Back to Cool…

Year two of being an expat teacher is in full swing! I gotta say, I love not being the newbie anymore. It’s so great to feel like I’m in a position to actually help other people at work. I can anticipate the things I’ll need to do and plan for them ahead of time, I’m acting instead of just reacting. All of this translates into me being more relaxed and having more fun with the kids, and just being more relaxed in general. Which is great, because the end of last school year had me feeling like I’d just been run over by a freight train.

Living abroad can be every inch as exhausting as it can be exhilarating. In addition to culture shock, learning the ropes at a new job and trying to have a social life, my immune system was constantly battling a whole new host of hearty Swiss germs. I think I managed to come down with every last cough, cold and tickle that meandered it’s way into school. Every self-care routine I’d ever had in the past got thrown out the window in favor of the bare essentials. Survive School Day. Get Home. Feed And Wash Self. Sleep. Repeat.

People, it was not pretty. When I returned to Switzerland after my summer holiday I vowed to make some changes that would allow me to fully enjoy and participate in this action packed lifestyle I’ve created for myself. Because I know that it takes about a month for new routines to become habit, I’ve dubbed September my, “Back to Cool”, month and devoted myself to enacting healthy positive routines that will last me through the school year and beyond.

So… what’s the new deal?

I Kicked Caffeine (sort of):

If you’d told me a year ago that I’d voluntarily give up my beloved drug of choice I’d have laughed in your face and told you that you’d have to pry my daily morning Cappuccino from my cold, dead hands. I hated all those holier than thou caffeine free people with their superior attitudes and lack of under-eye bags! I’d have also told you that I’m, “Not caffeine sensitive”, because I could drink a coffee after dinner and still feel tired. Toward the end of last school year I was sleeping so poorly that I was worried that I had insomnia. All this left me too tired to function during the day. I knew something had to change so I decided to cut out all caffeine except for a black tea in the morning on my way to the train and the occasional morning Cappuccino as a treat.

I didn’t think that giving caffeine the boot would have a profound effect on my life but IT DID. I sleep like a champ right now, have a much easier time getting out of bed in the morning, and as long as I get about 8 hours of sleep, I have plenty of energy to sustain me through the day. I’m experiencing fewer headaches too. I’ve realized my constant exhaustion was probably not only a product of poor sleep but of caffeine withdrawals as well. Added bonus: I’m saving money not buying coffee on the regular and when I do belly up to a cup of Java now, I really enjoy it because it’s a treat and not something I need to get through my daily life.

A few more notes about quality sleep:

I’ve never been a good sleeper. Just ask my poor parents. In addition to getting rid of caffeine there’s a couple of other things that are making it easier for me to fall asleep, stay asleep and wake easily.

  1. I use To Do Lists to manage my stress. I find myself waking up from stress dreams in the middle of the night far less often now that I know my tasks are all written down so I won’t lose track of them.
  2. No more Netflix and Facebook in bed. Ever. The living room is for TV and internet. The bedroom is for sleep. It’s been a hard habit to establish, but it’s working.
  3. I use and eye pillow to calm my parasympathetic nerve system.
  4. I use a dawn simulator to wake up. Being jerked out of sleep by an obnoxious alarm just makes it less pleasant for me to get up. I bought an alarm clock that wakes me up with light that gradually gets brighter and brighter starting 30 minutes before my wakeup time. It also has a variety of ambient noises it can be programmed to, like rain, birds calling and ocean waves.

I’m Planning My Meals and Cooking More Often:

To me there is no crappier feeling than coming home from work after a long day and having no idea what’s for dinner. By the evening my creativity is totally tapped out and I have no mojo to plan a healthy and delicious meal, so I end up defaulting to whatever’s easiest, namely pasta, pasta and more pasta. By the end of last year I had the waistline to show for it too.

The ironic thing is that I actually really enjoy cooking when I have the time for it.  So I decided that once a week I’d crack open my favorite cookbooks and take to the internet to find ideas about what to eat. The goal was to make at least one new recipe a week, and to plan two meals (plus leftovers) and a hearty lunch salad each week. I’ve been Instagramming my favorite meals so that months from now when inspiration runs dry I can go back and look at all my tags for ideas.

I’m also planning meals that center around a variety of fresh, hearty veggies, whole grains and lean proteins. I’m shying away from refined sugar, booze, and my all time favorite, cheese. Nothing is inherently wrong with any of those things, but I rely far too much on cheese for flavor, carbs to fill me up, and wine to make a meal, “interesting”. Low and behold, when I start to focus on fresh, colorful veggies, somehow making my meals exciting isn’t an issue anymore.

Finding fun recipes isn’t as tough as I thought it would be. There’s cooking websites galore out there. Sign up for the weekly newsletter for a couple of your favorites and you’ll be receiving new recipes in your inbox every week without having to look for them. (Oh My Veggies and Oh She Glows are two of my absolute faves!)

Although I’m not vegan, I love that vegan cookbooks are chock full of recipes that center around veggies, which I can choose to add fish or dairy to if I feel like it. Appetite for Reduction and Veganomicon are indispensable in my kitchen. And I’m not finding the motivation to cook that difficult either. After all, I love to eat, and the promise of a tasty dinner plus leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch are enough to get me off the couch and into the kitchen. I have it set up now so I only need to cook something new three days a week and I have lunches and dinners sorted for the entire week!

I stopped Making Excuses About Exercise:

I’m tired. I’m hungry. I’m stressed. There’s laundry to do. Lessons to write. Facebook messages to reply to!  All these are reasons why I’ve been known to skip after work exercise.

The funny thing about exercise though is that even if I’m tired when I start, I rarely feel worse when I’m finished. And the more I exercise, the more energy I tend to have. I’m trying to focus on how triumphant I’ll feel after the workout as opposed to how hard it is to get started. I’m also changing my philosophy on what counts as exercise. When I was younger I was focused on high impact cardio exercise like running, kickboxing and power yoga. I’d do those things several times a week, burn a ton of calories and feel great about myself. The only problem is that when I didn’t have the time or energy, I did nothing. Now that I’m older and wiser I’ve realized that every little bit of exercise counts, even if it doesn’t torch 400 calories in one session. No matter what, I need to take a 30 minute power walk each day. That way, even if I don’t make it to the gym I’m burning calories and getting my heart rate up. If I don’t have time for 30 minutes at once, I break it up, go for walks on my lunch break ,etc. It all adds up.

I’m also shaking things up by taking aerial yoga classes and dance lessons this fall!

I’m Keeping My Surroundings Tidy and Organized:

Cleaning. The most boring chore ever. Because unlike cooking or laundry, you don’t even have yummy food or fluffy clean sheets to show for it. You have a tidy flat. That barely anybody but you sees. Whoopty do.

Cleaning is usually the first thing I axe when I’m short on time, after all, it’s not vital to my survival here on planet earth. The things is, I want less stress in my life. I want to be able to find my favorite pair of headphones when I need them, to not have to beat my way through a forest of recycling under my kitchen cabinet every time I need to go in there to get something, to not have to feel nauseous looking at the pile of unpaid bills on my desk.

I used to put these things off until I, “had more time”. Now I realize that I’m a busy chick, and since I don’t plan on becoming June Cleaver anytime soon, I ain’t never gonna have time to put on the apron and pearls and clean the flat head to toe. But do I have 5 minutes on a Monday to pay an e-bill? 15 minutes on a Tuesday to fold some laundry in front of Netflix? 10 before I run off to yoga to Swifer the bathroom floor? You bet I do. And if I do it all in increments it means I won’t have to give up my beloved Saturday afternoons to do it. I dread cleaning and organizing so much less when I do it bit by bit each day. Who’d have thunk it?

So… is it working?

In a word, yeah. I’ll never become a morning person or a neat freak, but taking care of these little details for myself is definitely making my life more pleasant and easy to deal with. All this adds up to a happier teacher, and hopefully a happier traveller too. I’m looking forward to see what Switzerland Season 2 has in store for me. Now I’ll have the energy to tackle it all with gusto!

Where to from here?

Now that I’ve got the basics under control, next month I think I’ll devote some time to Making Room For Mindfulness. Oh, did I mention I’m a certified yoga teacher?

Ciao for now, friends!

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