Hey y’all. This post has nothing to do with research, teaching, or service, but it is related to all three. As I’ve moved into more public services-facing work and the more I’ve worked with graduate students, the more I’m reminded just how mentally unwell I was during my last year of graduate school, and in more years than not in my early professional life.
For some context, I come from a life that’s pretty darn privileged – my parents were academic librarians/administrators with PhDs. I ultimately decided to follow in their footsteps, for a variety of reasons. However, I wanted very much to avoid being defined by my parents and their careers as I was establishing myself, and so I chose to work outside of libraries (partly because – benefits, hello) full time during graduate school, which I went to almost-full-time. During my last year of graduate school, my mother was diagnosed with advanced, and ultimately terminal, lung cancer. She passed away as I was completing my final semester. In addition, my generalized anxiety disorder and depression, which I had been diagnosed with during my undergrad and had largely been managing with medication, flared up with a vengeance due to accumulated stress about my mom, my job, and completing my degree. Everything began to suffer – I felt like I was falling apart. Even after I got through all of that and got into my first professional position, I was so focused on establishing myself, earning promotion to Associate Professor, and generally “not letting anybody down” during the first part of my career that I realized I needed to build “taking care of myself” into my life or I just flat out won’t do it. It’s really only now, in my mid 30s, that I’ve started to take an active, planned approach to taking care of myself. Most of my tools/techniques either don’t cost money, or are things you’d need to do anyway, like eating, etc.
One of the side effects of my generalized anxiety disorder is procrastination and avoidance. I’ve tried a variety of techniques over the years to capture all my to-dos and keep track of progress, and this year I’m yet another person on the Bullet Journal bandwagon. I decided to try it when several other folks I know and trust whose brains work how mine does, more or less, recommended it (thanks Ruth!). I’d tried “Getting Things Done” several times and become flooded with anxiety – but despite my over-reliance on my cell phone and a variety of apps, this analog method of keeping track of what I need to be working on seems to be working – so far so good. It’s FAR less pretty than almost anything you’ll find on an image search if you search the phrase “bullet journal” online, so don’t despair if yours is also ugly but functional.
The “Habit Tracker” is one way to use a bullet journal (or any journal, really) and all it is is a dated list of entries with all the habits you’d like to be doing on a daily basis. Mine are:
- kettlebell/bodyweight workout or yoga (AM or PM)
- hydration (3 40 oz water bottles/day)
- eating 3 meals of actual, real food per day
- journaling (not bullet journaling, just “thoughts for the day,” which I keep separate)
- leaving the building for min of 15 (ideally 30) min/day
- 2 15 minute breaks during workday
- 2 magnesium before bed (I take these-most magnesium is citrate which upsets my stomach)
- text or talk to a friend (not at work)
- give myself a present
- in bed by 10
- read book
- daily chores:
- make bed
- empty/fill dishwasher
- empty/fill washer
- empty/wipe sink/counter
- pick up/put away
- sweep (I have a lot of animals, this needs to happen daily)
In case you’re wondering – the “give yourself a present” is absolutely a nod to Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if I don’t prepare almost every aspect of my meals for the upcoming week, I will end up eating takeout. A lot.
Every week on Sunday I:
- hardboil 6 eggs
- rough chop a few peppers, onion, etc.
- make either:
That way I have emergency food for breakfast/dinner and could make a salad for lunch so I don’t resort to takeout unless I just can’t stand it. I will also usually put on one slow cooker recipe of some kind.
Or, soup. I end up eating a lot of pureed vegetable soups because, like a small child, I prefer my vegetables to be hidden. All of these can be made vegan with veggie broth or are vegan. I usually put shredded chicken or beef in mine for protein.
I am not a fan of formalized meal planning – I’m too fickle, and I’d rather buy what’s on sale in the grocery store that week, which I often don’t know until that Tuesday. One bonus is that I have a pretty set flavor palate, and I know what works or doesn’t work for my guts/brain/body. I happen to be lactose intolerant, and while I don’t have a gluten allergy, I’ve found that my brain and guts function a lot better if I stick mostly to rice if I’m going to add in any grain or starch. In addition, rice forms the basis of most of my favorite cuisines – Korean, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Mexican, etc. If you had to call it something I guess you could call it paleo, but I do still eat pasta, bread, etc. just not very often.
If I don’t want one of the things I make ahead, I usually have a defrosted package of ground beef (I would use pork or chicken but I haven’t found a reliable source of either that’s local and affordable). The ground beef often becomes bibimbap. It may look complicated, but try it once or twice and you’ll see that – provided you have the main ingredients (ginger, garlic, vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, some red chili garlic sauce (can be Sriracha, doesn’t have to be gochujang), sugar)), it is WORTH IT. And it’s fast. I make at least a bowl a week, probably more during the winter. Ideally you’ll also have some kimchi, pickled onions (you can quick pickle red onions in the fridge), and you’ll have a meal that feels special (to me, anyway – it’s a staple in many Korean/Korean-American households), satisfies takeout cravings, is fast, and is still pretty healthy. My other go-to is this very simple Thai Beef with Basil recipe. Another is breakfast tacos – just scramble some eggs with garlic and hot sauce, add some avocado/guacamole, put ’em in 3 taco shells, and you have dinner. During the summer I make a lot of tuna poke as well, if tuna is on sale. I finally gave in a bought a rice cooker – totally worth it.
I’m not vegan or vegetarian, but I do try to buy ethically produced meat if possible – which usually means I stock up on ground beef, stew meat, ribs, whole free range chickens, and pork butt/shoulder if I can get it. I then use the whole chicken to make my own broth, which tastes better than the crap you can buy in the store and is super simple to make – also in the slow cooker! Most of the really good ways to prepare cheap cuts of meat involve slow cooking.
Maybe someday I’ll get an Instapot. Until then, my slow cooker will have to do.
Building Movement into your Day
This is obviously super duper dependent on where you live, but one of the best things I’ve been able to do for my mental health is to shift as much of my “driving time” into “biking time” as possible. This kills many, many birds with one stone – first, I hate driving. It stresses me out. Without GPS I never know where I am, or which direction I’m facing. Other drivers make me nuts and it puts me into anxiety overload. Second, the more I move, the less anxious I am. I am not someone who likes to exercise – at all. All of my exercise routines are short, the longest is something like 25 minutes long. I would also rather eat my own hair than regularly attend a gym. I’m too big of an introvert and I am a cheap motherf&@!r. Biking solves all of these problems – I’m by myself, I am getting where I need to go, without being in a car, and I’m exercising.
I keep hearing about all these “walking meetings” tech people have, but I regularly need to take notes, and this seems to make about as much sense as a treadmill desk to me. This is also why I have a “to do” in my daily checklist to leave my desk for 30 min (lunch) and 2 15 min breaks – otherwise I will convince myself that I can’t possibly leave, I have too much to do, yada yada – which ultimately makes me less productive when I am working.
Bike commuting seems far less doable for those in rural areas or who regularly need to ferry children or other folks from place to place, but if you can swing it, it’s great.
Edited to add: here are some of my favorite YouTube or otherwise-online workouts.
Neghar Fonooni is one of the few YouTube fitness people who doesn’t totally annoy me.
One of the (very) few good things from my last relationship is that my ex was a certified kettlebell instructor, and it’s one of the few actual workouts I’ve ever done that I liked. I don’t know if I’d recommend going straight into it without having a human walk you through it in person, but Neghar is one of the few people I’ve seen do a decent job of explaining it online.
A good, fast (15 min) workout, especially for someone still familiarizing themselves with kettlebells. She has several others, but this one’s my favorite for speed and efficiency. In and out.
I also really like the Nerd Fitness Beginner and Advanced Bodyweight workouts. They require very little equipment (dumbbell or milk jug, etc.) and are also fast.
I love the few free videos available on YouTube from Jessamyn Stanley. Fair warning, she curses a bit during this video, which I appreciate but wasn’t expecting at first!. She covers some necessary modifications for people who aren’t a size 2. I’m somewhere between regular and plus size, and I regularly need to do these kinds of mods – I appreciate her so much, most yoga instructors don’t deal with that!
Yoga with Adriene is also a great resource for a variety of free videos.
Works in progress: hobbies
I need to get a hobby. I don’t knit, sew, sculpt, write (outside of professional responsibilities), game, etc. That’s my goal for the year. We’ll see how that goes. I’m terrible at doing things that aren’t completely and totally practical, i.e. the antithesis of hobbies.
I’d love to hear from some other folks what their “care” routines are. Hopefully we can help keep each other honest. The school year’s starting, and that’s usually when my ability to focus on myself wanes, thus the impetus to write this post. ❤