As the new school year is upon us, here is a list of back-to-school healthy habits, tips, thoughts, and little nuggets I’m going to be incorporating for overall wellness!
BACK-TO-SCHOOL HEALTHY HABITS
I’m still at the point in my life where I think about the year in terms of semesters. Having a job in higher education and taking classes really solidifies the process of breaking up chunks of time from “August to December,” “January to May,” and then summer. Maybe one day I won’t be a student or I will work in a setting based more on the calendar year, but for now, my mind continues to break up time into these segments of months.
It’s been valuable for me to break up my year into segments of time. With each new semester, or few months of the year, I go through a time of “ending” and “beginning.” I go through a time of reflection on what has just ended — I reflect on the past few months and what I have learned, how I have grown, and the times of goodness. Sometimes when seasons end and I am filled with joy, especially if it felt like a journey through the desert. Other times I am filled with mourning because if things are going really really well, I wrestle with the change.
In that sweet spot between seasons, it’s so important to think about the new beginnings. It’s so easy to just keep your head down and to rush into the upcoming months, but oh how sweet it is to try to live with intentions and purpose. Of course, change might still be difficult, and we may forget to stop and think about what the heck we are even doing, but I think it’s worth it to be ambitious and to set goals. To acknowledge the beginning of a new season with focus, goals, and a purpose is refreshing and full of goodness.
All of this to say that the new school year brings an opportunity to start fresh. It brings a chance to focus on a purpose, create healthy habits, and set goals. So, as the new school year is upon us, here is a list of healthy habits, tips, thoughts, and little nuggets I’m going to be incorporating for overall wellness!
- Plan a schedule. I thrive on routines, I do better when I have an idea of when I will be doing certain activities and how I want to use my time. I have the tendency to get super focused on accomplishing something and then spending hours and hours on that one thing (this has looked like reading an entire book in one sitting, working on homework for 12 hours straight, etc.) Planning a daily schedule helps me fill the hours of the day with the activities I value. I block out time for my job, taking classes, working out, spending time with Alan, doing homework, talking on the phone with friends, and anything else that is a priority. This kind of scheduling usually happens at the beginning of the semester so I’m able to create a blueprint for what the next few months will look like, but then I tweak it from week to week depending on my current goals.
- Extra Thoughts: God bless planners. All I’m saying is that if planners didn’t exist, I would not be as productive or focused as I am now. It blows my mind to know the people who just remember everything. HOW. Anyway, if you are a planner person and looking for a good one, my favorites are from Rifle Paper Company, Erin Condren, and Gem and Bara.
- Create goals. Goals are so powerful. They fuel our ambition. Setting goals gives long-term vision and short-term motivation. They give focus, can be a tool to measure progress, and can motivate. It’s these reasons why I think it’s so important to create all sorts of goals — goals for the day, for the week, for the new season of life, and maybe even for the upcoming years. Creating goals doesn’t have to be fancy or look a certain way, I think it’s important that there is a time of reflection and then writing them actually down (I’ve written goals on napkins at restaurants, post-it’s, and in journals so write wherever you’re inspired or have the vision). Overall, having goals helps to better organize my time and resources to make the most of my life. It helps me accomplish things I never thought were possible. So dream, baby, dream. Write down those goals and get inspired.
- Find your “dress to impress” outfit. I work in higher education so this means I have to dress professionally every. single. day. Oh how I miss my leggings and baggy t-shirts. I still have my comfy clothes, but the pickings are more slim because I’ve had to trade a lot of the grungy wear for more the more professional attire. However, I have my go-to’s. I have a few outfits that I could whip out and feel confident for an important meeting, conference, office visit, etc. I highly recommend that you have at least one “go-to, makes you feel confident, looks classy, feels professional” outfit because you want to be prepared for the opportunities that may arise like an interview, meeting, etc.
- Extra Thoughts: My favorite places for professional clothes are Gap, Old Navy, Loft, and J-Crew. Raid those clearance racks and find some good stuff. My go-to outfit is a pair of black dress pants, a button-up shirt, cardigan, and either my black heels, boots, or flats, depending on the situation.
- Find a work space. I know where I am able to work with the most focus. The spots that give me the most focus are in my office at work, at my kitchen table, or in the library. The spots that don’t help me focus are my bed, loud coffee shops, or my kitchen table. (Yes, my kitchen table doubles as good and bad depending on the day because sometimes I love to work at my house but if I’ve been there too long, I will find everything else in the world to do at my house before I start actually working). Wherever you live, find those spaces where you thrive. Places I have found to be a safe haven are corners of the library, empty academic buildings, or even restaurants not at meal times.
- Take a personal retreat. I love retreat days. Love them. A personal retreat day is a day where the main focus is rest — for the emotions, mind, body, heart, and soul. Schedules are set aside, meetings are canceled, and work is meant to cease. Essentially it’s spending a day retreating for the good of your heart and soul. I don’t take them super often, but they have become a priority in my life. I love to take one at the beginning of each new season, which could look like taking one before the semester begins, but sometimes it ends up being in the middle of the chaos. Something is better than nothing.
- Extra Thoughts: I have written two blog posts on personal retreat days! One blog post is about a personal retreat day I took that was spent mostly in a coffee shop in a random city. I also took a 24-hour retreat a few weeks ago and spent the entire day in the wilderness. It’s sort of intimidating at first, but your soul will thank you for the time spent retreating.
- Consider your spiritual growth. It’s very easy to become spiritually stagnant. It’s easy to forget to spend time with Lord and prioritize every other activity in existence that doesn’t have to do with growing spiritually. This is hard. Wanting to grow and then actually taking the steps to try to is difficult and hard, but does indeed reap goodness. As I enter into a new season, similar to planning a schedule, I think about the steps I will take to spiritually grow and if that might look like practicing morning prayer, committing to a devotional, going to church, joining a small group, etc. I encourage you to think about where you are, where you want to be, and then take action on how to get there.
- Fill the body with nutrients! Filling up the body with all of the nutritious things has so many benefits. Seriously so many. Since I have started filling my body with better foods, I have noticed changes like a stronger immune system (I don’t get sick as much!), more energy throughout the day (snacks are great), and overall just feeling good. I’m not a doctor so I’ll let you look online or read some books for all of the scientific reasons why you should fill your body with the nutritious things so you can be convinced it’s worth it.
- Eat breakfast. Breakfast is my absolute favorite meal of the day. Whether savory or sweet, this meal fuels me up for the day and gives me energy to do all the things. By eating breakfast, my mood is boosted, I have more focus, and my body feels good.
- Extra Thoughts: I occasionally give myself time to cook breakfast based on what I’m feeling that morning, but more often than not, I prepare my breakfast the night before so I can grab it on the go! My favorites are overnight oats, warm bowls of oatmeal, breakfast sandwiches, and protein pancakes/waffles. Check out my Recipes for Success Part 1 and Recipes for Success Part 2 for some easy, healthy breakfast ideas!
- Keep a snack stash. I experience real hanger. If I am even a little bit hungry without access to snacks, I sincerely apologize because I am irritable, unfocused, and sometimes mean. The solution for this is a snack stash (or multiple stashes)! I have a drawer in my office, pocket in my backpack, and pantry shelf full of little snackies for a boost of energy. If you have a space you spend most of your time or travel with a bag, create a stash and keep it stocked (this will also save you money down the road!)
- Get a water bottle and take it everywhere. I have a blue S’well bottle and it goes with me everywhere. I make goals throughout the day like “I’m going to finish this bottle of water before getting the papers from the printer” or “I will drink one bottle of water before having coffee” and other such goals. Having a specific water bottle I carry around all the time leads to me drinking way more water, which in turn helps with hydration, digestion, circulation, transporting nutrients, and other such necessary bodily functions. If you have trouble drinking water, try something with a straw or leave the lid off the bottle you have so it’s easier to drink. There are also apps people use to keep track of how much they are hydrating!
- Find interesting recipes. I have an ongoing list of recipes I want to try. Having a list to pull from keeps things interesting in the kitchen, helps me make healthy choices, and keeps things fresh! I use Evernote as a way to keep track of recipes I’ve made, my thoughts about them, as well as recipes I want to try. Check out my Recipes for Success Part 1 and Recipes for Success Part 2 for some easy, healthy recipes as well as bloggers I love.
- Meal prep. My personality thrives by having the opportunity to meal prep. This means that every week (usually on Sunday afternoon), I set aside time to go to the grocery store and then wash, chop, and cook for the upcoming week. I bring my breakfasts, lunches, and sometimes even dinner to work with me so it saves me so much time and is honestly a lot easier for me to do everything at once. Depending on the week, sometimes I have the same meal for a couple of days in a row or switch it up with something new.
- Extra Thoughts: The most helpful part of meal prepping is PREPARING. Pick out your recipes, get everything you need from the store, find a few hours to cook, have containers to pack everything in, and find a lunchbox to pack your food for the day. I use Pinterest and Evernote for recipe lists, Aldi for my go-to grocery store, a Vera Bradley lunchbox, and use these Bento Boxes and glass meal prep containers.
- Keep the body moving! I always find ways to keep my body moving during the day because most of my work is sedentary. A few mornings a week I go on a quick morning run, and I usually take the time to walk to work to get my body moving for digestion, focus, and to prepare for the many hours of sitting my day usually consists of. I also aim to work out on my lunch break and walk home from work. Basically, I’m a mover. Taking the time to move at least those three times help break up the day, relieve stress from work, and helps me focus. In addition, I love to walk around while I talk on the phone, need a break from studying, or have been sitting for way too long. It’s been so good for me to move when I feel myself getting anxious because I have learned it helps my mind and heart be filled with peace. Find the ways you enjoy moving your body and do it!
- Set fitness goals. I’m sure at this point it isn’t surprising that I love a good work out plan. I like to know what I’m doing before I go to the gym so I can get in, work hard, and get out. The plan I follow is dependent upon my goals and what I’m working towards. If I’m training for a half marathon, a lot of work outs will be runs with some strength training sessions. If I’m not training for a race, I enjoy having variety by adding more strength training, fewer runs, and maybe a couple of work out classes.
- Extra Thoughts: Set a goal, make a plan, and figure out the resources you need to make it happen. I got super into running so I bought a pair of Mizunos, found a time to go to the gym, and made it into a habit. (Running has changed my life — here’s a blog post all about my relationship with running!) If you don’t know where to start, find a gym you can use, look up some YouTube videos, or join a class. Finding a work out buddy also is great accountability!
- SLEEP. I am really bad at this one which is why I always have to at least attempt to set a bedtime goal. I try not to look at screens 30 minutes before I’m trying to go to sleep. Also, I think there’s value in waking up at the same time everyday and in some ways it helps you sleep better. I have no idea if there’s scientific evidence behind this, but I think for the sake of routine and setting habits, sleeping regularly and adjusting my body is helpful!
- Extra Thoughts: I bought a pair of pajamas and they have been life-changing. I used to be the big t-shirt and gym shorts kind of girl (and I still am sometimes), but putting on pajamas signals to my body that it’s time to rest. TRY IT.
- Find ways to relieve stress. I have learned that because of the way I live (super ambitious, focused, and making the most of each day) I sometimes have a tendency to ignore how I’m feeling and push through things. In other words, I don’t always realize I’m stressed until I’m reeeeeally stressed. Like on edge and almost having a break down kind of stressed. Alan loves when this happens (just kidding, but he is a rock and helps me a lot). There are certain activities I lean towards like journaling, praying, going on a walk, and going for a walk. I’ve also tried the occasional yoga class, professional massage, and checking in my with myself. The biggest things are mentally, like choosing to give myself grace, being real with myself, and rearranging my priorities.
- Extra Thoughts: Stress relief is important. It’s going to look different for everyone (I’m so impressed with all of the yogis out there!) but I suggesting finding the ways that work for you! I wrote a whole blog post about stress management because there was a point earlier in the year where I was so stressed and didn’t realize it had accumulated so much until I basically hit rock bottom. Please, please find tips so you don’t have to hit there.
- Take breaks. I have the tendency to get super in the zone and work super hard until I stop noticing the people and events close to me. It’s not great. I also usually end up getting burnt out and irritable. I think taking breaks is great for refocusing, working hard short-term, and reaching small goals.
- Extra Thoughts: This summer I practiced having two nights a week at home. I sometimes did a little work at home, but those nights were spent in a place I love that makes me feel good. As we head into the new school year, let’s make sure we find time to rest and break from work!
- Be real. Until I’m real and honest with myself, I’m not going to get anywhere. I won’t be able to create goals, work towards anything, or move unless I’m honest. Shoot, this is hard. Because often times, if I am really real with myself, I’m pretty freaked out. I’m messy, full of sin, off track, and my crap is not together. That’s as to be expected though since we are in fact, human.
- Extra Thoughts: It’s important to reflect, be honest, and be real. Be realistic on the things you can do and say no to the things you can’t! Again, let me emphasize that point on saying no to things.
- Know what makes your heart beat fast. When I refer to “the things that make your heart beat fast” I’m talking about the things that put some pep in your step–the things you love. For me, this is adventures, Alan, going on walks, coffee, cooking, treats, morning runs, and being with my people. I’m sure as you’re reading this you’re already thinking about what those things are for you.
- Extra Thoughts: Share with other people this list of things. Let other people care for you and help you when you need it.
- Learn stuff. I’m a student so I get how a lot of time is spent learning academic things, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m suggesting finding things to learn that aren’t what is being studied for school. Listen to podcasts, read books for leisure, or listen to public radio. It keeps you fresh, thinking, and growing!
- Extra Thoughts: The number one way I’ve learned new things this past year is by listening to podcasts. I have no idea why I never listened to them sooner, but it’s such a great way to learn more about topics I’m interested in while still doing other activities! They’re a multi-tasker’s dream! Here’s a post about my favorite podcasts as of lately.
- Get playlists ready. I have playlists for all of the different feels: I use music to match the mood I’m in so whether I need a playlist to hype me up before a race, chill me out in the morning, keep me focused at work, or awake in the car — I have it covered. I also love finding new music so if you have any good playlists, please share them with me!
- Extra Thoughts: I love Spotify (I’m a part of a Spotify family so I pay $30 for the year!) My favorite playlists right now are the ones I listen to in the morning time (“coffee&jesus“), the one for in the afternoon when I’m working (“////“), and the one that hypes me up before a run (“pre-race hulla“).
- Celebrate accomplishments. I love celebrations…all kinds! I think there’s a lot of power in taking time to celebrate the small victories to the really big accomplishments (the scale changes from person to person.) Sometimes I celebrate working hard all week long, maybe something cool Alan did, or finishing another semester of graduate school. Whatever is being celebrated, celebrate well. Get some treats, keep things fresh, and take a bit to recognize your accomplishments and the victories of those around you.
- Extra Thoughts: If you say “celebrate!” I will respond with “with what food?!” In our family, we love to celebrate by cooking something good, dessert, or going out to dinner. It’s how we feel celebrated.
- Spend time with friends. I value relationships. I think that putting time and energy into relationships is absolutely worthwhile. It was so amazing living in the same city with friends because I could see them multiple times a week or even in a day. However, now I don’t live in the same city as most of my best friends so we make it a point to find a way to see each other face-to-face when it feels like it’s been too long. This isn’t convenient or a way to save money, but it’s absolutely important to connect and grow with people I love.
- Extra Thoughts: I think it’s worth it to go visit far-away friends. Even if I’m only going to be with them for a weekend, I try to make it happen. In the spring, a few of my college roommates and I took a trip to Tennessee (yes, another blog post on that!) to visit another roomie. It was an incredible opportunity to adventure and travel with my gals. Also, my one of my favorite weekends of the year was one I got to spend with my lifelong friends (here’s a blog post on that!) We picked a weekend, protected it as best we could, and then met up in a little cabin in the fall, and it was perfect.
- Keep in touch with far-away friends. I know I just said it was worth it to visit far-away friends (and I absolutely do), but if I just relied on seeing those friends in person, I would have absolutely no idea what is going on in their life and would be a pretty terrible friend. Long-distance friendship is really hard, but it’s important to find a way to keep in touch with those people.
- Extra Thoughts: I’m not perfect at keeping in touch, but I try to do things like make random phone calls to people (especially when I’m driving long distances or walking home from work), text random pictures, or send mass texts with updates. It can change for the season you’re in, but I think it’s necessary to try to stay connected.
- Find accountability. There’s value in being vulnerable with people I trust. By sharing the state of my heart and my mind with others (even though it’s an extremely hard thing to do), I know that by doing so I will have support from those I care about.
- Extra Thoughts: Having accountability doesn’t have to be an official thing, but I really do love my accountability group. I meet once a week, in the morning, usually at Hy-Vee, with my accountability group. It’s our weekly time to check-in, ask questions, encourage, and push one another. We also do fun things like the donut challenge and weekday campouts.
- Be intentional. I think it’s important to be intentional when you’re with your people, or want to be with your people. It’s easy for me to just show up when I’m with someone and not be very focused or not as vulnerable or honest as I could. It’s so silly I do that too because it would be way more worth it to just be fully real.
- Extra Thoughts: I think being intentional in a relationship can look like being real about what I need or recognizing what the other person needs. If I need advice or someone to listen, then I will ask for conversation. If I need to be cheered up, I ask for fun things. Recognize if others need an extra treat, kind note, or someone to listen to as well.
- Recognize that relationships change. This is maybe one of the hardest but also one of the sweetest things I’ve witnessed in the past couple of years. It is so easy to find people I love and just never want them to leave me or have my relationship with them change, but it almost always happens. I always have to remind myself it is okay and that relationships don’t end when I don’t live in the same city as friends. It also doesn’t always mean that relationships are growing apart.
- Extra Thoughts: Relationships will change through seasons. Sometimes this means relationships drift apart, but it sometimes means new relationships will form. I have made new friends in the times that were so unexpected and could not be more thankful. I try to always do my best to love those around me well, whether those around me are new friends, old ones, or even strangers.
- Expect change. “Things change.” “Everything changes.” “Nothing will stay the same.” These are all of the things I remind myself because me and change are not fast friends. I resist, I fight, and I try to keep things how they are. I’ll never win, and it’s for the best. I can embrace the change, be challenged, and grow through it. One of the most important thing about change is the opportunity to learn and grow. It’s easy to slide into old patterns, be stubborn, and resist (seriously, I get it). But expect the change, recognize it, let yourself mourn the way things were, and then freakin’ learn some stuff and power through.
- Find what feels like home. Home can be a space I create (I love being in my living room with all the plants, a candle lit, and the christmas lights on), people I’m with (Alan forever and always), or a moment. When I am feeling lost, lonely, defeated, or hurt — I run home. I find those places, the people, and moments that give me that feeling of being safe and cared for.
- Extra Thoughts: I love spending time in my living room. It’s not a big space, but it has the things I enjoy looking at and make me feel comfortable. There’s a big kitchen table, plants, christmas lights, books, a big reading chair, blankets, candles, and pictures and shelves on the wall. Alan and I created this space we genuinely enjoy spending time in and it makes our home really feel like home.
- Know how expectations, motivation, and discipline will impact habits and routine. I think it’s very important to know the difference in all of these three things because sometimes it’s easy to get them confused. Expectations are predictions and hope we have about the future. So I know for me it is important to have expectations that are realistic and align with my actions. (For example, if I’m trying to improve my time for a half marathon but don’t do speed work or try to run faster while I’m training, it’s probably not going to happen. My time might get faster, but probably not on it’s own.) Motivation is the reason for acting or behaving a certain way, so kind of like inspiration. It helps me accomplish the goals I have and is that deep down feeling I have when I am working hard. I think it’s really easy to think that people who have healthy habits they do are motivated everyday, and that is not true. Let me be clear: the people who incorporate healthy habits into their day are not motivated everyday. I think it can start with motivation, but the everyday routine and actual solidification of habits relates to discipline. Discipline is the practice and training of behavior to follow certain rules, it’s like a strictness, training, or order. I think discipline is what kicks in when we feel unmotivated. (For example, I work out every day. Most days I genuinely enjoy it and feel very motivated to do so. However, on other days, I don’t always feel like it, but I do it any way. I have the discipline deep within me that keeps me living in the way I want to live.) I also think it’s important to think about how your personality will impact creating habits and routine. I’ve taken an abundance of personality tests to know that my strengths are in the categories of execution and relationships. My top strengths are achievement, focus, discipline, positivity, so I will be honest that my personality type probably makes it easier for me to form habits. I am very motivated, make lists, thrive on accomplishments and order, and am enthusiastic along the way. I think it’s important to understand your personality type and your strengths, and do your best to form habits in a way that works for you. There’s a lot to say about expectations, motivation, and discipline, and these truly impact the incorporation of healthy habits into our lives (I think I’ll write a post on this soon!)
- Live fully. I know that’s so cliche, but I also know how frequently I forget to do it. I know how quick things happen, how fast time goes by, and how it’s easy to feel so busy all the time. Don’t let that stop you from living. It’s so easy when time is scheduled out like this to get into the mindset of “I just have to work hard until ___” or “things will be better after this week.” MAYBE there’s some truth to that, but guys, we are doing this. We’re doing the thing. We are living. We are living now. So fill your life with the things you want to be doing. I have a lot of extra thoughts on that, but none I can get into now.
Overall, wellness is important. Life is difficult and I’m just doing my best to live as fully and best as I can. I’m creating healthy habits, soaking up all the tips, and making positive changes when I’m able. I hope you’re able to be encouraged that we are all doing our best to be just a little bit better. Whether it be in the areas of professional, relationships, self-care, food/fitness, or spiritual, I hope you’re able to find ways to be more well. I’m choosing a world of wellness and I would love for you to join me!