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Mental Health

I Tried the New York Times 30-day Well Challenge!

On January 3rd, 2019, I completed my first task for the New York Times 30-day Wellness Challenge. We were asked to write ourselves a letter stating our intentions for the 30-day time period, as writing down goals and intentions often leads to higher rates of success. My perspective in this letter was simply to expand my knowledge base about being ‘well,’ and what exactly that means for me. I was hoping get into the wellness world that has overtaken social media and see what it has to offer. I wrote in this letter to myself that “I hope to enjoy this challenge and not find it a burden, and also cut myself some slack if I cannot complete every challenge each day.” I am glad that I knew myself well enough to realize that given my incredibly busy schedule, I would not have time to complete every activity. I was correct in this, but as I went through the challenges, I realized that it was not about total completion but gaining an understanding of the wellness lifestyle.

The last challenge of this 30-day wellness experiment was to write down one of each type of task (move, refresh, connect, and nourish) that we would continue in the coming months. The purpose of this was to help us work wellness into our everyday lives. In all reality, I was not expecting to continue much of what I learned during this challenge; I was simply going in from a curiosity standpoint. I was authentically surprised by the results.

I would like to preface this discussion in saying that I completed less than half of the Move challenges, and even that is an exaggeration. Given that I have been permanently ill with a cough since coming back to school this semester, it was difficult to do some of the workout activities. But I did feel that so many of the challenges which I was able to complete were easily implementable into a daily routine. For example, my favorite Move challenge, titled ‘Just Dance,’ is something that can be incorporated into any workout routine, with minimal effort. This challenge tasked me to create a new warm-up routine out of my favorite upbeat hits. I began with Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ and ended with ‘How Will I Know’ by Whitney Houston. Not only did this quite literally pump me up, but I actually felt looser than I would have if I had done my usual routine of monotonous and repetitive stretches. This challenge reminded me that working out is supposed to be a fun and active way to stay healthy, not an added stressor.

As for the Refresh challenges, I think these in general were the most eye-opening to me, as I was new to the meditation scene. Now that I have finally made it into the world of meditation, I am sure that I am going to continue this practice, as it brought me some internal peace and stress relief in my life of hyperactivity. I am proud to say that I completed every single Refresh challenge, but the ‘Loving-Kindness Meditation’ was the most powerful for me. It actually brought tears to my eyes. This may not have been the point of the meditation, and perhaps it was a sign that I was not meditating ‘correctly,’ but with a life that sometimes feels so far from home, imagining myself surrounded by all the people who love me was simply perfect. And when I opened my eyes to a beautiful sunny day and an expansive view of Medford, Cambridge, and Boston, I was overwhelmed with a kind of gratitude which I have not felt in a while. Each night before I fall asleep, I recite the people, amenities and small things for which I am grateful, so I do practice gratitude on a daily basis. But this meditation was different; it encouraged me to send my positive energy elsewhere–to acquaintances, loved ones, best friends, the works. This practice truly made my heart smile, and it was by far the most successful.

The connect challenges were much more difficult for me than I had formerly assumed. I have many close friends, even best friends, and lots of family in my life, but I found it difficult to open up to others. I presume that this might simply be because I am not as open of an individual as most others believe, but also because we live in the era of social media, which has inhibited my ability to connect to others in small ways. Also, many of these connect challenges were perfect to try with a significant other, but seeing as I currently do not have one of those, I felt a little more awkward trying to complete some of them with friends. I definitely preferred the ‘Phone-Free Lunch’ challenge, even though I did it at dinner, because when my friends and I were discussing our respective days, it was much easier to speak about our feelings surrounding what happened when we weren’t speaking to each others’ phone screens. Also it was an added bonus that I was able to focus on my plate of food and appreciate it for what it was, instead of gobbling down a huge salad while absent-mindedly scrolling through my Instagram feed.

Although I probably could have done a better job completing these Connect challenges, I realized that the act of remembering how important it is to connect with my friends helped me do so. Last Thursday, I had the most amazing conversation with two of my best friends and another person, who knew both of them but was a stranger to me. Somehow we ended up speaking about our childhoods and comparing brands and toys that we remembered loving. I learned that I had the same American Girl doll, Kirsten, as one of my best friends. This helped me learn even more about my friends and who they were as children. American Girl dolls are much more closely associated with a child’s personality than one might think. We also discussed boom boxes and cassette tapes, and how we couldn’t believe we ever used them, as well as our favorite children’s books. I had such a wonderful time learning about my best friends in this way, that I willfully missed a meeting to continue it, and that is saying a lot. 10/10 one of the most worthwhile things I did all week.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the Nourish challenges. I was the most familiar with this sector of wellness beforehand; I have always been interested in eating healthy snacks and balanced meals, besides the occasional consumption of Oreos, of course. The ‘Fatten Your Salad’ and ‘Breakfast Carb Challenge’ were by far my favorites because I discovered the amazing addition of walnuts to my lunch-salad, and where to find them in Carmichael Dining Hall. For the ‘Breakfast Carb Challenge’ I ate a banana with almond butter and eggs on the side, which was perfect because it had lots of protein, and although bananas do have carbs, they have few compared to the white bread that’s always readily available. Plus, it was a relatively low-sugar breakfast, which is often hard to create when we have access to so many sugary cereals, yogurts, granolas, and jellies each morning. I will continue to put walnuts and avocados in my salads along with eating almond butter and bananas at breakfast instead of their carb-heavy, sugar-filled alternatives.

Now that I have comprehensively analyzed this 30-day stint and its challenges, I have realized that it will no longer be considered just a ‘stint.’ I know that some of the challenges which I attempted will not make a debut into my everyday routine, but some of them surely will. Let it be known that I was unable to complete every challenge, but as I told myself in the beginning that it was okay to do things on my own time, they did not create added stress in my life. With that mindset, I truly do think I was able to get to much more out of this challenge than I had expected.

I realized that self-care and being ‘well’ should never feel like an obligation; it’s all about learning to love and accept yourself while caring for your body and mind. So, in that way, I really did succeed. In the last month, self-care has felt less like a hassle and more like a treasure. After completing this challenge, I honestly feel more ‘well,’ emotionally and physically. As I have now finally entered into the world of wellness, in that I have a newfound understanding of its tenants. Wellness is not the next Instagram trend; it is more than just a fad, and I have a feeling that it is going to be an important part of my lifestyle for a long time.

Elizabeth Sander is a National Writer for Her Campus and a recent graduate from Tufts University, where she earned a BA in English and French. Elizabeth served as a Her Campus Editorial Intern for the Fall of 2020 and loved every minute. When not writing articles about all things culture and style (or the occasional personal essay), Elizabeth spends time creative writing, reading and working on flying crow pose. Next up on Elizabeth's agenda is Columbia J-School! Find her on insta @elizsander or for meals inspo @confinemnt_kitchn
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