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How to have a happier, healthier you in 2020 according to a psychologist

It has nothing to do with making resolutions, mama.

How to have a happier, healthier you

With the start of a new year, it's important to reflect back on the prior year, assess what went well, what didn't and decide where you want to go next. It takes a lot of mental toughness, self-love and discipline to create the life you want. Simply coasting along on cruise control reacting to life can lead to a victim mentality and stagnation.

In doing so, you don't have to swear yourself to resolutions and feel like a failure if you don't achieve them. Just think about the life you want to create and take small steps.

Here's how to get mentally fit for the new year so you can move forward successfully:

1. Clear clutter.

Look at your surroundings. If you have junk drawers galore, a messy car, countertops and cabinets that are full of stuff you don't even use, it's time to clear the clutter. Cluttered spaces reflect a cluttered mind. If you want to wipe the slate clean to allow room for new people and circumstances that serve you, you must get your mind clear. Many of my patients who describe themselves as anxious, stressed or even depressed say they feel better when they start clearing up their physical space.

2. Eat mind-boosting foods.

Mental fitness also has to do with how well our minds work. A loss of memory or the ability to concentrate or focus can easily shift with an improved diet. Research finds that along with other benefits, foods rich in Omega-3, such as some fish and nuts, as well as those full of antioxidants can help protect the brain from memory decline. Eating more fish such as salmon and add fruits such as blackberries and blueberries to your diet can help. The good news is that brain-boosting foods include delicious options such as chocolate, guacamole (avocados) and sunflower seeds.

3. Color

The adult coloring book bandwagon is a good one to jump on because coloring requires a total focus on the present. The repetitive motion of coloring provides relief from stress and anxiety by entering a meditative state. Not everyone can sit still and breathe for 15 minutes per day, but they certainly can color. It's absolutely a fun way to achieve mindfulness and shake off the day.

4. Apologize + forgive.

A fast way to mental fitness is forgiveness. Carrying around resentments and guilt wears us down and can lead to serious illnesses such as cancer or stroke. If you experienced a tough break-up, divorce or perhaps the political climate led to arguments and lost friends, reach out, apologize and seek forgiveness to help you move on.

Remember, forgiveness doesn't mean you condone hurtful behavior. Forgiveness frees you and the other person, making it easier to move forward.

5. Learn something new.

Challenge your brain by doing something new: Learn a new language, cook a new recipe, try your hand at painting or explore doing Tai Chi. Pick something you think would be interesting or useful to learn and try it. The more we can activate the cognitive functions of our brains the better our short and long-term memory and hand-eye coordination will be.

6. Plan + prepare more meals at home

Instead of committing to a strict diet, incorporate more home-cooked meals into your repertoire. Research shows that food made at home has less fat, calories and sugar than meals eaten out, even if you're not specifically trying to prepare and eat healthier meals.

7. Set a goal to make one new friend a month

As we get older we tend to get stagnant with our friendships and not reach beyond our formed circles anymore. Make an effort to engage the person you always see at your spin class or pass every day in the hallway at your co-working space. Bringing new people into the fold can add spice and variety to your life.

8. Do something that scares you

No, this does not mean putting your life at risk. If public speaking has been a thorn in your side, take a class in it, and then put your lessons to use. If you would love to try snow skiing but have been too timid, take a lesson. Has the travel bug bit you but you don't have a companion? Throw a dart at a map and travel (safety first!) wherever the dart lands. It does not matter what you do, however big or small as long as you try something previously out of your comfort zone. One completed victory will give rise to another.

This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But, a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4 year old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year...

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keeping an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Following children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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