Five Healthy Habits to Start Practicing

We therapists love to talk about “coping skills.” Also known as “coping mechanisms,” “healthy habits,” “self care,” and “street skillz.” Ok maybe not the last one, but you get the point. Therapists are nerds and we loooveee to talk about this stuff! What are these skillzz, you ask? Good question. Check out our latest blog to learn more!


Think of these skills as activities that you can do to help your brain cope with the stressors of life and, more importantly, enjoy the everyday. Each person has their own individual, maybe quirky, things they love to do, and it is pure fun to hear about them in therapy sessions.  Some of my favorites I’ve heard over the years include creating stationary, quilling, training a lizard. Or the client who created an ongoing comic where the main characters were bodily organs with characteristics like “the stomach can be nauseating to be around, and the liver is a dark and moody little chap”. I live for hearing stuff like this! There are also unhealthy habits of course, but that’s for another day.

Regardless of the individual things people do to take care of themselves, just about every person who sees me will hear me preach the following five healthy habits that I think everyone should practice. These hard hitters have been researched out the wazoo and are truly beneficial to everyone. I call them habits, because they take time to establish. So, maybe you are at a point in your life where your interests are far from your mind and you need some help getting back to enjoying life a little more. Try incorporating the following five things in the next week, and see if things get a little less foggy.

1. Playfulness

Add playfulness to your life. We humans are born with an innate need to play. Just look at any toddler. All they do is play! My two year old has no interest in work, only singing Baby Shark. Geez! Adults need play too. Play engages parts of our brain that produce endorphins that aide in mood and stress relief. Lawrence Cohen, in his book The Opposite of Anxiety, describes how playfulness reduces anxiety. Lee Berk and Stanley Tan, from Loma Linda School of Medicine, have shown that simple laughter reduces stress and is good for your immune system. The list goes on and on. So, find your play. Find an activity that brings a sense of lightness and fun. Try to incorporate a smidgen each day. Try sticking your hand in some mud to see how it feels, shaking your booty to some good music, or maybe see how fast you can sprint. The other day, I relearned how to do the Macarena, and it was a load of fun!

2. Connect with others. 

We are not wired to live life alone. As John Bowlby illuminated in his 1969 book, Attachment, humans are born wired to attach and feel connected to someone. The person we are attached to may change in our lifetime (Hey mom! No need to change my diaper anymore! Yay!), but the need to feel attached will always be there. Despite many of us having hundreds of “followers” and “friends” through social media, we are actually lonelier than ever. John Cacioppo’s book, Loneliness and Human Nature: The Need for Social Connections, describes this and explains that chronic loneliness increases the chances of early death by 20%. People need genuine connection with other people. Yes, even introverts! Of course, this can be done with your family, but I propose reaching farther, into your community. Robert D. Putman describes the benefits of having these community connections in his book, Bowling Alone. He calls the sum of these connections “social capital” and describes how to accumulate it. There are many ways to build social capital and create connections: through volunteering, exercise classes, your kid’s PTA., social and political groups, or just your local library.  Many people find connection in church or other types of religious groups. Dan Beuttner illuminates in his book, Blue Zones, that people who are involved in a religious community, regardless of denomination, can add up to fourteen years to their lives. Being involved with others who share a common purpose is good for your health. Get plugged in and build connections!

3. Get yourself outside

Countless studies have shown the benefits of being out in nature. The Japanese call this phenomenon forest bathing, which makes me feel zen even typing it. Time in nature is known to reduce stress and help clear your mind. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy is a great resource for more information on this subject ( I can speak from personal experience, too. My husband and I used to live downtown in a big city, surrounded by concrete and glass basically all the time. Every now and then we would get a way for a day and head to a national park about an hour away. Hiking those trails through the mountains, resting beneath giant trees, crossing little streams, we always remarked how it was like we could feel our blood pressure dropping and our bodies relaxing. And something else amazing always happened: Our minds would clear, and we would have a rush of new ideas and inspirations. There is just something about the outdoors that puts things in perspective. So head out!

4. Move your body every day

Sitting is the new smoking, they say. Study after study has shown how a sedentary life raises your risk factors of numerous diseases and how exercise can counteract these illnesses. The benefits of exercise are countless for mental health as well. It can improve mood and decrease feelings of anxiety. The American Psychological Association discusses the benefits here: and the Mayo Clinic discusses it here: I could go on, but I’ll stop. And you don’t need a to join Crossfit or run a marathon: simply walking each day has its benefits. Even just avoiding sitting all day is beneficial! I love this short video that summarizes this important concept: So, basically try not to sit for 24 hours and go for a walk. Hey, you could even kill two birds with one stone and go for a walk in a forest. Or three birds by taking someone with you!

5. Create a mindfulness ritual. 

Mindfulness is well known to help with stress. Mindfulness is hard to define and can mean different things to different people. But I like how Dr. Daniel Siegel describes it: “Mindfulness is a sate of active, open attention on the present. When we are mindful, we carefully observe our thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad…It means living in the moment and awakening to our current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future” (Psychology Today, 2014). Mindfulness is a tool that can be learned. It can be done through prayer, meditation, yoga, or a gratitude journal. But it’s always a pause in your day when you check in and zoom out. Zoom out and see yourself as a human being on this great big planet, aware of time passing, what you are focusing on, and the remarkable fact that we are all here RIGHT NOW! A great resource on this concept is Dr. Siegel’s Mindsight Institute where they dive deeper into this subject and provide free resources:

So, there you have it: my top five healthy habits to establish in your life. Start small by trying out one or two. Or if you’re the “get ‘er done” type, try all five at the same time: go outside with a friend, take a walk, roll down a hill, and lay there for a few minutes soaking in that are in this moment! Over time, you can develop all five practices into established habits in your life. You can make these things part of your daily routine. If you do, you will see stress begin to melt away and be replaced by a sense of well.


Katie Odom, LPC, NCC
Licensed Professional Counselor

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