Hindsight 20/18: health and self care
Dec 24, 2018 • a happy boi • ~ 12 minute read • 1529 words
I’ve just finished my first quarter at UCLA, and I have a few basic observations I’d like to make:
- I’ve taken better care of myself at UCLA
- I’ve really enjoyed myself at UCLA
- I’m a significantly happier person
- I’m still an awful blogger
I don’t know what I’ll do about my writing - maybe I’ll purge all the stuff I’ve written about before - but I do want to spend some time talking about those first three points: that taking better care of myself is much more important than I thought.
an unhealthy lifestyle
Throughout high school, I lived a very unhealthy life: I barely exercised, had an awful diet (I’d drink at least 2 or 3 Cokes a day!), and slept abysmally (< 5 hours a day). I blame a lot of this on the awful schedule I created for myself, consisting of a hard IB schedule, way too many extracurriculars, and a 3 hour round-trip commute to boot - but it’s also just my fault.
At the time, people would tell me to be healthier, and to take a break, but I was a bit dismissive - there’s no way that changing small details of my life would give me amazing improvements in my quality of life.
However, it was clear that I was wrong. My unhealthy lifestyle negatively affected everything I did. Because I never took breaks and rested, my mind was always scrambled and stressed. Concentrating in class became harder, as did writing tests - and my grades took a huge hit. It was harder for me to be a good worker for my extracurriculars - I’d make silly typos and code mistakes that a well-rested designer and developer would never make.
More broadly, it made it harder for me to enjoy life. Spending time with friends, doing things I loved, all take energy - energy I didn’t have.
In hindsight, almost all of these harms are self-inflicted: I had many opportunities to quit extracurriculars and other responsibilities, I could’ve focused more on my grades, done my few extracurriculars well, and spent quality time with friends.
But I didn’t.
an aside on work
Oddly enough, my least-stressed times in high school were when I worked full-time: as a camp counsellor at DCC, as a software development intern at AudioNotch, as a camp director at UCC. Yes, the work itself took a physical toll on me, but the lack of schoolwork and extracurriculars meant that I could just focus on two things: work, and myself.
As a result, I was the healthiest and happiest when I worked (and during those times, I might’ve incorrectly attributed exactly why I was happy). But still, I had a lot to go - especially in the domain of physical health.
#1 dining in the country
As I’m sure many first-years know, the most common question I get is “how’s university?”. With complete honesty, I can say that it’s been amazing - and one of the largest reasons why is because of an improvement in self-care.
My starkest contrast in behaviour is in diet and exercise. As a high schooler, I never ate healthy - a combination of bad high school cafeteria food, late nights, and a sugar addiction - but that’s completely changed at UCLA. I eat at regular times, don’t binge eat, and above all, generally avoid junk food.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m the most surprised out of everybody I know - I eat kale now! - but I think I have a few ideas on why this change has happened.
A big portion of it has to do with UCLA. They were ranked #1 in the country for dining in 2018, and I think deservingly so: a wide variety of food options on campus, a balance of take-out and dining halls, and a good range of meal plans makes it a lot easier to consistently eat on campus. As a result, I’ve eaten out/ordered in less than ten times throughout the year - which means less unhealthy outside food.
In-N-Out is amazing tho.
But still, I could have gorged on UCLA’s late night chicken tenders, milkshakes, and burgers, but I haven’t done that either. For that, I have to thank how good UCLA’s healthy food is. I’ve been to Bplate (the “healthy” dining hall) over 100 times this quarter for their grilled salmon, steak, expansive salad bar, flatbreads, and low-fat yogurt; the breadth and quality of their menu ceases to amaze me. In comparison to the “healthy food” at UCC, this is a game-changer.
I also have to thank a healthy friend group. I’ve made it a habit to not eat meals alone, and having a group of friends who drag me to Bplate for those 100+ times has been great - especially as they’re great company! It makes it a lot easier to eat and stay healthy; as many kids’ shows will tell you, everything is better together!
bfit, be fit
Exercise has been another component of my newfound health and self-caring. I avoided the gym in high school like the plague, which was definitely a bad move: I was functionally a fat twig. At UCLA, I’ve worked on slimming myself down to, well, not being a fat twig.
For one, our gyms are pretty nice: lots of machines, weights, space, etc. And, they’re pretty close to where I live, so the act of “going to the gym” isn’t too hard! But, the thing that’s helped out the most is friends, yet again. Going to the gym has always been a bit spooky for me, especially as I see some super-jacked UCLA athletes - but it’s always nice to have a friend who knows what they’re doing, has set routines, and encourages you to do better.
For clarification, it’s not that I didn’t have these friends in high school - but a combination of me living far away from others and life just being busy meant that I never really put time into going to the gym. But now that I’ve made time to go to the gym, life’s a lot better. Funny how that works out.
Somewhat counterintuitively, going to university has been very unstressful for me. Eating well and staying in shape has contributed to this, but so has a newfound independence.
Independence can be tricky for some university students: now that nobody’s holding your hand, you could just play video games all day and never do your homework. For a bit, I was worried that this was going to be me - I already lived unhealthily and loved playing video games - but luckily, it never materialised.
Instead my newfound independence has helped me better organize my own life! I can better schedule my coursework and when I do homework, which means I do it efficiently and effectively. I’ve committed myself to less extracurriculars, and get to spend more of that time on things that I enjoy: watching movies with friends, eating a good meal at Bplate, or just hanging out.
it’s all about the mental // self care
There are other changes that are harder for me to put into written words, and so I’ll just briefly gloss over them. The opportunity to rethink how I process certain things, or my mentality, has also profoundly impacted my happiness: I’d like to think that I look for silver linings more often than I do for gray storm clouds.
Similarly, I think I’ve done a much better job at mental self-care: responding to signals from my body, my brain, and my friends. This is a topic that I’m hesitant to delve into now, but I do want to enunciate that self-care is much more than a funny and relatable Twitter meme.
I think that my shifts in attitudes and personality are directly intertwined with my changes in personal health. I can’t control everything in life, but I can definitely control how I respond to everything - so I’ve put a lot of effort into that.
More on that later.
no twist ending
All of this means that I’m in a better state of mind. I can do work more effectively, but I’m also happier and living my best life. The link between physical health and mental wellbeing has never been clearer for me. In fact, I’d even go as far to say that this has been the happiest I’ve been in years.
Obviously, there are other reasons that I’m happy: pursuing my passions, meeting lots of cool people, and a honeymoon phase from novelty in my life. But, I really do think that an increase in health, and an increase in self-care, has had a tangible impact on my life here thus far.
And of course, I can’t end this off without giving a shout-out to the awesome friends that I’ve made so far. They’ve done more to help me than they’ll ever know, and I count my lucky stars that I’ve already found people that I love so much.
I’m excited for everything my next quarter has to bring - the most excited I’ve been for a long time.
Until next time!