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Declutter Your Life + Inspire Your Overall Wellness With These Self-Care Tips

Declutter Your Life + Inspire Your Overall Wellness With These Self-Care Tips Dr. Will Cole 1

Rituals are a part of human history. Ancient people – even our grandparents – honored the sacred to give our lives more meaning and keep our minds focused on something higher than ourselves, whatever that meant to the individual. Life was slower and more deliberate just a few decades ago, and rituals kept us anchored and linked together as families, communities, and humans.

But today, rituals seem to have little room in our sophisticated, evidence-based modern culture. Or do they? Science is finally catching up with antiquity and research has shown that rituals actually seem to be beneficial (1) in more ways than one – these benefits include (2) improving attention, increasing effectiveness, stabilizing emotions, and raising confidence levels.

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FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE FOR PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD

As a functional medicine practitioner, I also see these same benefits in my patients when I help them cultivate healthy rituals. You don’t have to wait for a special occasion – you can incorporate rituals in your everyday, starting now.

The Danish Concept of Hygge

In Denmark, there is a concept called hygge, pronounced “hoo-guh,” it is defined as “a quality of coziness that brings a feeling of contentment or well-being.” Hygge is about creating a cozy, welcoming, warm home and staying in to enjoy it, so it’s no coincidence that Scandinavians are rated as some of the happiest people in the world. Now, the secret is out. While people have been hygge-ing in Scandinavia for years, hygge has recently become the latest aspiration in the United States and the United Kingdom. Listed as one of the top wellness trends, it cannot be denied any longer: Staying in is the new going out.

The global awareness of the concept of hygge is, I believe, born out of the growing awareness that our way of life is unsustainable. As we are constantly bombarded with information and chronic stress has reached epidemic proportions, something’s going to break if we don’t slow down. In truth, our bodies, emotions, marriages, and bank accounts are already starting to break down under this immense pressure, not to mention health. Modern problems like adrenal fatigue are the physical consequences of this type of lifestyle. Clearly, we need to do something differently.

Enter hygge: cozy, comfy, “let’s slow it down” hygge. The word sounds foreign (because it is) but so does the concept. And yet, you can see it everywhere now, and related trends, like minimalism, digital detoxes, and more people working at home or working fewer hours. This is society’s cry for relief – a time-out, a moment to breathe, a reclamation of the concept of relaxation. Hygge embodies all the things that our souls crave. It is the excuse we have been looking for, to cozy up with a giant fuzzy blanket, wear slouchy clothes, and just chill out.

But hygge doesn’t mean living a sedentary lifestyle (remember, sitting is the new smoking). (3) It’s not about, Netflix marathons and potato chip binges. Instead, here are some better ways to embrace this trend, to make your life a little slower, a little sweeter, and a little less stressful.

14 Hygge-Inspired Rituals To Incorporate Into Your Life Today

1. Create a phone-free space.

To take advantage of the surprising stress-relieving qualities of smartphone-free time, set up a smartphone drop-off/charging station that you can use as soon as you walk in the door. Put your phone on silent so you won’t be tempted to check it or lured back to the screen by those seductive beeps and buzzes.

2. Throw next-level parties.

Engaging in healthy relationships and being involved in a community of people has been shown (4) to help people live longer, healthier lives. A great way to cultivate relationships with your tribe is by coming together for gatherings focused on wellness that evolve with the seasons. Staying in is not just for when the days are dreary – it’s for every day, when friends come by. Here are some ideas for health-focused social activities:

Green Juice Socials: Swap out your typical wine – or beer – tasting party with a delicious green juice social. Have everyone bring a recipe to share and corresponding ingredients to make a giant batch of juice for everyone to sample. Have additional recipe cards on hand for people to write down their favorites. Don’t forget healthful homemade snacks to munch on!

Yoga Soiree: Soak in that vitamin D by participating in outdoor yoga. Gather a group together for an afternoon of sun salutation on the lawn or patio. Spend time listening to the silence and little noises of nature as your mind and body take advantage of the wellness benefits of yoga. This party can work well during the cold months as well, if you have a large room. If you have a yoga teacher friend, as them to direct the action. Or, each person could pick their favorite yoga videos (queue up the YouTube) and the group can try snippets of each.

Meal Prep Bash: One of the last things people want to do after work is worry about dinner and cooking (and cleaning it all up!) Make a list of some delicious freezer crockpot meals filled with whole ingredients and have everyone bring a different ingredient. Turn up the relaxing music and get chopping!

Terrarium Building Event: Having plants around the house is one of the most natural ways to purify the air you breathe. Plants also bring the outdoors in, which can give you a mood boost during the long winter months when it may be more difficult to grab time outdoors. Go to your local home and garden store and pick up (or order off a website) some beautiful plants and have friends over for a terrarium building event. Pick the plants that speak to you and arrange them in a way that you love.

3. Trade comfort food for super-food.

Elevate your traditional comfort food for updated versions of your favorite dishes.

  • Substitute chicken zoodle bone broth soup for chicken noodle soup.
  • Try adaptogenic tonics instead of hot chocolate, alcohol, and soda.
  • Add bone broth to traditional recipes for a gut-healing boost.
  • Have low-sugar, grain-free granola instead of your breakfast cereal or snack.

4. Mindfulness: hygge-style

Taking time to relax in the present moment with no need to worry or bother with the excess of things or long lists of must-sees and do’s is really at the heart of hygge. A simple life can be rich and rewarding when you bring mindfulness to the table, and engaging in hygge is being mindful. Some examples: Vow to really taste the foods you’re eating. Try to truly listen and hear what another person is saying, for more meaningful conversation. Tune in to your senses all the time, and notice how beautiful and full the world is. Eat consciously and love your body enough to nourish it with good food medicine. Bring more awareness to every present moment to reduce your stress and create inner and outer richness. See how powerful “cozy” can be? Now you’re hygge-ing your way to better health.

5. Start and finish your day with a mindfulness reset.

How you start and end your day will determine the quality of everything that happens in between, helping you to be more mindful and deliberate about what you do and say and the decisions you make in your life. Do you want to be the victim of whatever life throws at you, or would you rather have what it takes to thrive even when things go wrong?

Mindfulness meditation has been used for thousands of years as a ritual to create inner peace. And today, mindfulness for lowering anxiety and increasing focus is very well-researched. But just as with fitness, consistency is key. A regular, consistent meditation practice will grow your mindfulness muscles! Start with just a few minutes twice a day. My friends Light Watkins and Charlie Knowles both have excellent video classes to help you get started.

6. Start a morning elixir ritual.

After you nourish your soul with your mindfulness reset, make sure to nourish your body. I am a big fan of something warm for your morning elixir. Try hot water and lemon, your favorite tea, or anti-inflammatory turmeric milk. Get up early enough to be able to enjoy this drink sitting down, creating a sacred space of calm before your busy day.

7. Take adaptogenic breaks.

Now that your day is going at full speed, find time – even just little moments – to center yourself with mini-rituals. Adaptogens like ashwagandha and rhodiola are a family of herbs that has been shown to balance stress hormones and calm even the most type-A personalities. Check out my favorite adaptogenic herbal and mushroom recipes to sprinkle into your schedule. These smoothies, elixirs, and teas are quick to prepare ahead and easy to bring to work with you.

8. Establish a ritual that engages your senses.

Create some zen in your space by diffusing essential oils. Citrus blends (5) like lemon and bergamot are popular and have been shown (6) to calm stress levels.

9. Smudge your space.

This may be too New Agey for some of you, but have an open mind! Smudging or burning dried plants like sage or palo santo has been a ritual for thousands of years to cleanse living spaces of negative energy. Today, researchers have found (7) that medicinal smoke can be an effective way to clean indoor air of airborne bacteria, giving that “negative energy” scientific backup.

Whether you choose to believe in negative energy or not, nobody likes airborne bacteria, so why not give smudging a try? Like the air after a rainstorm, smudging really does bring about feelings of cleansing and renewal. My friend Dana Claudat gives some great pointers on the subject of clearing negative energy.

10. Bring the outside inside.

Create a sanctuary for yourself by bringing nature into your home and workspace. Surrounding yourself with beautiful plants, rocks, crystals, and a water feature will create a positive environment for your day.

11. Connect with the earth.

Make it a point to get outside as much as you can during your day. Taking small breaks to connect to nature is a great centering ritual. On nice days, ground yourself by taking off your shoes and socks and walking on the grass. This is called “earthing,” the practice of direct skin-on-earth contact.

Earthing has been shown (8) to be an effective healing and calming tool. This may be because the earth’s surface electrons are an untapped health restorer, as is suggested by some groundbreaking (pun intended) medical literature! So go ahead – feel the breeze, be in awe of sunsets, observe clouds, touch the soil, and give your full attention – at least every so often – to any part of nature that speaks to you.

12. Declutter your home and office.

Clutter in your living space will create clutter in your mind. Donate what you don’t use and clean and organize your space. Try out the KonMari method and create tidying festivals to clear out your outer and inner spaces.

13. Detox regularly from the digital realm.

Don’t panic, but I suggest that my patients create rituals of silence with digital detoxes. Turn off the smartphone, TV, computer, and any other electronic device. Try to give yourself “no screen time” breaks of at least two hours before bed. If you are up for more, check out my smartphone detox guide below.

14. Indulge in a detoxifying soak.

At the end of your long day, unwind with a detox bath ritual. Add 1 cup Epsom salt, 1 cup Himalayan sea salt, and a few drops of sandalwood essential oil to a warm bath and soak for around 20 minutes. If that’s too intense, start with just five or ten minutes and work up to longer soaks.

The truth is, consistency builds character and shapes us as people in all kinds of ways, but especially in the practice of ritual, whether it’s physical, emotional, social, spiritual, or all of these at once. Creating healthy routines is an essential tool to a life that is both grounded and elevated. Rituals make the mundane magical, so become your own modern shaman and create sacred routines, spaces, and thoughts to calm your stress and bring peace and balance into your life.

A Decluttering Technique To Restore Your Energy + Calm Your Mind

Our environments are also just as important as the routines we cultivate in our daily lives. Ultimately, our spaces should also be a reflection of our mind: an outside manifestation of the inner. The way our space is organized can either contribute to healing or perpetuate our health problems. In fact, research has shown (9) that people with disorganized homes are more likely to be stressed, depressed, and fatigued than people who identify their homes as restorative.

The bedroom is one of the most important spaces to keep structured and peaceful since clutter can affect the quality of your sleep and increase stress. In my life, I’ve found a practice that helps me keep my closet and bedroom a sanctuary for rest.

How I used the Kondo Method

Just a few months ago, I was transformed by the organizational methods of Marie Kondo and used them to take control of my bedroom – my drawers and closet specifically. The Kondo Method has created quite the buzz over the last few years with your practical yet revolutionary organization techniques. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is your go-to guide for easy ways to clear the clutter.

Since I tend to be a more anxious person implementing the Kondo method has enhanced my sense of calm and sleep. It also increased my creativity which is especially important for the many hours I spend writing in my bedroom. A study (10) out of Princeton University confirmed my feelings by showing that a messy environment creates distraction from your thoughts, decreases creativity, and elevates stress hormones.

Cleaning up your room is an easy enough change to make that will support healthier sleep. Studies have shown that just one night (11) of poor sleep increases inflammation in the body! Can you imagine what years of prolonged poor sleep does to our health? Here’s how I put my own spin on the Kondo method in my bedroom:

1. I did a closet detox.

I followed Marie’s advice and held each piece of clothing separately as a mindfulness practice to understand whether the clothing brought me happiness. If not, I donated it. While this may seem a little out there for some people, for me it represented an inner and outer cleansing. Plus, it was very humbling to give away clothes I no longer needed to those who would really appreciate them.

2. I color-coded my closet.

Just like Marie suggests, I placed each remaining item in my closet from dark to light colors and from left to right, just like reading a book. This simple change helps structure the flow of the closet and makes choosing what to wear each morning a breeze!

3. Finally, I tackled the drawers.

This part of the decluttering process was extremely fun for me (#nerdlife). As Marie recommends, I rolled each shirt like a sushi roll, laid them side to side, and categorized them by color. This allows me to see every single shirt when I open the drawer. A welcomed change from the days when I would haphazardly fold and shove my T-shirts in the drawer to never be seen until enough shirts were in the laundry to finally reveal what was left. The Kondo drawer method is good for the soul.

So am I still doing the Kondo method months later? Heck yes. My bedroom is now a tranquil sanctuary. I sleep better and am less stressed with the day-to-day home-sorting. As the book title implies, it is truly life-changing magic.

I use this method to purge my closet regularly to continually decrease clutter. I also apply this method when shopping to avoid making purchases that I don’t really need, even if it is on sale. So, thank you Marie Kondo. You have a fan in functional medicine.

How An 8-Week Smartphone Detox Can Change Your Life

Smartphones can feel like a drug, and many people use them that way – they elicit compulsive, addictive behavior, and research shows that they even rewire our brains, (12) decreasing our memory (13) and attention spans as well as increasing our anxiety. (14) A staggering 81 percent (15) of us have our smartphones within arm’s reach nearly all the time. In fact, one in five young people admit to checking their screens every five minutes! In a very short period of time, we have found ourselves all plugged into the same drug.

Think about what you have seen out there in the world: A couple on a romantic date, both looking at their phones. Parents enthralled by their screens as their little ones call for their attention. Groups of friends out together, each of them absorbed by what is happening somewhere else – texting someone else, talking to someone else. People driving, glancing from road to phone, road to phone. It seems like almost everywhere you look, you can find someone lost in another world, distracted not by life but by what they see on that little screen. But remember this: Just because something is common doesn’t mean it is “normal.”

I’m not immune. Recently, I’d been burning the candle at both ends…with a blowtorch. I left home before the sun rose, worked over 60 hours a week managing my functional medicine health center, and returned home at dark, just in time to read my kids a book, pray with them, and cuddle before bed. Downtime wasn’t in my schedule. I, too, lived my life attached to my smartphone, running my business, yes, but also compulsively checking emails and my Instagram likes with bated breath.

Then one day I thought: Maybe my breath needs to be less bated. Maybe I need to just breathe and take a break from my smartphone, that seductive portal to endless distraction. I knew I had to create some more space in my life for the people who mattered to me, so I put myself of an eight-week smartphone detox. Yes….eight weeks! Here’s how I got through it, and how you can, too:

Go analog.

The first thing I did was to deactivate my smartphone and activate an old analog phone that my 7-year-old daughter used to use as a play phone. (Analog benefit: Those old flip phones are like cockroaches, you can drop them all day long and the screen doesn’t break. Go figure.) I called the phone my “dumb phone” because it could only call and text, two things I still needed to do for work. This is a great way to wean yourself away from the smartphone. If you have a landline at home or your office, you could also just rely on that.

Check emails on your computer during work hours only.

With only an analog phone, I used my laptop to answer emails, and I made a strict rule for myself that I would not check my emails when I got home. Yes, I was taking it back to the early 2000s. My job involves social media, but I also vowed to check this only from my work computer. This created space and boundaries, minimizing the compulsive nature of social media. After work, I simply left it all behind. The emails and notifications could wait.

Read more books.

I love to read, and since smartphones, I’ve found myself reading books increasingly less. During my detox, I picked up actual books instead of reading blogs and articles online, and I reacquainted myself with turning pages rather than scrolling. I still read positive articles online (like mindbodygreen!) on my work computer before I start my day or on my lunch break, but not at home.

Get out the old GPS or paper map.

Smartphones, I learned, made me directionally challenged. I depended on mine to show me how to get everywhere. I got out an old GPS and used it to help find my way around. And when I had more time, I took it one step further and opened up a paper map that doesn’t announce step by step instructions at every turn like a GPS does.

What I learned after eight full weeks:

You don’t know how addicted you are to your smartphone until you don’t have it. The first day on the digital detox, I may or may not have broken out in a panicked sweat. What am I doing? I need my smartphone. But then I realized that the virtual world will keep on spinning (or scrolling) without me and I was missing out on real life.

In truth, I found more life in those eight weeks than I ever could have found on my smartphone. I wasn’t distracted, numbed, or separated from the present moment. Not coincidentally, I also experienced significantly less anxiety and stress during those eight weeks. I was noticeably calmer and more present. I was able to look into my children’s eyes in a way I hadn’t before.

Life goes by so quickly, even without the endless wasted hours spent scrolling on our phones. I soaked in relationships and conversations instead of seeing the present moment as a means to an end.

My wife and I also had more meaningful connections, strengthening our marriage. I noticed sunsets more; I felt the breeze more. I, and everything around me, was more alive and vibrant. I learned that my smartphone was making me dumb, and my dumb phone was making me smarter. I was thinking more for myself. Living simply, less attached.

After the detox: How to bring smartphones back smartly.

Technology is not all bad. It’s how you are reading this article. We just need healthy boundaries. Here are four steps to bring your smartphone back mindfully (this is also what I do now):

  1. Put your phone in a basket when you get home and leave it there until you leave the house again.
  2. Put your phone on silent when you are home or out with friends.
  3. Turn off notifications or put your phone on airplane mode even at work, so you aren’t constantly tempted to check your phone and you can check all your messages and calls at once when you have planned to do that.
  4. Consider keeping your phone free of social media apps, or at least limiting them and turning off notifications. Save social media for your computer time.

Are you up for the challenge?

If you, or those around you, think you spend too much time on your phone, I encourage you to try this smartphone detox. Personally, having struggled with adrenal fatigue, finding new ways to bring calm into my life was a great idea for me, and I bet you could benefit too, especially if you struggle with stress.

So, disconnect to reconnect. Be more immersed in conversations with your loved ones; play with your pets more; sit in still silence. Simplify and de-stress your life. More social, less media.

If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer webcam as well as in-person consultations for people across the country and around the world.

Photo: unsplash.com

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  7. Nautiyal CS, Chauhan PS, Nene YL. Medicinal smoke reduces airborne bacteria. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007;114(3):446‐451. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2007.08.038
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  9. Saxbe, D.E., & Repetti, R. (2010). No Place Like Home: Home Tours Correlate With Daily Patterns of Mood and Cortisol. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(1), 71-81. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167209352864
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  11. Mullington JM, Simpson NS, Meier-Ewert HK, Haack M. Sleep loss and inflammation. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010;24(5):775‐784. doi:10.1016/j.beem.2010.08.014
  12. Robert Rosenberger An experiential account of phantom vibration syndrome Computers In Human Behavior Volume 52, November 2015, Pages 124-131 doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.04.065
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  14. iPhone Separation Linked to Physiological Anxiety, Poor Cognitive Performance, MU Study Finds January 8th 2015. https://munewsarchives.missouri.edu/news-releases/2015/0108-iphone-separation-linked-to-physiological-anxiety-poor-cognitive-performance-mu-study-finds/
  15. Most U.S. Smartphone Owners Check Phone at Least Hourly Gallup July 9th, 2015. https://news.gallup.com/poll/184046/smartphone-owners-check-phone-least-hourly.aspx?utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_content=morelink&utm_campaign=syndication%20

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BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.

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