What can be done during times of transition to circumvent chaos and change the channel to be healthier and more resilient both today and into the future?
According to researchers in the epigenetics community, the answer may lie within our own minds and at the tip of our forks. By establishing positive daily habits, we are better prepared for times of transition and increased stress.
Staying afloat with the logistics involved with planning a big life change is like riding a surging wave: even if you are on top of it, you will eventually land on the ground. However, the experience is entirely different if you crash to the ground in a spiral of chaos than if you float gently and ride in with the wave.
“During transition, relying on existing habits and rituals can provide a sense of stability. We can create habits of movement, nutrition and mindfulness practices to more skillfully cope with stress. All three aspects work together and impact each other,” said Karen Andunjar, a leadership coach and yoga instructor that trained with Veterans Yoga Project.
Veterans Yoga Project is a nationwide program for veterans and their families that use yoga to aid in recovery from — and build resilience in preparation for — life’s ordinary and extraordinary challenges. Similar programs are becoming commonplace as mindfulness research and proven benefits have become more mainstream.
According to Headspace, a mediation app with over one million subscribers, mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment.
“The benefits of mindfulness include greater self-awareness and self-management, decreased reactivity, increased empathy and an increased overall sense of well-being,” Andunjar said.
The Harvard Business Review suggests that mindfulness can be thought of as a way to enhance certain kinds of mental fitness, just as regular workouts at the gym build physical fitness.
Experimenting with mindfulness techniques and making them a part of your daily routine can be as simple as taking a 10-minute walk around the block without letting your mind wander. The key is to start slow and be consistent.
Eat well, feel well
How you fuel your body every day is also a huge factor for how well you are able to respond to stress and transition.
“The fundamentals of eating a healthy diet, exercising and having ways to reduce stress are the cornerstones of health and wellness,” said Dr. Kent Thornburg, director of the OHSU Moore Institute for Nutrition & Wellness and pioneering expert in the field of epigenetics.
Epigenetics is the study of biological mechanisms that can switch genes on and off. Experts in the field now understand that nutrition and stress have the ability to change our genetic health risks, both positively and negatively, even before we are born.
While it is critical to prepare for transition and equip yourself with coping tools when preparing for a big life change, it’s also important to realize that sustainable changes can be impactful far beyond a season of change in life.
“There is evidence that there are positive epigenetic effects at any age of your life, even into old age,” Thornburg explained. “These epigenetic effects are important because they are the machinery that determines how your genes are turned off and on.”
Thornburg’s nutrition recommendations for military families going through transition is to focus on planning ahead, making healthy choices when eating out and avoiding packaged and refined snacks.
“The diet principles that are important are to eat fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, healthy oils and whole grains. These foods are anti-inflammatory,” Thornburg said. “Like any important lifestyle change, balance is key.”
While checklists and logistics planning are a great way to plan for a Permanent Change of Station or an upcoming life change, it is equally important to prepare your mind and body. Establishing a mindfulness practice and eating a healthy diet will help you to thrive.
3 minute stress reduction mindfulness exercise
Tips contributed by Andunjar.
- Take a comfortable seat, and allow yourself to sit in a relaxed yet alert way.
- Take a deep breath and simply notice that you are breathing. Where do you feel your breath?
- Take a second breath and bring awareness to your body. As you exhale, invite relaxation anywhere you need it.
- Take a third breath and ask yourself, “What is really important right now?”
Key Factors to Implementing a Lifestyle Shift
- Involve your family: Challenge your kids to find a new food they like. Make a fun chart and turn it into a game.
- Plan ahead: Prepare healthy foods ahead of time that are accessible.
- Experiment with food: Try new foods and prepare them in different ways.
- Focus on whole foods: Avoid packaged foods and simple carbohydrates.