By Kristal Ruiz, LMSW
Most habits are hard to break but take time to build. It’s a lot easier to build up a new routine during the summer when your schedule is less hectic, than during the busy school year. Setting goals and starting habits now—well before school begins—gives you a chance to make them a part of your routine. This way, you can (ahem) fall back on these healthy habits when you’ve got two big tests on the same day as your big basketball game.
Of course, making a bunch of huge changes all at once can become overwhelming and may even feel impossible, so choose one or two things from the list that seem realistic and start there.
Here are 7 healthy habits to begin now so you can start school as your healthiest self!
1. Set goals
Think about what you’d like to accomplish this year and make it happen. Make sure your goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. The more specific your goal is, the more likely you are to complete it. For example, if you want to read more you could set a goal of reading for 30 minutes every night. Or if you want to be fit, make a goal to exercise for 45 minutes every day.
2. Build a daily routine
Make a daily schedule for yourself and do your best to stick with it. The structure of a routine can help ease anxiety and keep you motivated to achieve those goals you set. A routine makes it easier to eat when you mean to, get in the exercise you had planned, fall asleep at night and more. Starting a routine in the summer will make it easier to stick to during the school year, when you probably have more on your plate.
3. Make sleep a priority
Sleep affects your energy levels, mood, memory, ability to concentrate and so much more. In the summer, it’s easy to stay up until 2 or 3 am and sleep until the afternoon. When school starts, you’ll probably have a hard time falling asleep early and waking up when you’re supposed to. Avoid that shock to your system by building a sleep routine. At least 2 weeks before school begins, start going to bed around 11 pm and waking up at 8 am. This will help your body adjust, and make falling asleep and waking up easier once school starts. If you have trouble falling asleep, find some calming activities to help you wind down and relax, like reading in bed, doing a breathing exercise, or taking a warm shower. We talk more about building a sleep routine that works for you here.
4. Eat healthier
If you don’t already, start eating three meals around the same time every day. Don’t skip breakfast, even if you only eat a granola bar, some yogurt or a piece of fruit. Something is better than nothing. Eating at the same time everyday puts your body in a routine and helps it remember hunger cues.
5. Move your body
Ideally, teens should get 60 minutes of exercise every day. You might already be active with sports, biking, dancing or other activities. If you’re not, try to work it into your daily routine. Even if you can’t get the full recommended hour, going for a 10 minute walk or using the stairs instead of an elevator is way better than nothing!
6. Practice self-care
Self-care is important all the time, but it’s most important when you feel like you don’t have time for it. Self-care can be different for everyone. It can include basics like making sure to eat breakfast or lunch, exercising or cleaning. It can also mean taking a bath, reading a book, journaling, meditating or putting on your favorite pair of fuzzy socks. Find a few self-care activities that work for you, and build them into your schedule. When you’re feeling out of sorts, these activities can help ground you and relieve stress.
7. Be mindful
Mindfulness means intentionally focusing your attention on the present moment or task. When you’re eating dinner with your family or hanging out with friends, be there with them instead of checking social media. When you’re snacking, pay attention to the way the food smells, tastes and feels, rather than mindlessly eating while you watch TV. Be aware of your thoughts (without judging them), acknowledge them, and then let them go. Practicing mindfulness can help you enjoy things in the moment, manage stress, and be more aware of how you’re feeling.
It may not be a habit, but now is also the time to make appointments with your doctor, dentist and (if needed) optometrist. If you’re 10-22 years old, you can call (212) 423-3000 to make an appointment for free, comprehensive healthcare at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. No judgment, no charge.
Kristal Ruiz, LMSW is a Social Worker at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. She holds a master’s degree in Social Work from Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work and completed a one-year intensive National Child Traumatic Stress Network program on Child & Adolescent Trauma. Kristal is interested in expanding the conversation around health and wellness to include mental, emotional and social health. She uses an interdisciplinary and holistic approach to promote a positive and affirming space in which adolescents can talk about challenges they face and work together to find solutions—while also having fun.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.