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  • Writer's pictureMichael Stern

How to Create Holistic Health in Your Family

NOTE: This article was originally published on CredibleMind


Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, public health data in the U.S. was showing an alarming rise in the rates of physical diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as increases in mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and suicide. The pandemic has only made matters worse.

Behavioral patterns tend to spread among family members when they live in the same household, and children watch what parents do and are likely to follow their cues. This makes it hard for kids to break out of unhealthy patterns when everyone around them is engaging in the same behaviors. Instead, committing to common goals can be a powerful way for families to not only improve health but also strengthen relationships.

CredibleMind offers a plethora of evidence-based resources to support a holistic approach to your family’s well-being. Here are a few of my favorite family health strategies.

Physical Health

I love Michael Pollan’s dieting advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” The key is to understand that he is referring to real food that comes from nature, not processed food-like substances that come from chemical and industrial plants. Mindful eating is another great strategy to complement what you eat with how you eat.

These Physical Activity Recommendations for Different Age Groups from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a great starting point. Generally speaking, any physical activity is better than none, and most of us should move more and sit less.

Full recovery from the day’s stress depends on an adequate quantity and quality of sleep. Navigating the current web of global and national crises—not to mention any personal crises happening in your life—takes a toll and can make you feel more tired than usual, so listen to your body’s signals if you seem to need more rest. Taking short recovery breaks throughout the day is also a great way to complement your nightly sleep.

Mental and Emotional Health

Stress management and mood regulation are essential for being able to be at your best for your family.

The first step is self-care. If you find yourself feeling guilty about it, remember that true self-care is about self-preservation, not self-indulgence. The metaphor I use with clients is to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others with theirs. To be helpful to others, we need to keep ourselves resourced.

Emotional Intelligence researchers Richard Boyatzis and Daniel Goleman suggest that the key to personal sustainability is to reduce stress by increasing the frequency, duration, and variety of renewal activities such as physical exercise, spending time in nature, and playing with animals. You also need to cultivate meaningful connection, both among family members and with others in your community.

It’s important for families to discuss important topics with care. Children may have lots of questions, and parents may not always know how to answer them. So, don’t hesitate to reach out for support from professionals or your community. We are all in uncharted territory, and we are ill-equipped to navigate these challenges alone.

Adults also need to be able to process their own emotions through the lens of peers. With social distancing protocols exacerbating isolation and loneliness, finding ways to nourish our relationships is more important than ever.

Spiritual Health

Each individual and family has a unique relationship to spirituality. We draw from a few core elements that show up across religious and spiritual traditions to help us connect with a sense of meaning and purpose.

Singing, dancing, and listening to music together are fantastic ways to connect, laugh, and nurture our creative expression. My family’s after-dinner dance parties can be epic.

Human beings make sense of the world through ‘story,’ so my co-parent and I are very intentional about exposing our daughter to stories that reinforce our values, and we prioritize reading as a family activity.

We have a casual Friday dinner ritual of lighting candles when we say a blessing, draw wisdom cards, express gratitude for the week, and welcome the weekend. The more consistently we do this, the more I love it.

Small Changes, Big Impact

I am lucky to live in Maine, where access to plenty of fresh local food and natural beauty makes a healthy lifestyle relatively easy. But if changing your family’s health routines seems like a daunting task, remember that just a few small changes can have a significant impact on your relationships and quality of life.

Choose one new behavior to start with, and focus on making it as easy and enjoyable as possible. Then build on your success by adding and combining new habits. My favorite ‘stack’ includes physical activity, quality time, and being outdoors.

Changing habits is hard, and changing other people’s habits is almost impossible. But when a family agrees to provide support and accountability for each other’s best intentions, that is a powerful force for good in the world.

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