Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

I hear the refrain healthy body, healthy mind quite a lot. (Well, I read it quite a lot. Usually on people’s blogs as they try and inspire other masochists to get up at 6am and go for a run. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO YOURSELF?)

Mostly, it annoys me, because as someone who is chronically and mentally ill, both a healthy body and a healthy mind seem out of my reach. However, I’m trying to work on the basis of healthier body means healthier mind — working within the limitations of my various health problems, I’m hoping that if I keep my physical health up as best I can, my mental health will also improve, and thus I’ll get through my exams without having a total breakdown. Or at least my memory will be slightly less useless than it usually is. One or the other.

I keep optimistically making revision posters despite past experience making it quite clear that none of this information will stay in my head, ever.

I remember when I was in sixth form, one of our teachers warned us not to start a new diet or fitness routine during the lead up to exams, because you only have a finite amount of willpower, and if you were using it all up on watching what you ate, you wouldn’t have enough left to focus on revision and studying. Which is fair enough, and I usually use this excuse to eat as many biscuits as I like while revising.

Despite this, I think focusing on my health is at least as important as revision this term, even though I’m usually fairly bad at looking after it and it’ll use considerably more willpower than I really have to spare.

Step one is about sleep. I’m generally quite nocturnal, which isn’t ideal when three of my four exams are due to start at 9am. Getting up in time to be somewhere by 9am is going to be a challenge; worse is the fact that my joints usually don’t loosen up enough to type until I’ve been awake for quite a while, so I’m not really sure how I’m going to manage these. (The Tutorial Office is meant to be helping me fix my exam timetable but I haven’t heard anything from them recently.)

Thus, this aspect of looking after my health is largely about preparing for exams: if I want to function first thing in the morning, I’m going to have to fix my sleep patterns. My aim is to try and go to bed by midnight every night, which constitutes an early night for me and probably won’t always be possible, but it’s a decent aim. I managed it last night, and it was a lot easier to get up this morning than it had been the night before, so I’m thinking there’s something in this whole ‘normal sleep patterns’ malarkey.

The second step is much harder, and is to do with food. I am… bad at food. I either under-eat or over-eat, and my diet tends to be about 90% carbs. I don’t get through vegetables fast enough so they always go off, which puts me off buying them, and if I don’t buy them I definitely can’t eat them. I also eat way too much sugar, although I’m trying to overcome my Haribo addiction and have all but banned myself from eating them at all.

For example, when I have deadlines, a meal may consist entirely of garlic bread. Healthy? No. Worth it? Hell yes.

I haven’t entirely figured out how to fix my eating habits, but I  know I need to. Combatting nausea will make a big difference in my ability to revise for exams, as well as my ability to do well when I get there. Plus, there’s all that stuff about brain food and the importance of good nutrition for actually absorbing information. More generally, I’m a bit concerned about the effect of my sugar-heavy diet on my teeth, and I’ve also put on weight recently that I’d like to lose if I can. So I’m gradually trying to work towards being healthier, even if I don’t manage it all at once.

The third step is to do with physical strength. I’ve got a few physio exercises to do, which I’m trying to make sure I do last thing at night before I go to bed. I’m also working on some dance-related strength and flexibility. I used to stretch every night and it was the only period in my life when I was able to touch my toes on the first try. In the years since I stopped doing that, my hamstrings have got tighter and tighter, and even if they’re not the cause of the hip and knee problems I’ve had lately, I’m sure they can’t be helping. So I’m trying to work on my hamstrings. I may have overdone it yesterday, though; they’re aching today.

Taking up archery will help with the upper body, but I’m planning to do some small weight-lifting as well, something I’ve theoretically been doing for months but which really only happens when I need to move one of my doorstops (which are actually 2.5kg hand weights). This should make archery easier as well as building up my shoulders, so that they’re less likely to give out on me in exams.

And I’ve been getting the urge to do more dance again — more on that if it actually happens — so I’m working on a few specific exercises to help with that.

I’ve been editing my recordings of previous lectures so that they’re in a format I can put on my MP3 player, and I’m planning to go for walks while I revise. I’m hoping this will (a) be a productive way of taking in information and (b) help prepare me for my trip to Ireland in July, where I’ll need to be able to walk a decent amount. Also, fresh air probably helps with stress, right?

So fresh air is the final step to looking after my health. Today was the first genuinely sunny and warm day we’ve had in ages, so a friend and I took a blanket out into the gardens and worked out there for a while. I finally invested in some prescription sunglasses, so for the first time in years I can read outside without being blinded by the light reflecting off the pages of my books. I’m hoping to do this more during the next month as I prepare for exams, so that I don’t miss out on the sunshine while getting work done.

I feel like my resolution to do all of these things won’t last beyond my next major anxiety-related breakdown, but I’m going to aim to keep it going as long as I can. If I can make habits of at least a few of these things (earlier bedtimes, for example), I might not need so much willpower to make them happen, and I feel like the knock-on effect of going to bed at a sensible time will be worth it.

But we’ll have to see.

If you’ve had exams recently or are working towards them right now like me, what are your tactics for looking after your body and mind and staying healthy?

6 thoughts on “Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

  1. All your goals sound really great. I think you’ve really got a good idea of realistic steps of effort you could put in to improve your health. Hoewever, I’m also concerned.

    I have a tendency to take on too much and then beat myself up when I fall short of those unrealistic expectations. From reading, I think you might have experienced that too.

    What works best for me is when I take on one, two, or, maximum, three small (usually daily) steps to improve and then note, celebrate and praise each success. Even though I have way more than 3 things to fix, and all the improvements are necessary, and none seems too out of reach, I’ve found that consistency is THE key to real change. It’s hard to force yourself to form even one good habit at a time, but it is doable.

    In any case, I wish you a lot of success. I’m rooting for you!

    1. Haha yeah I definitely have a habit of setting myself really major goals! I’m hoping with these because they’re goals to DO things rather than to ACHIEVE things (e.g. they’re ongoing and aren’t a pass/fail kind of scenario), they’ll be more achievable because I can do it gradually and it’s not an instant thing. But we shall have to see. I’ve been setting myself more goals than just these recently, and I know I’m going to fail at some and it’s going to suck and I really need to be more realistic. Just can’t help myself.

  2. Hmm… About the food, I know you’ve got allergies to quite a lot of things, but what I’ve found useful when cooking whilst stressed are things like single use pots of hummus, frozen vegetables (broad beans especially), frozen veggie burgers etc (low risk of given yourself salmonella poisoning!) tinned vegetables and beans. Quite low-intensity preparation and a reasonable amount of nutrition. For snacks, I quite like those dried fruit and nuts based bars and fruit leather, though they can be a bit pricey and it depends on what you can have!

    1. I’m pretty limited on fruit and nuts, I’m intolerant to most of them. I also have extremely limited freezer space, which is one of my main problems — I can’t stock up on, say, frozen vegetables unless I want to ONLY have frozen vegetables (and I tend to prioritise buying the frozen gluten free food I can’t get locally). If I had more freezer space, which I will next year, I would definitely go for more frozen things. Burgers, veggie or otherwise, tend to be a dubious prospect in terms of gluten, though, so maybe not those. I do get through quite a bit of tinned sweetcorn though, that’s a good one for me.

  3. Yesterday I finished my last exam of highschool ever. However, I still have 3 big presentations so…step by step, I guess. Anyway, speaking as someone who has gotten up at six am to go running five times already this week, I absolutely balue taking care of my body. I’m not a very fast runner, and I don’t run very far (which has as much to do with being harassed when running on my own as it does with not liking running very far) but it’s so, so important to take care of your body. I also stretch a little bit every morning and evening, partially because I like having the ability to win paper scissors rock slide, but also because moving my body is calming and stuff. I guess I would say that I have time for exercise, and, to a lesser extent, healthy food (living at home means that I don’t have to make it most of the time and Indian food is great, oh my gosh, rajma *ahem*) I guess it’s about what you value, and your body is totally important. In other news, I’m currently completing a project on how to tell if what you do on a break is self care or laziness. Anyway, great post!

    1. The thought of getting up at six am (whether to run or not) makes me want to cry, but you do you! (I’ll never be a runner, but I’ve been specifically advised against it by physios, so that’s okay.)

      Yeah, I eat healthier when I’m at home than when I’m at uni, though it’s less to do with not having to cook and more about food storage and availability.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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