Be Well. What Does That Even Mean?

Is it just me or has “have a nice day” become such a redundant, almost meaningless phrase these days? It’s not a bad habit by any means, however it just feels like it’s something that we are obligated to say out loud as we wrap up a phone call or work email. So what happens instead when these words are replaced with “Be well”? You can’t help but to be a little caught off guard, right?

If you’ve been into a Walgreens recently (or Duane Reade for us city-dwellers), you’ve likely discovered that this is the phrase that the company has now adopted. Marketing ploy? Maybe. But it's at least causing a reaction, and that's sometimes just what we need to break for a moment and actually think about what the heck that means. Here’s an excerpt from the latest issue of Real Simple that brings it to life:

Recently my mother visited her local Walgreens to fill a prescription and replenish her supply of face cream. The cashier, a woman not much younger than she, handed over her bag and said, “Be well.” This initially startled my mother, who had expected a simple “Thank you.” But a few hours later, when she was picking up her medication at the same pharmacy, it happened again: “Be well,” the pharmacist said. “I was kind of liking it,” admitted my mother. “It sounded like a benediction. It gave me a nice feeling.” I thought she would have reacted more cynically. After all, she grew up during the Mad Men era, having bacon-wrapped, Velveeta-stuffed hot dogs once a week for dinner. She purchased her first gym membership only last year, under duress, at the age of 65. Didn’t she register “Be well” as the not-so-subtle marketing ploy that it was? She acknowledged that, sure, the pharmacist then tried to sell her on a shingles vaccination. And yet she still felt that his wishes were sincere. “Somehow it just struck a chord,” she said.

So what does that even mean? How do I do that…Be well? In a world that seems so complicated (it is), it can actually be quite simple if you allow it to.

Society has us so fixated on the notion that wellness is rooted in our diet and the foods that we put into our bodies. While it’s true that a healthy diet is a major component when it comes to overall wellness (since it affects everything including your mood, energy, sex drive and even sleep), it is much more than your relationship with food. It’s the way that you spend the first ten minutes of your morning, how you react to and handle stressful situations, who you choose to spend your time with, how grateful you are, and so on. From personal bits that I’ve gathered through experimenting (re: living life) to articles that I’ve read (like this month’s from Real Simple), I’ve been forced to revisit the idea of wellness and what it all really boils down to. Hint: it’s everything. It shouldn’t be overwhelming, but achieving wellness definitely takes time and energy. Like anything else, it’s all about finding whatever it is that works for you.

Not to mention, it’s more important than ever to adopt wellness habits that will keep you on track this season.  We often associate cold weather months with “hiding under layers” and eating more comfort foods. Well, those layers are eventually going to come off. And there are certainly ways that you can still enjoy “comfort dishes” without diving right into an entire pumpkin pie and then spending the next day still in a sugar coma when you could actually be making the most of that time. Like tackling errands, working up a sweat and even crossing some holiday shopping off the list.

With all of this in mind, here’s what I hope serves as a starting point. A wellness framework, that is. Perhaps you’ll wake up tomorrow morning sipping on a big glass of lemon water and a side of avocado toast (or better yet, a green smoothie). I would like to think that you might. 

Photo courtesy of @yoga_girl

Photo courtesy of @yoga_girl

First things first. Decide how you’re going to start your day. Perhaps it’s stretching for ten minutes, whipping up a smoothie that you can grab on your way out of the door or even (gasp!)…meditating. All before you bee-line it to the shower or even worse, check your email. You may think meditation is only for yoga junkies and “spiritual” people, but that is the biggest false assumption (albeit, fitting). It may feel awkward to know where or how to start, but it’s important to at least start somewhere. It can be a silent meditation where you just sit with your eyes closed, even still in bed, and process your thoughts to see whatever comes up. I was pretty sensitive and emotional for some reason this morning (maybe the bad migraine?), so yeah, a few tears came out. But I felt better once I got it out my system. Maybe you sit there and focus on your breath for a few minutes. Long, slow inhales; deep, slow exhales. Here’s a very interesting fact that put things into perspective for me, and maybe it does for you as well. At a wellness workshop led by Gabrielle Bernstein this past Friday, she informed us that when you sleep at night, stress is lowered 20%, On the other hand, stress is lowered 30% after just twenty minutes of meditation. Therefore if you meditate twice a day for twenty minutes, you’re lowering your cortisol (stress) levels by 60%. It’s no wonder that you may feel like a whole new person after you walk out of an hour-long yoga class. Because that right there is the best damn sixty minutes of mindful meditation (er, therapy) that you can get.

P.S. Don't we all wish that we could wake up (and meditate) by the beach every day? If you really wanted it, you could make that happen. 

Whatever a daily practice looks like or means to you, make a conscious effort to find it and stick to it. You’ll start your day by being present, which in turn will help you to better handle stress, emotions and decision-making – in and outside of the workplace.

The first thing that you should aim to reach for in the morning is a tall glass of water. If you have the time, especially during these colder months, sip it warm with a squeeze of fresh lemon. It will activate your metabolism and digestion system as well as supporting daily detoxification. It’s a good liver cleanser, you know. Water is not only important for hydration, but for brain function as well. If you’re feeling lethargic or have “fuzzy brain” then try drinking a glass, moving your body (i.e. a lap around the office) and then revisiting whatever it was that you were trying to focus on.

Photo courtesy of @choosingraw

Photo courtesy of @choosingraw

When you think about food, focus on what you should be eating more of as opposed to what you should be eating less of. You’re likely to develop much healthier habits for yourself if you focus on the positive aspects. For example, add more healthy fats and fiber to your diet (like avocados, hence the avocado toast) as opposed to telling yourself that you should stop eating so much sugar. Look for recipes that incorporate those foods and then make a grocery list of these items. It should be your goal to leave the store with only those products in your bag. And maybe a bouquet or two of fresh flowers to refill those poor, empty vases with back at home.

Surround yourself with (good) people. It’s all too easy to fall into the habit of coming home from work and cozying up on the couch for the remainder of the evening. Trust me, as someone who lives alone in a big city, I know that story quite well. Yes, those evenings to yourself are extremely important for helping you to relax and recharge, but it’s equally as important for your health to interact with others. Grab a bite to eat or better yet, cook dinner together at your place or theirs. Whatever you could be doing alone, there’s likely someone else that would enjoy your company.

Practice gratitude. Be grateful, whether it’s towards something big or small. People are more compelled to give back when someone shares some form of goodness with them. So notice all of those things that you’re grateful for and appreciate them. You’ll naturally begin to feel happier, you’ll be much more resilient and you’ll be a nicer person at the end of the day. It all results in a surge of dopamine (that feel-good chemical), and what’s not to love about that?

And finally, let’s be realistic for a moment here. You don’t have to go vegan or push yourself through an intense boot-camp class to “Be well.” There are a few small changes others have done that have caused a big impact on their well-being. I’ll share just a few that have resonated with me.

“I gave my refrigerator a total makeover. First I placed fruits and veggies inside clear containers and put them on a shelf at eye level. Now when I open the door, those options grab my attention. I also threw out any takeout containers, because they only encouraged me to eat more takeout.”

“I breathe in to a slow count of five, hold for a slow count of five, then slowly release to a count of five. This instantly calms me down and keeps me centered. Think of it as the three-minute break that you can take anywhere, anytime.”

“I adopted my daughter’s daily exercise routine: 40 sit-ups and 20 push-ups. While she does it at night for her gymnastics class, I do it within the first 10 minutes of waking up. Not only do I feel stronger but the activity also puts me in a better mood and encourages me to make good choices throughout the day.”

“Thanks to our new practice of reading nutrition labels, my kids and I are able to look at a product and know whether it will make us feel good or not. If a food doesn’t pass our criteria (no hydrogenated oils or high-fructose corn syrup, a small amount of sugar and at least two grams of fiber per serving), we don’t buy it.”

Thanks to Real Simple for this big late-night nudge of inspiration. And to that, I say Be well, as I always do. Perhaps now it has a slightly different meaning to you, whatever that may be. Just run with it!

xo Allison