Dr. Jennifer Ashton, chief medical correspondent
at ABC World News, shares tips to make
When it comes to the word “well-being,” a yoga class, soothing spa treatment or walk in nature may come to mind. For Dr. Jennifer Ashton, the chief medical correspondent at ABC World News, self-care equals well-being. In fact, she sees them as interchangeable. “When you have well-being, you’re practicing self-care,” she explains.
As a solo parent with a high-profile job, a thriving medical practice and demanding travel schedule, Dr. Ashton is the first to admit that carving out time to practice self-care isn’t always easy. For her, “it is about the little things, like drinking more water or adding different types of stretching,” which are easy to integrate into one’s lifestyle to improve well-being.
One of Dr. Ashton’s favorite wellness practices is a cardio workout, but she also knows it is important to be kind to yourself if sticking to a particular routine is hard. “I’m a big believer that things in wellness should be done in moderation. You have to be flexible and can’t expect or require perfection,” she explains.
For the most part, Dr. Ashton’s well-being practices were a style of living until early in the year of 2017 when she divorced her physician husband of 21 years. Things seemed to be going well with co-parenting their two teenage children when the unthinkable happened. Eighteen days after the divorce, detectives arrived at Ashton’s New Jersey home delivering horrific news. Her ex-husband had died after jumping off the George Washington Bridge. “It shattered my world,” she says.
In Dr. Ashton’s powerful book, Life After Suicide, she writes that she also blamed herself for the tragedy. During the days and months following, she did everything she could to support her children’s healing. And she never took time out for her own well-being, because she thought it would be selfish to make herself a priority.
However, in December of that same year, Ashton knew she needed to help herself as well. “I was coming out of the worst year of my life. Healing a tragedy makes people introspective, and it was out of that I decided to experiment with myself,” she reflects.
Ashton’s first experiment came in the form of “Dry January”: no alcohol for the month. To her surprise, the results were stunning. Not only did she feel reinvigorated, she felt a significant and positive impact on her mind, body, mood and attitude. When January came to an end, Ashton decided to extend the dry days into part of February because she felt so good, physically and mentally. She writes in her recent best-selling book, The Self-Care Solution: A Year of Becoming Happier, Healthier, and Fitter—One Month at a Time, that she continued the challenge because she became
“hooked on the idea and practice of challenging myself to be healthier.”
As a practicing OB/GYN and nutritionist, Ashton says she also took on this self-experiment because she tells her patients to practice healthy habits. “I wanted to use myself as the experiment and do the things I’d ask someone else to do, and see if I would feel any different doing them,” she recalls.
In February, Ashton decided to take on “another bite-size goal to target.” After carefully considering various options for her second goal, Ashton decided upon the challenge of push-ups and planks because not only would it produce quick visible results if “only done for minutes,” but they could be done anywhere.
Dr. Ashton’s self-experiment continued through the calendar year as she focused on 12 separate challenges, one for each month. She writes about her year-long journey in The Self-Care Solution, where she is both researcher and subject as she guides the reader through each challenge. The book brims with anecdotes about how Dr. Ashton integrated the self-care goals into her daily routines, and the science behind each one. Some days were more successful than others. Ashton says the only month she completed with 100 percent success was January. And it is these imperfections that make her approach realistic and approachable.
Like any well-being journey, challenges happen, and sometimes it is difficult to stay motivated. While carving out time and energy for a new or improved
well-being habit may appear to be overwhelming, it can ultimately make a huge difference. Dr. Ashton reflects, “I’ve got a lot of balls in the air, and I can’t do those things when I’m not healthy.”
Here are some of her tips to help you stick with a well-being goal.
TRY A CALENDAR
If you’ve struggled with sticking to a healthy habit, like Ashton did at times, she suggests using a calendar to track progress: “It is a good way to hold yourself accountable and recognize the accomplishments.”
CHOOSE ONE THING
Instead of trying various well-being activities, be choosy and select one thing that you enjoy that you can do the same way each day.
Giving yourself time to adjust to trying new things helps when exploring something different, like eating more plant-based meals. “I wasn’t a diversion eater, so this challenged me. I knew I wanted to eat less meat. It takes time. It doesn’t happen in a week. Be patient in our taste buds,” Dr. Ashton offers.
ADD SMALL THINGS TO YOUR LIFE
If you’re re-entering the world after being immersed into a spa retreat where relaxation was simple, Ashton suggests bringing small parts of the spa experience home with a scent or tea, or being in a quiet state. “Maybe it is no tech or doing more stretching. Think about everything that involves the five senses in the spa and try to replicate some of that in your home,” Dr. Ashton suggests.
Dr. Ashton says making the well-being habit you’re trying to adopt be “new to you” is helpful. For example, “If you’re already drinking lots of water, you can add a citrus,” she adds. Or if you’re already in the habit of walking, try a different path.
When you’re trying something new, like a new meditation, and deciding if this is the right fit for you, remember you’re discovering what works best for you. You’re figuring out what helps you to be happy and healthy.
ADJUST YOUR PERSPECTIVE
A slight shift in how you see your schedule can make a significant impact. Dr. Ashton writes, “I know that self-care isn’t a matter of having time; it’s a matter of readjusting what you do with that time…And as I’ve learned, spending just a few minutes every day to take care of yourself actually creates more time.”
PROCESS NOT PERFECTION
Keep in mind, perfection isn’t necessary for well-being. This is a kinder and gentler approach to not only how you look at your results, but how you speak to yourself along the way.
With social media it is easy to look at someone else, who is doing something similar, and feel like you’re not making progress. “Keep going. Your life isn’t someone else’s selfie,” Dr. Ashton encourages.