was the last time you asked why?

The first 20-25 years of our lives are often dedicated to learning and expanding our minds. Beginning a career requires new learning until the skills are mastered and then we just kinda settle in and cruise for a while. This is where life can get filled up and your time gets taken over by daily chores and responsibilities. The next thing you know you surround yourself with people with similar viewpoints that you have and your work and/or family life and remain tightly bound in that bubble. If you are ready to get back to curiosity, growing your mind and increasing your vitality through the process of expanding your awareness here are some ideas:

 -       Ask questions and listen to the answers without offering your own opinion on a topic, keep asking questions until you feel you have a solid take on the other persons opinion. Only offer your own if asked, and if then, remain non-defensive, have a conversation about expanding your viewpoint rather than trying to convince another person to take yours as their own

-       Talk to someone from a different cultural background than your own and be curious about how their culture impacted their personal experience, viewpoint and life in a way that is different from your own

-       Volunteer at a community recreational center, after school program or anywhere with those with less fortunate financial means than your own

-       Go to an art museum

- Go to a science museum

-       Go to a musical event that you might not normally attend

- Take a class

-       If you go to a house of worship, try a different one from a different denomination or if you are comfortable with it, even a different faith than your own and talk to at least one person from that new environment. Listen only, be curious and open to hearing about someone else’s experience, viewpoint and lifestyle. Try not to judge, remain curious and open to understanding another person’s perspective.

-       Learn a new skill in an area of interest (art, craft, new instrument, sport, cooking, technology…)

-       Read anything

-       Watch a sunrise and/or sunset

- Never stop asking why?!

This is a short list of ways to begin thinking about how to remain curious, open-minded, interested and engaged with the mysteries of life and a worldview beyond your own. When you think about traditional learning, it was to master a skill or get a certain grade in order to achieve something else, not necessarily just for the sake of learning or growing. This is a new way to approach learning—simply for the sake of expanding your mind and intellect and sense of being a human. Just listening to and being curious about someone else’s view of life and overall perspective can be amazingly expansive.

For the past 18 years I have worked as a therapist in several different capacities, from a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, to working with at-risk youth from the inner city and outer counties of Richmond Virginia, to people of all walks of life who desire to decrease their emotional distress, heal their relationship with food, themselves and others and feel more confident and well. One thing I know for sure is that we have way more alike than we have differences and yet culturally we are set up to feel that any difference is a potential threat to us.

When you expand on this personal level, your mind naturally begins to open and create less anxiety and fear surrounding others. With this you create less internal struggle which only enhances you life and helps you grow in your vitality.

The Health Benefits of Nutrition, Nourishment and Mindful Eating

 
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Over the last couple of posts I’ve covered some less obvious areas of wellness within the eight essential areas of wellness for vitality. The first two included encouraging examination of your relationships in order to improve and grow in your support systems. Have you been considering how you can grow your social support network and working on strengthening your close core relationships? If you have, have you noticed an impact on your overall wellbeing? Now that those elements have been discussed, I’ll return to a more fundamental foundational element of wellness and one of my favorites to talk about: Nutrition!

When your body is well nourished through nutrient dense foods it functions optimally. Nutrition is one of the most impactful ways to improve your vitality and wellness. However, if you are stressed, anxious, lonely, hiding your true self and unsatisfied, the food you eat, even if it is the healthiest in the world, you will not be able to receive its full benefits within your body. Deepak Chopra says, “You can feed the healthiest food to stressed out person and they will only make poison of it.” When our bodies are in a state of stress, it is not engaging in the ability to properly digest. The autonomic nervous system is comprised of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). When we are stressed, anxious and dissatisfied with life, the body does not divert the same level of energy to digestion. In order to improve your nourishment received from the nutrients your food contains, it will be helpful to address how you cope with the stress in your life.

This is an element of nutrition and vitality that is essential, that you not only eat well, but that you feel well as you are eating. These are my (very) general nutrition recommendations:

-       Eat your vegetables and fruits
-       Have more than 50% of each of your meals be comprised of colorful veggies and fruits
-       Eat food that is unprocessed—or at least minimally processed
-       Make sure you can pronounce all of the ingredients on the ingredients list on the processed foods that you do eat
-       If you can, choose organic
-       Drink plenty of filtered water
-       Minimize/reduce your sugar consumption (approximately 24 grams added sugar daily for women and 36 grams added daily sugar for men)
-       Keep alcohol and caffeine to a reasonable minimum, unless they are a problem for you, in which case eliminate them all together
-       Take a high-quality multivitamin or other supplements that will support any areas of possible deficiencies in your diet

So that’s a very basic place to begin with nutrition. They are simple but not necessarily easy, just like everything else that comes to taking care of yourself.

It is not only about what we eat when it comes to being properly nourished, but also about how we eat it. I am using this opportunity to talk about the importance of nutrient density as it’s related to vitality and overall wellness but I want to also address the patterns of stress and stress eating, so I will interject the importance of mindfulness and mindful eating here as well.

If you feel as though you eat healthfully and yet still feel a little crummy, you most likely want to take a look at your stress levels. If there are emotions you have not addressed and they are lingering internally, this can cause a low level of stress much of the time. To address how you eat, let’s take a look at mindful eating. Here are the how-to’s of mindful eating:

-       Begin by engaging your senses (pay attention to what your food looks like, smells like, tastes like)
-       Have a space free from distractions (no social media, internet, TV—this allows you pay attention to how your food makes you feel)
-       Take small bites
-       Chew thoroughly before taking another bite
-       When you are eating, just eat
-       Place utensils/food down between bites
-       Check in with your body to notice hunger/full sensations
- Notice the impact that certain foods have on your mind, body, energy and mood
-       IF you catch yourself judging your food (thoughts such as: too many calories, this food is good, this food is bad…) remind yourself that it is food, just food

When you eat in this way, you create a positive environment for your food to be enjoyed. Your body can properly assimilate the nutrients your food provides for you. You can also notice the impact your food choices have on your mind, body and spirit. As you continue to grow in your practice of nourishing yourself through high-quality, nutrient-dense foods, pay as much attention to the practice of eating itself. Notice the impact on your overall wellness and vitality. As you integrate these practices for your mind and your body you will begin to feel the positive effects of being well nourished in all areas of your life.

The Health Benefits of Close Core Relationships

 
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Over the next several posts I am diving deeper into eight essential areas of wellness to live a long, healthy, happy life of vitality. The first area of wellness that we explored and strategized to improve was creating a strong social support. The second area of wellness that we will dive into is close core relationships.

Having strong, deep and unconditionally loving relationships is an essential area of wellness. This area of wellness is consistently a marker for those who live a long, healthy, happy life. Healthy core relationships indicate a healthy inner-being and healthy life. Close core relationships exist with the people you trust and that you are deeply connected. In essence, these are your most valued relationships. These core relationships could be your partner, anyone in your immediate or extended family, your best friend(s), your business partner…really whoever you are closest to on a deep, genuine level.

These core relationships are often just a handful of people. These are people who love and care for you no matter what. These are reciprocal relationships, meaning there is a flow of give and receive and feel balanced and healthy. These are the people you trust, love and know that you could call them at any time of day or night, and they’d be right there for you. A relationship like this might be tough to come by. Relationships on this level require the ability to be authentic, to be yourself, to be vulnerable and to be fully accepting of exactly who they are and you are fully accepted for exactly who you are.

If you feel as though you are seeking just this type of closeness but struggle to be authentic, to be seen, and to be yourself, you might benefit from exploring the challenges you experience to show up as your authentic self. If you feel as though you once had this level of closeness with some people, however those relationships have drifted or become less reliable or close, there is hope to create that closeness once again, if indeed that person is a healthy person to have within your life. 

Relationships are difficult to maintain and require effort, time and consistent communication in order to keep them within a healthy and authentic place. There is absolutely no shame in seeking a therapist or other support if you feel your closest core relationships need some TLC. It is possible to heal these relationships without external support as well, just both parties need to be on board and ready to put in the work!  

Some ways you can strengthen your current core relationships is to take time to talk, well—really, to take time to listen. Listening is a skill and an art form and is one of the most wonderful gifts you can offer someone you care about. When you truly hear someone you care about you are not formulating what to say next, you are not defensive, you are trying to hear and be open in a loving way. Becoming a compassionate listener rather than a problem solver for those you are close with can help bring healing and deeper understanding as well.

Having dedicated time to enjoy one another is another important part of maintaining a close core relationship. When your time spent together is always about problem solving, discussions of practical matters and daily tasks, this can put a drain on your closeness. Find time to spend time doing something that brings you both joy or maybe just nothing in particular. The intention, no matter the nature of the relationship, is to provide a opportunity to create closeness and joy within your relationship.

Honesty is a component of creating closeness and authenticity in your core relationships. This requires vulnerability, a willingness to disrupt the peace at times in exchange for a more secure connection. You have to make it safe for those you care about to approach you, and you need to have safe people to approach with your concerns. This might even be a simple practice of being honest with mundane things as well as in deeply important areas such as being honest and open about your feelings.

Consider one existing relationship you are already have, that may be experienced as going pretty well overall. Consider someone you do feel some level of closeness, but you’d like to improve and strengthen. (You don’t want to start with a relationship that needs a ton of repair.) First, ask yourself can you accept this person for exactly who they are, without any condition? (Now ask yourself this again!) Do you feel that they can offer you this same level of acceptance in return? If so, how can approach this person in a way to let them know you’d like to strengthen and build upon the foundation of your relationship? As you reach out, be vulnerable, be real and share yourself in a way that offers the opportunity to connect in a meaningful way, knowing that relationship building is a process, a marathon, not a sprint!

If this person is amenable to working and growing and strengthening the relationship, practice these three areas to work to continue to grow, connect and improve your connection. Start with listening to them, then find time to have fun together and enjoy this time spent. Then assure yourself that you are being fully and completely authentic within the relationship, being open and honest. Notice the impact as you grow and expand within your close core relationships.