How to Feel Better: 7 Keys to Physical and Emotional Well-Being

In Chinese medicine, there is an understanding that if we aren't well physically we won't feel well emotionally and vice versa, the two are intertwined. This is why if we can cover our most basic healthcare needs, we can help improve how we feel no matter what we have going on. There are certain general recommendations that are made over and over again in the treatment of disease, whether physical or emotional, chronic or acute, active or latent. Below are seven of the most essential keys for improving your overall well-being.

Wellness

1. Eat More Fresh Foods

Every cell, tissue, organ, and system in our bodies requires nutrients in order to function properly. For optimal health choose foods that are fresh, whole, organic, and in season. These contain the highest levels of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. They also contain the most chi so they can help replenish ours. In general, most of us need to eat more fresh produce, especially leafy greens, so try to eat some every day. If you eat animal products, choose those from healthy animals who were treated well, fed well, and allowed to go outside vs. those raised in factory farms. On the other hand, try and limit foods that are highly processed, like canned, frozen, and dehydrated foods. These types of foods are deficient in nutrients, low in chi, high in sodium, and contain chemicals like preservatives and artificial ingredients that our organs have a hard time breaking down. Processed foods also include products like the so-called "empty calorie" foods, such as white flour and white sugar, which have had nutrients removed during refinement. These types of foods require more nutrients and energy to process than they give back so they are depleting in the long run.
 

2. Stay Hydrated

Every single cell in our bodies contains water. In fact, we are more water than anything else. Staying hydrated is essential to our overall energy levels and brain function, improving cognition, memory, concentration, reaction time, and mood. It also helps us regulate our body temperature, keeps our joints lubricated to prevent injury and pain, and keeps the mucosal membranes in our respiratory system moist so they can trap pathogens and prevent illness. As a solvent, water prevents kidney stones and helps us break down our food. The electrolytes that are dissolved into the water in our bodies are essential for the firing of both nerve and muscle cells, especially the electrical system that makes our hearts beat. This is why staying properly hydrated requires both water and electrolytes. Most of us get enough electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, from the foods we eat. When our electrolytes become depleted due to heat, exercise, fevers, or diarrhea, we need to supplement them by including mineral salts in our fluid intake. This can be done by drinking mineral water, adding a pinch of unrefined salt to our beverages, or by drinking special electrolyte products like the instant packets that can be mixed into water or the pre-made electrolyte drinks like Gatorade. Another important part of staying hydrated is avoiding excesses of dehydrating liquids like soda, coffee, caffeinated teas, and alcohol.
 

3. Move Your Body

All of the systems in our body depend on movement. Movement opens our lungs so we can breathe more deeply and oxygenate our blood. It increases our heart rate, circulating blood to all of our cells and preventing the formation of clots. It helps our organs move food down along the digestive tract and waste fluids down toward the bladder. Movement also lubricates our joints and gets the blood pumping through our muscles to nourish cells and prevent us from stiffening up. For those of us who hold stress and tension in our tissues, movement releases this, helping us unwind and let go. For example, the swinging action of our arms when we walk releases tension in the neck and shoulders. Movement can even help us on a mental level, enhancing the flow of the thought process, helping us work things out while we work out. Flowing movements like dance and tai chi can be emotionally expressive, too, allowing us to express and release things that are difficult to articulate. Since our bodies function best when everything is flowing and coordinated, movement that is gentle and incorporates the whole body is best: walking, swimming, yoga, dancing, tai chi, chi gong, and bicycling.
 

4. Get Outside

Everything is connected to everything else, including us. We are an integral part of this world, immersed in the gasses that make up our atmosphere, with the water and nutrients that we take in merely borrowed for a time, flowing through us to return to the environment once again. Even though we are woven into the web of life, when we stay inside all the time in our artificial environments we can start to feel lonely, isolated, depressed, and out of touch. To feel well we can reintegrate ourselves by getting outside into the natural world. Going out and getting some fresh mountain air not only clears our lungs, it also helps us clear our heads. Jumping into a wild river purifies us and immerses us in the literal flow of our planet's chi. Walking on the earth in our bare feet or working the earth with our hands grounds us both physically and emotionally. Being out in the sunshine nourishes us with some essential vitamin D but also warms our inner fire. The aromas of flowers, evergreens, and autumn leaves can lift our spirits. Standing at an overlook, taking in the view of beautiful mountains, isn't just the reward of a good hike, it is also emotionally moving. Getting outside is especially important for those of us who spend a lot of time at home, drive everywhere instead of walking, work inside, and exercise indoors instead of in the fresh air and sunshine.
 

5. Make Time for Both Sleep and Rest

Life is a marathon; in order to have a long and healthy one we must pace ourselves. We are not made to go, go, go indefinitely. Unfortunately, we live in a high-pressure workaholic society where most people run on a sleep deficit and feel guilty about resting, even for a few minutes. However, in addition to activity, we need adequate amounts of both sleep and rest to feel well physically and emotionally. During sleep, our brain and internal organs are actually very active doing essential tasks. Our brains process and store new information, rewire neural connections, and flush out metabolic waste with fresh cerebrospinal fluid. Sleep is also when we dream, repair cells in our tissues and organs, replenish energy stores, filter our blood of toxins, release neurotransmitters that are essential to emotional well-being, and produce cytokines, substances secreted by our immune system that help us fight infections and chronic inflammation. Unlike sleep, rest occurs when we are awake. Physical rest gives our bodies a break from exertion, preventing injury and exhaustion, while mental rest gives us time to reflect on, understand, and integrate the experiences of our lives. When it comes to activities like meditation, mental rest can also help us simplify our thoughts and declutter our minds, leading to enhanced creativity, productivity, and decision-making. In general, rest is also calming, centering, and grounding, so it is a healthy coping mechanism for countering stress, anxiety, and depression.
 

6. Limit Your Intake of Toxins

We are exposed to some level of toxins every day in what we eat, drink, and breathe. Fortunately, our internal organs are designed to neutralize and eliminate them. However, compared to the millions of years that humans have been around, there are now many novel toxins in existence. These include everything from pharmaceutical drugs and microplastics to pesticides and the airborne particulates from burning coal and gasoline. If our organs are unable to identify any of the toxins we take in, they will compartmentalize them by storing them away, typically in our fatty tissues. These toxins build up over time, a process that accelerates with aging as our ability to process toxins declines as the functioning of our internal organs declines. If we get run down or go through an illness that damages our organs, this can add to the problem. Unfortunately, the more toxic our bodies become, the more off we feel both physically and emotionally. One of the best ways to avoid toxin overload is to reduce the amount that you take in, especially alcohol, nicotine, recreational drugs, caffeine, refined flours and sugars, hydrogenated fats, and foods that contain high levels of lab-manufactured chemicals like preservatives, synthetic sweeteners, artificial colors, and artificial flavors. Another key to promoting natural detoxification is to regularly flush your system with plenty of water, increase your intake of high-fiber nutrient-dense foods like vegetables and fruits, and clear your lungs with fresh air on a regular basis. Limiting toxins can even mean evaluating our personal and professional relationships and transforming or eliminating the ones that drain us or make us feel bad. 
 

7. Keep a Regular Schedule

The universe has patterns. Two of the most dominant patterns that affect us are the 24-hour cycle of day and night and the shifting of the seasons. Just like all of the other living creatures on planet earth, we do best if we align ourselves with these natural rhythms. Our physical processes and emotions both flow more easily when we can keep a regular schedule day-to-day. This is especially important when it comes to our eating, sleeping, working, and exercise patterns. By doing these things at regular times, our bodies can learn to anticipate and prepare for them, smoothing out the process. In addition to daily cycles, it is also important to follow the larger seasonal shifts. One way to do this is by eating fresh, local produce and seasonal dishes. Another is to adjust our activity levels and sleeping schedule so we do more and sleep less in the summer and do less and sleep more in the winter. Participating in seasonal activities and rituals can attune us to the seasons as well. This can mean anything from apple picking in the fall to celebrating the summer solstice outside around a bonfire.
 
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