How This Busy Researcher-Practitioner Makes Space for Her Health [Interview]

Today we have a guest interview to share! I interviewed Nayo, a graduate student and PT in Chicago about her schedule and how she weaves healthy habits into her routine. I love getting a snapshot into other's lives to learn their tricks for keeping healthy all around in the midst of busy seasons. Here is Nayo!

Tell me a little bit about your schedule - what are some of the major things you do that make you the busiest?

I am a full time graduate student researcher and a part-time physical therapist. My schedule both full and flexible at the same time. Research as I learned quickly as a first year, is never really done. There is always one more paper to read, one more line of code to write, or one more sentence in a manuscript to craft. Balancing research life with having space outside of work to pursue the other things that bring me joy definitely keeps me on my toes pretty much year round!

What has surprised you about yourself the past few years, regarding your capacity for this schedule/lifestyle?

One thing that I have discovered about myself in the past few years is that I am not a robot. I need sleep. I need social engagement. I need time to use my brain and my body in a different way than my work demands. It’s been a humbling discovery to recognize that I have limits and I can’t work 24/7. During the later half of grad school, I’ve had to learn how to build boundaries around my time in order to maintain rest time as sacred. It’s definitely not easy and at times I find it very challenging to shut off my research brain to be present with the people around me while hanging out. But it’s a work in progress that I’m sure I will continue refining as I move forward in my career.

Could you identify one or two ways you struggle with having a full schedule like this? What are some of your natural tendencies that pose a challenge?

I tend to be a “doer” so resting has always been hard for me and felt unproductive. I feel guilty when I’m not working. I compare myself to other very busy people in my life who don’t seem to need to take breaks (though I imagine they truly do, I just don’t see it) and wonder what is wrong with me. But what I’ve realized is that I get to a point where I start to burn out and disengage with everything, even things that previously brought me joy. That’s when I know I’ve been going too hard for too long and need a break to recharge and reset.

 

What are some activities or habits you have in place for yourself to keep yourself healthy?

Exercise is a big thing for me in physically managing stress and staying healthy. I just feel better when I’m in shape and working out regularly. I’ve found that I have to schedule the time in during the week (like physically put it in my calendar) so it becomes part of the fabric of my regular week flow. I really like group exercise classes where I just have to show up and someone else will tell me what to do so I know I’ll get a good workout in. Alternatively, I enjoy solo running where I can get lost in nature or the city scape around me.

I have also grown to really appreciate my morning routine as a way to anchor my day in peace. I live alone in a small studio so between the time I wake up and leave my home, I basically have complete control of my environment. This allows me to have a quiet morning. Once I graduated from frenzy that was PT school, I decided I wanted to retire my to-go coffee mugs and enjoy an unhurried first cup of coffee in the stillness of my home before starting my day. I’ve really enjoyed that practice and would highly recommend trying it out to anyone who feels like she is just running from the moment she wakes up!

I compare myself to other very busy people in my life who don’t seem to need to take breaks (though I imagine they truly do, I just don’t see it) and wonder what is wrong with me.

Are there any specific consequences you see in yourself when you haven't been keeping up with your healthy habits or routines?

 I definitely notice myself feeling more stressed and easily agitated when I deviate from my regular self-care routines. It’s remarkable how much of a difference sleeping enough, exercising, and having space to cultivate meaningful friendships can do to enable me to be more effective at my research work. On the flip side, when these things are out of balance, I’m really feel it affecting my mood, motivation, and energy levels.

Since I enjoy coffee, I am always up for building in an afternoon break to have a coffee with a friend on a weekday or a weekend afternoon. 

Looking back a few years, how have you seen yourself grow in terms of living in a holistically healthy way or taking care of yourself?

The biggest way I’ve grown is just by being more attentive to myself. I’ve found I can’t recognize when something is working or when it’s not when I’m not being reflective and in tune with myself. Creating the space to be self-reflective and giving myself grace to make adjustments as necessary has really been instrumental in working towards being holistically healthy.

What advice might you give to another who is living a busy lifestyle similar to yours?

Find what brings you joy and make sure that stays part of the mix even in the busyness of your daily life. A couple things that bring me joy are teaching the preschoolers in the children’s ministry at my church, a quiet afternoon reading a book for fun, and an afternoon latte at a cute coffee shop in Chicago. I can’t always do these activities every weekend but I try to keep them in the mix as much as possible. I also enjoy being with people so another trick I’ve found is inviting others in to enjoy those things that bring me joy with me! Since I enjoy coffee, I am always up for building in an afternoon break to have a coffee with a friend on a weekday or a weekend afternoon. You can’t work all the time so creating rhythms of rest to pursue other things that bring joy can be restorative breath of fresh air you need to continue in your busy lifestyle.

Once I graduated from frenzy that was PT school, I decided I wanted to retire my to-go coffee mugs and enjoy an unhurried first cup of coffee in the stillness of my home before starting my day.

Is there a trick or a life hack that you've found to make life a little bit easier for you?

Schedule it in! I’m the type of person who is governed by my calendar. I have it expertly color coded so I know what types of things I have scheduled each week just by glancing over the colors. It’s helpful for me to schedule in exercise classes, friend hangouts, and times for personal rest so I keep those times protected for non-work time. Work seems to flood in to every space it can get so guarding off time in my schedule for other things has been most helpful.

What is the deeper 'why' for what you do each day? What is motivating you to keep going?

I do what I do out of a desire to 1) learn about God’s creation in the human body, 2) discover how to be a part of the restorative work of healing fragile bodies, and 3) foster young minds in their pursuit of learning. Some days I see how this is all integrated and other days my work feels so far removed from actually helping anyone. But I hold onto this deeper motivation in the times when work is hard and overwhelming because it is truly at the heart of why I went into this field in the first place.

It’s remarkable how much of a difference sleeping enough, exercising, and having space to cultivate meaningful friendships can do to enable me to be more effective at my research work.

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A beautiful interview from Nayo! Thank you for sharing my friend! What did you take away? If you have your own tricks for health in the busyness, please share below!

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