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A psychologist, sleep expert and doctor on the habits they’re keeping in 2021

Acceptance starts with acknowledging the parts of your life that you may find uncomfortable or challenging. Some years it is my desire to get fitter, or a problematic relationship in my life, or a work decision I have been avoiding. Just acknowledging the issue – by giving it a name – can start the acceptance process. I then take the time to get to know it – the good, bad and ugly – before jumping into fix-it mode, or worse, self-judgment. I might do this by asking “what’s my biggest fear and biggest hope around this issue?”.

“I found myself drawing on a familiar psychological strategy to prepare for the year ahead, and one that could help many in 2021: acceptance.”

Dr Jo Mitchell

I approached this process of acceptance by naming my pacemaker, Ignition T-Love, in part after my doctors. Iggy for short. Next, we started on the questions. My big fear is that Iggy doesn’t do her job and my heart stops, my big hope is that she does her job and I get to live a connected and adventurous life. Just saying that out loud calms some of my anxiety. The more I chat to Iggy the more I can appreciate her strengths (60 beats per minute, without fail) and accept her annoyances (scar still healing). Gradually I can feel my relationship with Iggy getting a little easier, which is a relief, as I hope we will be together for a really long time.

How to practise acceptance:

  • Name the issue or challenge
  • Explore your fears and hopes around it
  • Focus on what you can do / control
  • Repeat

Associate Professor Alan Young, sleep and respiratory physician, president of the Australasian Sleep Association

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My new year’s resolution for 2021 was simple: to get more sleep. Although this seems like a no-brainer coming from someone who spends their working life encouraging people to follow healthy sleep practices, more than ever getting enough sleep has become a priority.

As a frontline healthcare worker who has treated patients with COVID-19, 2020 was busy, stressful and challenging to say the least. Making enough time to connect with family after work and then winding down prior to bedtime was not always easy. I know in great detail the harmful risks of sleep deprivation – increased anxiety and depression, impaired decision-making and, as a healthcare worker, dangerous errors at work.

“My personal tactic for feeling relaxed and sleepy is to listen to a very familiar soft, slow song through headphones with lights off.”

Associate Professor Alan Young

When my teenage kids tell me that “grumpy Dad” has made an appearance I know it’s time to catch up on sleep. After all, how can I ask them to put away their devices and get to bed on time if I can’t model good behaviour myself?

So in 2021 I am prioritising sleep – which is the third pillar of good health (along with diet and exercise). This will be a challenge as we continue adapting to the new COVID-normal but if I want to be at my best for the long-haul, I need to invest some time looking after “me”. My personal tactic for feeling relaxed and sleepy is to listen to a very familiar soft, slow song through headphones with lights off.

Tips for getting enough sleep:

  • Have a 30 minute wind-down time prior to lights off: read a book, listen to music, anything relaxing in dim light
  • Remove electronic devices from the bedroom
  • Allow enough time for adequate sleep (7-9 hours for most adults)
  • Seek help from a health professional if you are not sleeping well

Dr Kate Gregorevic, internal medicine physician and geriatrician

Rather than New Year’s resolutions, I prefer to focus on New Year’s reflections. Things like; what changed in the year, what gave me joy and most importantly, what I learnt.

In 2020, I relied more than ever on self-care – not the bubble bath kind, but the sleep, exercise and nutrition kind. Even for someone like me, who relies heavily on exercise to buffer emotional stress, sometimes I struggle with motivation. Key to helping me stay consistent is the concept of scheduling where, each week, I sit down and plan out my exercise times. I make sure I do two strength training sessions and two high intensity interval workouts, plus fitting in incidental walks every day, because if I don’t move I get grumpy.

“Key to helping me stay consistent is the concept of scheduling where, each week, I sit down and plan out my exercise times.”

Dr Kate Gregorevic

One important aspect of starting and keeping up an exercise routine is self-efficacy, or believing you can do it. Here are a few habits that help me put this into practice:

  • Schedule your exercise for the week ahead, whether you enter it into your phone calendar or, like me, on the family whiteboard in the kitchen
  • I usually do my scheduling session on a Monday morning with a coffee to make it feel more like a ritual
  • Keep yourself accountable by checking in every week to make sure your workouts fit in with other work and social commitments

Of course human health is not purely physical, connection to others is just as important. I am incredibly lucky to have a wonderful husband and three children, but this year, spending so much time in lockdown, my phone catch-ups with friends were essential for my mental health.

There is so much evidence that social connection is good for brain function, cardiovascular health and even preventing dementia – and let’s not forget, it’s also fun. So, in 2021, I’m striving to make more time for friends. My aim is to go out for dinner with friends once a month. It isn’t always easy between work and parenting, but this goal seems achievable.

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