Work-Life Balance. Stress. Being yourself.

After all the stress of exams, everyone is taking a break and teachers are preparing for how to make the winter and spring courses go more smoothly and better.  We also happen to be coming up on New Year’s Day with its resolutions and plans to change our lives, and the hope that we keep with them beyond February 1.  The timing seems apt to respond to a request from one of my readers: “How you have integrated your physical and emotional health into your teaching.”  As responsibilities and demands on one’s time grow, it is harder to stay healthy.

In some ways, I am not the ideal person to write this post.  Sometimes, I am flying by the seat of my pants, sometimes I feel emotionally and physically healthy.  I struggle with these issues too.  I am also single and do not have family or child-care demands at home, and right now I am a graduate student with relatively few departmental responsibilities.  The demands on my time are somewhat limited compared to others, but I do agree that there is a benefit in reminding myself and others of some strategies to maintain a healthy physical and emotional life.

So, even though I’m not expert on this, here are some strategies:

  • Know thyself.  Know your habits–which are healthy, which are unhealthy, where you can improve, what character traits can help you improve–what you care about, what you don’t care about.  And use this knowledge to determine what you want to improve or how you can improve or what traits you may need to adjust first.
  • Eat healthy, unprocessed foods.  This can have physical and emotional benefits.
  • Make time for exercise.  Not only can exercise make your body healthier and cut down your body fat, but exercise causes your body to release endorphines which improve and/or level your mood.  This leveling aspect of exercise has been one of the main reasons that I have focused on exercise.
  • To do lists.  If you have a list that tells you what you need to do and when it needs to be completed, you don’t have to stress yourself out trying to remember everything.  The process of making and reviewing the list helps you prioritize tasks.  If you’re a workaholic, including personal items (like spending time with friends or on a hobby) on the to do list can make sure these happen too.
  • Treat yourself.  Sometimes you just need to let loose and have fun instead of being responsible all the time.
  • Make plans and goals.  I am a planner so I feel good when I have a plan and I am working towards achieving that goal.  This also helps me prioritize what I should and should not be doing with my life (sort of like student learning objectives).
  • Be fine with a few steps back. We can’t be perfect all the time.  Sometimes we do fly by the seat of our pants, and sometimes vegetarians eat meat.  You just can’t beat yourself up over a small step back if you’re making good over all progress.  Focus on the long-term.
  • Remember that change comes gradually.  When I decided to become a vegetarian, I had meat in my refrigerator and I didn’t know how to cook many vegetarian dishes, let alone very healthy ones. Now, several years later, I cook a variety of healthy dishes.  It took me time to learn these things, and I am happy that I did.
  • Follow your beliefs.  I became a vegetarian in part because I don’t like the industrialized food system and its treatment of animals or the environment.  I feel much better for not being a part of that anymore.  The more you believe in your actions, the happier you will be with yourself.
  • Find a supportive environment.  Friends, family, and colleagues can help you work towards your goals and do what you want to do with your life.  For example, not all schools and workplaces provide the flexibility or expectations to help teachers and employees obtain good childcare, but some do.  I, for example, was happy to teach my friend’s class so she could have maternity leave.  Celia Schultz‘s article, “The Classic Conundrum: On the Balance Between Work and Home,” in Cloelia 2013 is a great discussion of how important child care can be and ways faculty can support parents in their department.

I am sure there are many more strategies out there that are helpful, but these are the ones that I have found helpful.  Meditation and mindfulness are also very helpful ways to manage stress and to know thyself better.

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