I read a great post over the weekend called What’s Your Actual #1 Priority and it got me thinking about what my priority is. I’ve let it slip a bit over the summer, but for a while my number one priority has been my health – specifically, migraines. It’s been a huge challenge for me, as a 24-year-old graduate student, to actually admit that this is my main priority and to make it my #1 priority. But after seeing a stark contrast between when I committed to making it my priority this spring and when I let it slide a little this summer, I have realized I need to be proud to say that I am making my health my priority and I need to take the time and effort to figure out how I will fit my studies and my work around that. Let me explain.
This spring, there was a month that I expected to be my most stressful month of the year. My Master’s Project was due, both in print form and in a presentation (essentially my thesis). I had a couple of big projects at work. I had other final papers and end-of-the-year projects in my classes. I traveled home during finals week to surprise a friend. And amidst all this, I managed to find an uninterrupted four-week span of time where I did not get a single migraine. That’s the longest I’ve gone without getting a migraine since the winter of 2012, when I was a senior in college. How did I do it? I made a commitment to working out almost every single day, I tried to get as close to 8 hours of sleep as I could every night, I ate what my body needed (healthy food plus as much of it as it wanted), I didn’t drink any alcohol, and I made a conscious decision to calm down a little bit (that last one was REALLY HARD). I think all of these factors interacted to help me stay migraine-free for a month, in addition to the medication I need to take daily.
This summer, I didn’t do so hot on all these factors. I had a stressful couple of weeks at work and I did not take care of myself. I didn’t work out regularly. I didn’t get the sleep I needed. I ate whatever was put in front of me. I worked myself up and got more anxious than I would have liked. And wouldn’t you know it, I had a migraine that did not go away for about four days straight. I seriously doubt that is a coincidence. The stark contrast between these two scenarios showed me the importance of taking care of myself, even when it’s hard. So what’s my action plan?
Even when it’s hard, there are a few things I need to do:
- Eat as well as I can. Fresh fruits and veggies when possible, staying away from meat because my body seems to do better that way. Minimizing the amount of processed foods I choose to eat helps – and also no caffeine or alcohol for me because those just do not work. My point here is that I need to make a conscious choice to put good fuel into my body.
- Sleep. 8 hours a night is what my body wants. Sorry, body, but sometimes you’re not gonna get it – like during orientation. So I try to be careful and plan out my nights so that I can get as much sleep as possible on and rest up when I know there is a busy time ahead.
- Move it! Especially when I’m tired, getting some physical activity in really helps me feel better. It’s almost more important for me to get physical when I haven’t been getting the sleep I need because it helps me get more quality sleep at night and it also helps me feel more energized during the day. This could take the form of walking home or just getting up a little earlier to get on a treadmill before work. Again, planning ahead is key – sometimes I know I’m going to be on my feet all day at work, so I plan on not working out that day in order to save my stamina.
- Stress less. This one is the hardest for me. I’m really trying to embrace the saying “The perfect is the enemy of the good” and remember that sometimes done is better than perfect, but that can be hard for a person with Achiever tendencies like me. I have found, though, that when I am in control of factors 1-3 on this list, it is a whole lot easier for me to stay calm.
- Laugh! When I have fun, it helps everything. Honest. This is why I’m so glad I work with students because they keep it fun and keep me energized every single day!
Those are my tricks to maintaining my #1 priority, especially when I get busy in this crazy higher ed/grad school life. It’s always a learning process, but this summer really taught me that I need to pick my priority, plan ahead, and work everything else around it so that I can take care of myself. The bottom line is that I am happier, more functional human being when I don’t have a headache, so it is really in everyone’s best interest for me to take care of myself!