Maintaining Balance in Everyday Life

JaNiene Peoples and Samantha York from the Center for Student Wellbeing led a discussion on Wellness in Graduate School this week for Women’s History Month. An event in a series of discussions on Women in the Academy, this specific “facilitation” explored exercise, nutrition, sleep, and mindfulness—four of the most important facets of wellbeing.

We began the facilitation on the topic of self-care: what is self-care and how do we even begin to work on it? Everyone had a different definition of self-care, but the conversation left each of us with the ultimate goal of building a life from which we do not need to take a break. Self-care should be constant, not something that you let slide for a week before “taking a day” for yourself. This is not to say that “taking a day” isn’t okay—in fact, it can be a great way to increase your wellbeing. However, if you need to take a day in order to survive the following week, you should probably look at your own self-care habits. As Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.”

We then moved on to the topic of exercise. There are a lot of common misconceptions surrounding exercise, and a lot of times it is easy to let this aspect of our health fall through the cracks while in undergraduate or graduate school. With so many outside commitments, it can seem like a difficult task to fit physical activities into your daily schedule. As JaNiene pointed out, exercise can happen anywhere and at any time! Take a few minutes after lunch for a walk or find time to go swimming on the weekends. It’s all about finding the exercise that is right for you, regardless of whether it occurs in a gym or a workout class. The goal is to just keep moving.

Tying to our discussion of exercise, JaNiene and Samantha brought up the topic of nutrition. The food we put into our body is so important and affects our everyday wellbeing as well as long-term health. Food provides our bodies with the energy we need to get through the day; to function, develop, and grow. It is important to keep an abundance of fruits and vegetables in your diet, as well as plenty of water to stay hydrated. Try to maintain healthy habits such as reading labels on the food you buy and avoiding highly processed foods. As Samantha put it, “eat the food that looks like the food it is”. Be mindful of what you are putting in your body and try not to let nutrition slide for the sake of time or ease. If you are short on time during the week, try meal prepping over the weekends! Although it seems like a lot of work in the moment, you will thank yourself later.

 

On top of exercise and nutrition, sleep is one of the most important aspects of wellbeing. Sleep helps your brain recover from a day of hard work, consolidates learning and memory, boosts your immune system, helps maintain a healthy hormone balance, and (most importantly) keeps you alive! Work to ensure a good night’s sleep by identifying and addressing the factors that interfere with your rest. After all, the bed “is only for sleeping and loving”, so make sure you treat it as such. Try not to do work in your bed and avoid screens as much as possible. Be aware of the light filtering into your bedroom at night and keep the temperature cool to alert your body that it is time to sleep. Work out some sort of pre-sleep routine and try to stick to a reasonable sleep schedule throughout the week (yes, that means weekends too!). Although many people change their sleep patterns over the weekend, it is important to find a balance that evens out sleep throughout the entire week.

We finished our discussion on the topic of mindfulness—the overarching and oh-so-important practice that can do wonders for wellbeing (especially for those of us who easily get caught up in the world of academia). Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the present moment in an intentional way with self-compassion. While the traditional approach to mindfulness involves meditation, we can find ways to be mindful in every moment of the day that doesn’t have to be so structured. Practicing mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful showering, or even mindful listening can be a great start on the path to self-care. There are many ways to practice mindfulness on and around Vanderbilt campus, including frequent guided or silent meditation at the CSW, or even mindful walking at the Scarritt-Bennett Center labyrinth. Self-care can seem difficult to fit into everyday life, but starting small can make a world of difference.

I want to give a huge shout out to the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center, the Center for Student Wellbeing, and JaNiene and Samantha for organizing and facilitating such a wonderful and important event.