5 years of living out of a suitcase: Here's what I've learned...
Hi, my name is Oonagh English. I am a Nutritional Therapist with a special interest in mental health and wellbeing. I have spent the last 5 years living in different countries, travelling, working and studying. This has been an amazing experience but also challenging at times. Today, I wanted to share the top tips and tricks I learned about staying well in my mind and body. Just to say, what follows are my opinions which are based on my own personal experience. Some of these points may not resonate with you. I am not trying to impose my opinions on you, just to share what I have personally found helpful and has enabled me to grow as a person.
1. Energising movement.
This is something that I have only recently managed to integrate into my routine. Basically, just remember to move. This can be through working out, yoga, or just going for a daily walk. Movement is so important to bring us back into our body and to stay fit of course. I personally find it really difficult to keep up with regular exercise especially if you move around a lot because your daily routine is constantly changing. And, to be honest, I am not one of those people who just loves working out. That being said, I have recently begun exercising every day. How did I do this? Well, I applied something I learned while studying Nutritional Therapy to myself and it worked. Haha I know you must be thinking. Aren’t healthcare professionals supposed to be super healthy and always follow their own advice? Well honestly, I studied nutritional therapy because I wanted to know how to change my habits and become well both in my mind and my body. This is not a ‘quick fix’ process. It needs time and space to develop. It’s so easy to fall into the pattern of setting unrealistic goals for ourselves and then feeling guilty when we can’t live up to them. So, then we fall into the vicious cycle of telling ourselves we are shit, feeling guilty and yet still not changing our habits.
So, how do we break this pattern? Well by overriding our mental software with a new pattern. We do this by creating SMART action steps.
SMART stands for:
For example, with my exercise. I set a goal for myself to engage in ‘energising movement’ for 5 minutes every day for 60 days. So, this could be yoga, a HIIT workout, or any other workout, Qui Quong, Walking, Jogging, basically anything that gets me moving and in the flow. What I found is that after the 5 minutes were up, I often felt inspired to continue to exercise for longer. Sometimes combining different methods together to engage different parts of the body and mind in the activity. And, on the days that I was super busy, I could still realistically reach my goal of 5 minutes. Now I actually look forward to my ‘energising movement’. I made it into something fun and inspiring rather than something that I feel like I “should” do. It’s a tiny gift to myself every day.
2. Be realistic minimalist and tidy up your life.
Ok so the definition of minimalism is very broad. How I like to define it is: Owning only what you actually use and keeping life simple. I’m not going to tell you to only own two pairs of underpants and one backpack or never to change your toothbrush. It’s essentially about getting rid of the unnecessary clutter and living with what you actually need (whatever that means for you). So, anyone who has met me knows that I am not the tidiest person on the planet (gross understatement). I hate tidying. I used to pay my little brother to clean my bedroom as a child because I couldn’t be bothered to deal with the mess myself. When I was a teenager, the mess used to get so bad in my room that sometimes you couldn’t even see the floor. Every time I walked into my room, I would feel overwhelmed with the mess and somehow powerless to deal with it. It sounds so ridiculous when I say it but this is how I felt. On the rare occasions that I did tidy up my room (usually because my mum forced me to). I would find things that I had forgotten I had. Clothes I never wore. Books I never read. These items would build up all the time and I would try to pack yet more things into my little room. When I left home and began moving around, I was forced to reduce what I owned because it was a massive pain to carry it around with me. Especially things that weren’t useful. When I came home to visit my parents, it was frustrating to be faced with items in my room and closet that I didn’t use. They were in the way. So, I decided to get rid of all the stuff I didn’t need and only buy something if I actually knew I needed it and would use it. When something became no longer useful, I would either pass it on to someone else or bring it to the charity shop. I began repairing my clothes and really thinking before buying new things because I would have to carry them around with me. Although I still classify myself as a messy person (my boyfriend can attest to that), the mess can never get too bad because I have less stuff to mess with! Which sounds ridiculous but I just don’t own enough stuff for my floor to be covered with things. I’ve noticed that when my room is tidy, I am much more productive and generally feel less anxious and stressed. This motivates me to tidy up more often. I like to create a living space that ‘inspires joy’. I love Marie Kondo’s Book ‘The life changing magic of tidying up’. It’s a great way to get motivated to clean up your life.
3. Drink enough water
This one is so important. Our body is literally mostly made up of water and bacteria. We need water for every cell in our body to function. Guidelines around how much water you should drink depend on your weight and your level of activity. Some countries recommend 2L/8 glasses of water per day while others recommend 1.5L. There is no exact perfect number of cl you should consume. Basically if your pee is dark yellow, you need to drink more water. If your pee is very clear, then you are probably drinking enough. The best method that I’ve found to remind myself to drink water is to carry a refillable water bottle around with me wherever I go and always have it within my line of sight. For example, if I am at home watching television, I will have the bottle of water on the coffee. Another method that I’ve found helpful is to set an alarm on my phone to remind me to drink water. For example if I’m doing a study session, then I would set my alarm for every 30 minutes.
4. Feed yourself happy
I will make a separate post about this but I will just mention it briefly here because it is so important. If I have learned anything from studying nutrition it is this: every single person is biochemically individual, there is no diet that is right for everyone. In addition to our biochemistry, our environment and lifestyle play a huge role in what our dietary needs are. There are so many different ‘health trends’ out there and most of them are backed up by significant scientific research about their health benefits. There are so many ‘super foods’ and supplements and contradicting evidence floating around that is it easy to get overwhelmed and out of pocket. So, instead of looking for the perfect diet, why not look for the diet that fits you? Take this opportunity to connect with your needs and really nourish yourself. Don’t just eat something because you feel you ‘should’ eat it. Eat it because you enjoy and it nourishes your body and if you have health concerns, sort them out with a professional not with the internet.
5. As much as possible, surround yourself with people (and pets) who nourish you.
Of course, it is not always possible to only be around people who you like and how have your best interests at heart. We often have to be in environments where the people and the place challenge us. However, ideally, try to spend time with people who nourish you. The kind of people that when you spend time with them, you feel energised and happy. Not exhausted and drained. For me, I know that spending time with my family and a few of my closest friends and my dog is the most nourishing. I used to spend so much time trying to get everyone to like me. To please everyone. To be friends with everyone. But that doesn’t get you anywhere. Some people will dislike you no matter what you do and if someone likes you because you are acting in a certain way to please them, they don’t actually like you, they like the idea that you are portraying. As the saying goes, you should be able to count your true friends on one hand. Cultivating a few true relationships is much more worthwhile than chasing empty connections everywhere you go.