We often say, “Teaching is a lifestyle”. Most people who work in higher education know the toll that this type of lifestyle can take on your health. Schedules during the academic year can be extremely hectic. Teaching classes, planning for classes, grading, attending meetings, holding office hours, researching, publishing research, working with graduate assistants….and the list goes on and on. It often seems that there are not enough hours in the day to get it all done. Therefore, personal health often gets placed on the back burner, because there is not enough time to meal prep, eat well, exercise, or sleep. These are things that tend to be forgotten until the semester ends. By the end of the semester, many professionals in this field are exhausted, physically, mentally, and emotionally. The break that one has is often spent recovering from illness due to lack of self-care.
Self-care is essential to remain healthy in and out of the classroom. It allows us to perform at an optimal level and feel good. It also demonstrates that we respected our bodies, minds, and souls, which is not only important for self preservation, but also sets a positive example for the students who we influence through our words and actions daily.
Most people believe that if they are not sick, then they are healthy. But being healthy does not just mean the absence of illness. It also means that your body and mind are operating at their best.
So…why are academics unhealthy?
As academics, we often sit for long periods of time while grading, researching, returning emails, or driving to and from work or between campuses. In some cases, this can lead to mindless eating or unhealthy snacking. In fact, sometimes, we only have time to grab lunch out of a vending machine or from a fast food restaurant. Or maybe, we skip lunch altogether, because we are rushing between classes and campuses. In addition, each semester schedule changes make it difficult to establish long-term routines and healthy habits.
We feel a responsibility to our students, fellow colleagues, and administration; therefore, pushing through until the work is done, regardless of the cost. For this reason, we do whatever it takes to complete the tasks at hand. Spending time with family, spending time doing things for pleasure, or spending time focused on self-care often do not take precedence until the work is done. Many faculty will skip a meal or a workout, in order to meet with a struggling student or meet a research deadline. Some will forfeit a weekend, family getaway to grade student work. Being consumed with the work that we do does not always allow for time to rest, relax, and recharge.
So …the hard truth! If you are not taking care of yourself, you cannot be of any help to anyone else. Eventually, your body will shut down. You will become sick, you will burn out, you will lose mental focus. You will not be able to do your job to the best of your ability or care for your students, family, and friends. This is why it is so very important to take time to take care of yourself.
5 Tips for Healthy Living
1. Meal Prep: Laura is the one who encouraged me to start meal prepping, and it really changed my life! On the weekend, we spend time grocery shopping and meal prepping for the upcoming week. Not only can you prep breakfast and lunch, but you can also store snacks like raw vegetables, almonds, and fruit in sandwich bags. Use containers and sandwich bags that make it easy to grab and go in the mornings as you head out the door to begin your day.
Through trial and error, we have found a system that works for both of us. We encourage you to do the same thing. Perhaps, you will meal prep on Sundays, like we do. Or maybe, you find it easier to make a little extra every night and pack the leftovers for your lunch the following day. Find a system that works for you.
2. Everything in Moderation! Look, I love Cheese-Its, beer, wine, and pasta! I still eat all of these things. But rather than have them as my meal after a long day, I eat them in moderation, as a treat. I have also found ways to enjoy these things in different forms. For example, instead of eating white flour pasta, I eat veggie, rice, or quinoa pasta. I have also tried spaghetti squash, which is a great pasta substitute. What we put in our bodies is important, so fuel your body with healthy foods. But also enjoy a beer and a good slice of pizza with friends now and then!
A body in motion remains in motion. I love to sweat! I love to push my body and feel like I’m getting stronger. Recently, I decided to start training for a triathlon. However, you don’t have to commit to training for a triathlon, marathon or CrossFit contest to be healthy. In fact, you can commit to walking in the mornings or afternoons in your neighborhood, hiking on the weekends, riding bikes with your family, or signing up for a yoga or spin class. You can start by committing to three days a week; two week days and one day during the weekend. You can add a day or two as time permits. Try to select an activity that you enjoy. This will ensure that you stick to it. Many people quit workout programs, because they are not realistic in the amount of time that needs to be committed, they are not convenient, or the type of exercise is not enjoyable. Find something you enjoy doing and invite friends or family to join you. Accountability can also help to remain committed.
4. Mental Breaks: We spend a lot of time every day presenting, analyzing, and assessing complex theories, models, and concepts. This requires careful consideration so that material can be adapted and presented for the intended audience. Taking some time recharge and ensuring proper amounts of sleep prepares you to think clearly and consider different ways to present information to your students.
Additionally, it is important to take mental breaks when you are grading, researching, or writing. Often, higher education professionals will spend hours grading assignments, sifting through research, or writing. It is important to take short breaks during these long periods. This helps to prevent mental fatigue.
5. Seek Peace, Offer Forgiveness, & Make Necessary Changes: I am a firm believer that things happen to us for a reason – good and bad. Either way, they are all part of our journey and who we are becoming. With that said, we have to take care of our soul or inner being. This may mean having a healthy conflict, limiting the access that someone toxic has to you, or making time good, positive people in your life. Socrates said, “that the unexamined life is not worth living”. Take the time to examine your life. Are you growing personally and professionally? Are you where you want to be? Are you achieving goals? If you keep hitting a wall and you need help, talk with a family member, friend, or seek professional guidance. The insights that others provide may be the enlightenment you need to continue to grow and move forward.
When we are healthy, we feel strong and empowered, genuinely capable of taking on new challenges. Consider the many different aspects of health that were discussed above. Begin by making one small change at a time. Select one category above to focus on. Consider ways to maximize your time. Involve family and friends in healthy meal planning and physical activities. Not only are you positively influencing them to live a more healthy life, but you are also spending time with them. Strong relationships keep us healthy, so foster them.
Why wait? Get started today! Continue to consider ways to incorporate healthy habits into your daily routines, because health does not mean the absence of illness.