McKenzie Paterson, 129 TCCS
Healthy Living: Caring for Yourself to Care for Your Community
We all want to be the best Volunteers that we can be for our communities. That means we need to be there for ourselves as much as we are for our community. 27 months is a long time, and it can seem longer if we aren’t caring for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If we aren’t 100% personally, we can’t serve our communities 100%. These are some methods I’ve adopted to care for myself so I can care for my community.
Mental & Emotional Self-Care
Striving for balance is difficult because life is never balanced.
It can be easy to abandon healthy living practices in the Peace Corps when you’re battling disgusting levels of heat and pure exhaustion, as well as travels and homesickness. That, my friends, is more than understandable: it’s expected. Attaining a healthy living lifestyle in America is enough of a challenge, but doing it while in the Peace Corps, what are you superhuman?! You’re at the mercy of the schedules and lifestyles of others. Routine often goes out the window. But this is the most crucial time to be loyal to your healthy living and self-care practices, and even possibly the best time to explore new ones.
Finding an accountability buddy is one of the most valuable strategies that you can adopt in order to live with more integrity and intention. This is a partnership wherein you help hold each other to your commitments as well as offer motivation, feedback, and support. When you’re accountable to someone else, you’re also being accountable to yourself.
Everyone has their own strategies for caring for themselves. One person’s self-care practice may not be useful for someone else. You have 27 months to experiment with what works for you. In addition to healthy and mindful eating and exercising, these are some examples of the things you can do to maintain a healthy mind, body, and soul.
- Write or journal your thoughts: This can be writing whatever is on your mind or simply, but equally important, taking a few minutes every day to jot down one thing you’re grateful for (bonus: record one totally Thai moment every day for laughs). Writing is an effective mental release and helps you understand your feelings more easily. And recognizing the small things that make you smile throughout the day makes the challenging moments a little easier.
- Keep track of your accomplishments: While there is great merit to a to-do list, you must also recognize the things you’ve done. At the end of the day, make a list (either mental or write it out) of the productive things you’ve done that day. Sometimes it feels like nothing goes right in the Peace Corps. Take note of your successes, no matter how small, because they matter, and you deserve a pat on the back.
- Create a cozy space: I’ve finally gotten around to decorating my room nearly a year into service, and how I wish I had done this sooner. You wouldn’t believe how much building a space that feels warm and inviting can make it actually feel like your space, your home. Find a comfy pillow, display some pictures of friends and family from home or of highlights from your Peace Corps journey on your wall, and create some aromatherapy with essential oils or candles (if you want to get fancy, use certain scents and blends to target specific needs – anxiety, insomnia, etc.). When it feels like your home, and not a borrowed space for two years, you establish a dependable retreat for when tough times arise.
- Read a book: Finding a book you love is a great way to feel happy. It feels wonderful to look forward to a good story, and the act of reading helps encourage a sense of peace. When just any old book won’t do and I need some extra guidance, I turn to the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu’s Book of Joy. They’re two of the world’s best-known spiritual leaders, and they offer so much wisdom and good advice on putting their thought into practice.
- Dance: Create a playlist for when you need to shake off all the feelings and just dance it out!
- Get quality time with a quality person: Loneliness can be one of the most pervasive feelings in the Peace Corps, but taking advantage of technology (beyond Netlix binges – no shame though, Rory and Lorelai Gilmore are my BFFs at site) and calling with PCV friends and loved ones from home can help combat feelings of loneliness. These moments give you the opportunity to share your successes as well as work together through your struggles. You can even workout, dance it out, or watch a movie together via FaceTime. Technology can be a beautiful thing and help ease the distance and time between you and your loved ones.
- Unplug: Instagram and Facebook certainly have their benefits (like being able to connect with your family), but social media can become a black hole when you overexpose yourself to everyone’s online versions of themselves. Most often people only report on their success, and so it can be discouraging when you’re comparing your entire life to everyone’s highlight reels, whether they’re fellow PCVs or at home. Take the time to break away from social media, and allow yourself to focus on the beauty (and peace) of the moment.
- Practice mini-meditation and breathing techniques: The power of relaxation is glorious. Try to set aside a few moments a day or week in a calming, comfortable, and distraction-free space for deep breathing and letting go. Focus on your breathing to stay connected, and let the thoughts pass by when your mind wanders. But this can be much easier said than done. Luckily, there are resources you can use for guided meditation, like the apps Headspace, Calm, and Breathe. Some people like to use music to help silence the mind. Do it in the morning to begin your day with inner peace or do it at the end of the night to help release yourself into a peaceful sleep. Your mind, body, and breath are intimately connected to and can influence others. Your breathing can be influenced by your thoughts, just as your thoughts are influenced by your breathing. Mindful breathing helps lower the heart rate and restores balance in the mind and body.
Flexibility, if this hasn’t already been drilled into your heads enough, is essential in service. It’s also essential in healthy living. Love your body, but love yourself too. Utterly and completely exhausted? Skip working out and lesson planning, just nap. Cranky and homesick? Skip the apple, grab the spoon, and just eat the peanut butter. It’s just as important to forgive yourself when you don’t achieve your goals as it is to bask in your victories. There’s always next week. It’s when you no longer believe in your ability to achieve those goals that you’re in trouble. Peace Corps is a 27-month-long, hard job. Be kind to and take care of yourself so you can be there for your community.