The Health Diaries

Even Arianna Huffington Is Trying to Spend Less Time on Her Phone

‘Well-being isn’t a luxury or a soft add-on. It’s a competitive advantage.’

There are many ways to live a healthy life. The Health Diaries is a weekly series about the habits that keep notable people living well.

PPerhaps no single person is as evocative of the corporate embrace of wellness culture as Arianna Huffington. The founder and CEO of Thrive Global is on a mission to end stress and burnout and, of course, convince people to sleep more.

Part of her company’s strategy is helping businesses incorporate health and well-being as key principles. Thrive has launched in India and Greece and has led trainings on five continents so far, with further expansion plans for 2019. The key to changing a work environment, Huffington argues, is total commitment on all levels. “Even the best well-being plans won’t be maximized if there’s not buy-in from senior management to change the incentive structure,” she tells Medium. “ For company culture to truly change and become more resilient, the culture shift needs to be modeled at the top.”

Huffington shares her own health and wellness routines with Medium, including how she actually gets eight hours of sleep a night.

When I wake up varies depending on what time I went to sleep the night before and, of course, if I’m traveling, which I often am. What’s more important is that, whenever my wakeup time is, I’m getting around eight hours of sleep. And I use an old-fashioned, analog alarm clock — no digital devices are allowed in my bedroom!

The key is what I don’t do right when I wake up. In the morning, instead of reaching for my phone first thing, I take a minute to breathe deeply or meditate, be grateful, and set my intention for the day — not just what I want to get done, but what kind of day I want to have. Creating this device-free, human-focused time before we start our day is valuable in and of itself, but it also can reinforce our sense of being in control of our technology for the rest of the day.

I have terrible breakfast habits. I love breakfast foods, but not at breakfast — the only thing I’ll have at breakfast time is Bulletproof coffee.

Being from the Mediterranean, I’ve been on the Mediterranean diet all my life. And it was even easier to continue when all the studies came out saying that it was the best way to eat. So that’s most of what I eat: fresh fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and, being Greek, a lot of yogurt and feta cheese. My general philosophy is that food and the act of eating it — especially with friends — should give you joy. And so people should find healthy foods — and there are many to suit every taste — that do this for them. But adopting a diet that doesn’t allow you to enjoy eating is unlikely to work in the long term.

I take vitamins and Chinese herbs to boost my immune system, especially in winter.

After some yoga and exercise in the morning, I do focused work from home and then head into the office. The afternoon is usually taken up with meetings, which, modeling our principles, we try to make device-free. Not only does it make those in attendance feel more present and connected with each other, it also makes the meetings more focused, productive, and shorter.

If there’s an event or dinner after work that I’m attending, I normally go straight there from the office. I can always change in the bathroom.

I try to exercise every day, even if it’s just for 30 minutes. I also do yoga, and I love taking hikes and riding my stationary bike.

As for habits I’m trying to break, like more and more people, I’m trying to be more mindful about using my phone and putting it down when it’s really not necessary. And, yes, I could also cut down on coffee.

My evenings vary a lot, but I treat my transition to sleep as a sacrosanct ritual. The first part of my routine is escorting my phone out of the bedroom. Our phones are repositories of everything we need to put away in order to sleep: our to-do lists, our inboxes, the demands of the world. Charging your phone away from your bed makes you more likely to wake up as fully charged as your phone.

Once I’ve put my phone to bed, I’ll take a hot bath with Epsom salts and a candle flickering nearby, which I prolong if I’m feeling anxious or worried about something. I no longer sleep in my workout clothes (think of the mixed message that sends to our brains). Now I have pajamas, nightdresses, even T-shirts dedicated to sleep. Then I’ll have a cup of chamomile, lavender, or licorice tea, which I’ll have right before bedtime — it’s warm and comforting and helps me begin to wind down and say goodbye to the day. I’ll also read—physical books — especially poetry, novels, and books that have nothing to do with work.

It’s important for companies to take wellness into account, because, as all the science and data show, there’s such a direct connection between well-being and productivity. Companies need to realize that human capital is their most important resource, and well-being is all about unlocking human potential. Having employees who aren’t able live up to their potential means leaving a lot of money, resources, and human capital on the table.

What I am most looking forward to in 2019 is expanding to more parts of the world. Because the burnout epidemic is global, Thrive Global has been global from day one — we’ve now launched Thrive in India and Greece and have given trainings on five continents. Next year, we expect to fulfill our mission in even more countries.

If you want to change your wellness culture from the ground up, it’s absolutely possible, and it starts by using the science to make your case. You have the data, which is clear and unambiguous, on your side, so that’s the key to getting more and more buy-in up the management chain. And then, when you can, it’s important to model the change in culture for your own team so that it’s those employees who take care of themselves by recharging who are applauded and held up as role models, instead of those burning themselves out. Then other employees and teams will follow suit.

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that

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