Natalie Garro, 129 TCCS
Greetings, friends! I originally wrote this article in March, 2018; however, we decided to delay its posting for a more relevant time – that was not bpit-term! That being said, I hope you find this helpful as we re-enter the school year! Best of luck adjusting to a new semester, a new adventure!
It’s that time again! Time for me to sit down and write an article about the myriad ways to maintain one’s mental, physical, and spiritual health… and all I can think about is the myriad ways I have failed to do this over the last month.
It started with the Yoga Challenge. Let me make clear, that was a fun project I volunteered for – but it took up several hours of my day every time I sat down to work on it. Combine that with 3 weeks of teaching alone, and I had a recipe for floundering self-care and interrupted routines.
So, without further ado, allow me to present my Simple Guide to Personal Health Care When You Don’t Have Time for Personal Health Care.
Find your BALANCE.
This is going to look different from day to day. Maybe one Saturday, balance is spending the afternoon at a neighbor’s house and then making dinner alone. Maybe on a Tuesday, balance is showing up to school late (obviously, if you don’t teach first thing in the morning) so you can go on a run. Maybe on a Friday, balance is skipping the run and sleeping in. Whatever balance looks like for you, I urge you to consider the “Healthy Mind Platter”, which is a relic from one of our pre-site-placement Peace Corps powerpoints.
The Healthy Mind Platter has actually been an extremely useful tool for me since I moved to my site. It reminds me that taking [down] time to “be lazy” is actually essential for my “focus time” – or the time I need to be on-task and working. It gives me permission to sleep in instead of getting up for a run if I go to bed late, and it helps me hold myself accountable when I notice my daily dose of “physical time” is shrinking. It’s a gentle nudge for me to sit down with a neighbor or call my dad when I have some free time, it allows me to revel in the occasional Netflix binge, it’s sometimes responsible for prolonged Uno games after class with my kids, and it’s, in small part, the reason the motivation journal my dad sent me for Christmas is already thoroughly scribbled in.
As human beings living in the horrendously entangled, over-complicated 21st century, maintaining this balance can be extremely tricky, and the process doesn’t get any easier when you add the demands of Peace Corps service onto the plate.
If you don’t have time to check every one of these boxes every day, maybe try to find your balance by checking at least 5 of these boxes everyday, and every single box at least 2 times/ week.
Create and maintain SUSTAINABLE habits and ROUTINES in your everyday life.
This is my second bit of advice! If you’re operating on overdrive and you barely have time to think, let alone write a reflective journal entry or cook a meal every night, adopting simple habits and routines can be a game-changer.
For me, this strategy allows me to put myself on auto-pilot during certain times of the day. Every morning, I wake up between 5:30AM (on the days I run) and 6:30AM (on the days I “sleep in”). In both cases, I hit snooze 3 times, I lie in bed doing whatever for another snooze cycle, I go down to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and feed my cat, then I come back upstairs and either get ready for my run or change for school. I eat breakfast, and I listen to Up First (NPR’s morning news podcast). I walk to school. I arrive 15 – 30 minutes early. I review my lesson plans for the morning, and then I head to class.
In the evenings, I Netflix for at least an hour after school (if I get home by 5PM). I make and eat dinner around 6:30PM (usually with a show or podcast in the background). I shower. I snuggle with my cat and read or watch more Netflix. I brush my teeth. I read in bed for 20 minutes – 1 hour, and then I go to sleep (9:30PM when I have to run, 10:30PM when I’m “sleeping in”).
On the weekends, I enjoy at least one morning in bed and a late brunch with a cup of coffee on my front balcony. This is my time to complete chores, to make the trip to the nearest city if I can, to visit my neighbors – to recharge.
My routine creates time for me to fulfill at least 5 of the 7 items on the Healthy Mind Platter in the morning before school or the evening before bed, and it’s been surprisingly easy to maintain, despite my very limited personal time over the last few weeks.
I get 8 hours of sleep every night, so I don’t fatigue throughout the day. If I need an extra brain break after a long day of teaching, I’ll take an extra hour of downtime before bed and cut my physical time the next morning. If I’m exhausted and want to sleep, I have an extra hour in the morning for whatever activity sounds best.
Keep in mind, I live alone, and I’m able to set my schedule this way; however, you can make a point to create a similar schedule for yourself while working around your host family, and they’ll come to expect these habits from you.
Meet yourself WHERE YOU ARE.
The best way to stress yourself out is beating yourself up over circumstances beyond your control. Do your best to acknowledge your own feelings, allow yourself to feel them, and then keep going. For every one circumstance or event that makes you feel bad, do one thing for yourself that makes you feel good – even better if it satisfies one of the items on the Healthy Mind Plate.
Look, Peace Corps is hard. “Pushing” through all of the hard stuff is great, but sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is cry as you pour freezing water from your bucket shower over your head… or cry because your showerhead is working for the first time in two weeks… or just sit in your office and cry. Or sit on your bed and cry. Just have a good cry. And allow yourself to not be okay. And then do something to make yourself feel better. It doesn’t have to be in that moment. It doesn’t have to be an hour down the line. But – within 24 hours of feeling crappy – take a step to satisfy one of your needs.
Some hacks for this:
- If you don’t have time to cook every night, and you have a refrigerator, make a large meal and store some leftovers in a tupperware to reheat later. I don’t have a microwave, so I just use my single gas burner. I’ve recently taking to jarring extra tomato sauce, so I can toss it on boiled pasta (available for 40 – 60B at Tesco).
- Always keep one of your favorite snacks in the house.
- Buy a yoga mat (250B at Tesco) if you don’t already have one, and do some yoga or a circuit workout if it’s too rainy to run or do a bike ride. You can find great tutorial videos on Youtube! I stream on my phone, as I don’t have internet.
- Keep a few of your favorite books on-hand – downloaded or physical copies.
- Ask someone to send you a coloring book and some colors.
- Befriend your local Yai. (She probably won’t require you to do a ton of talking, and y’all can just chill together.)
- Take up a new hobbie. (A lot of PCVs learn to play Ukulele. I’ve started listening to Podcasts.)
With all this in mind, here is a summary of my advice for the month of March: