- Susie Csorsz Brown
So you left post. Either for Home Leave or for R&R, you are now for all intents and purposes vagabonds for a few to many weeks. Your world has whittle down to a few suitcases. This is when your resolve to be well will be tested again and again.
How do we stay well when we're on the move, especially extended excursions like R&R and Home Leave? How do we keep our wellness habits in mind when we are sitting for hours on end in airports, relying on fast food or potlucks for our meals, using various water bottles and canned beans for weights as we waiting for our shipments to arrive, or cross off our mental wellbeing as we make a to-do list in our minds as we mentally pinch ourselves repeatedly listening to Uncle George's (long-winded) narrative of his gallbladder surgery. Summers – be they a transfer or R&R – are never relaxing nor recuperative, are never according to our schedule, and often include either things we HAVE to do (medical appointments, exams, college visits, or even house shopping for state-side tours) or people we HAVE to see (I won't list them but you KNOW to whom I am referring). Your time and your space is not your own. Your cupboard and fridge are not filled with your normal food, your sleeping patterns are off, your wine and beer consumption is probably up and ... your stress level is through the roof. These summers are never about wellness, but rather maintaining or not falling too far off the wagon.
It doesn't have to be, though. You can be well even when living out of a suitcase for weeks on end. A couple of suggestions:
Bring what you need with you, especially for staying active. If you bring your sports equipment with you, you will always be ready to go. Workout bands are great temporary alternatives for weights, as are the aforementioned cans and bottles. The only limitations you will run into are those you create for yourself. Even a walk around the neighborhood park in your sports sandals is better than nothing. For me, the boost of endorphins I feel after a workout is the best way to start my day, so I prioritize this time because it is important.
Adopt a temporarily flexible workout option, if you don't already follow one. You may not normally be a runner, but think about it: all you need is sport shoes, athletic clothes, and someplace to run. It's a super portable, flexible workout. I personally find treadmills akin to torture methods like water-boarding, but given that most apartment rentals have one, it's a good option. Otherwise, head outdoors and hit the sidewalks (always my preference). Alternately, check online in the locations you'll be staying. I bet you'll be able to find gyms that have shorter membership options (like a week or a package of 10 visits), giving you a physical place to go to get your sweat on. A mental strategy: if you commit/invest the money to the membership/visits, you'll be more likely to go. Also you can do any number of free online workout videos; I have a number of sites I love, as well as a couple where I pay a nominal monthly fee. Can’t get much more convenient than a sweat-session in your own living room!
Do your workout first thing in the morning. Don't let others schedule over it, don't let it get pushed back in the day because then it will slide right off the schedule. Consider it your permanent 'Me time' even if you aren't doing a full-on workout. You can use the allotted time to do something only for you, too. Sure, you won't get a sweat on, but endorphins can come from a feel-good 30 minutes spent doing something else, too.
Do the grocery shopping. Don't wait for your in-laws to buy you your favorite staples. Don't sit there and mope because they didn't get your subliminal messages about your preferred fruits and veggies. Just borrow the car, and get everything yourself.
Set yourself up for success with your eating. Besides the grocery shopping, if possible, it is best to plan for a hectic schedule. Not only because you will have a lot of social engagements, but also a lot of medical appointments, travel time, possibly consumables amassments ... For the next few weeks, you're going to be on the run a lot of your waking hours. Your meals will likely either be feast or famine (large-scale potlucks or waiting for hours for someone to show up or at the DMV for who-knows-how-long waiting to get your number called to renew your license...); you just don't know where you are going to be when hunger strikes. Hangry is not an attractive emotional state for anybody, not child, teen nor adult. So avoid it by packing healthy snacks. You don't have to resort to whatever the convenience store has to offer. You can snack smart by getting fresh veggies and/or fruit to carry with you, dried fruit and nuts, or whole grain options ... carry these smarter snacks with you, and you'll be prepared BEFORE hangry hits. Same thing for staying hydrated. Carry water with you so you don't have to buy some when you get thirsty (better for your pocketbook AND the environment). These are small but simple ways to stay proactive about your nutrition.
At gatherings/potlucks/mass meals, survey your food options before digging in. There's almost always some form of veggie or fresh fruit option, right? Go for that first, and fill your plate with as many foods of naturally occurring colors as possible. Enjoy knowing the fact that you get to try all of these new foods that people created, but don't heap your plate first go-through. Just like at a Thanksgiving feast, you don't want to fill up on the main course and not leave room for the desserts! Also know that while you are likely to attend a higher-than-average number of social events making your meals very different than those you might create in your own kitchen, one meal does not 'ruin' your plan to eat healthy. The nutritional recommendations are not strict rules, but rather guidelines you should follow ON THE WHOLE. You overeat at one dinner? That's okay. Enjoy it while it is happening. And then do your best to make up for that by eating smaller (maybe less fat- or meat-laden) meals the next day. Drink a lot of water to make up for extra alcohol you may have enjoyed. Don't regret or beat yourself up. Instead just make a mental note to try to do better the next event.
Do at least one thing for yourself each day. I know you think that there isn't time for it, but without that Me Time, you are going to lose your mind.
Take time to connect with your immediate family. All of a sudden you are surrounded by friends and family and it is easy to scatter, literally, not even seeing each other for days (or at least for several hours). Sure, it's nice to give Grandma her time with the kids, too, but deliberately reconnecting with your family unit is important.
Get your sleep. Even if that means leaving the party still going in the other part of the house, remember that you need your rest. You are dealing with a lot -- international travel so jetlag, emotional upheavals (especially if you are moving to a new post), huge financial outlays (especially if you are shopping for consumables or relocating), overload of extended family drama, and you're out of your 'normal' environment so it's harder to settle. Your brain and body need to be able to recharge, and the best way for that to happen is to get regular and sufficient amounts of sleep. During the hours of sleep is when the body reboots, and recharges. Sadly, sleep is also going to be the first to go when lists need to be made, emails need to be sent, and other housekeeping tasks completed, especially when you have younger kids (who need more attention). If for no other reason than your body actually really needs it, think of this: The best way to avoid getting sick on your trip is to get enough sleep.
Find joy in what you are doing. Sure, you are super busy and over-committed. You have to spend a huge amount of money in a small span of time. You have a dozen medical appointments. Still. Think of it this way: You can consider yourself blessed that your family and friends want to spend time with you. You can pat yourself on the back for taking care of all of the medical appointments. You will be so happy to open and use the consumables shipment items you are so considerately getting together. Focus on the positive aspects of your time, and it will help to make it feel less like a grueling marathon and more like a walk in a beautiful park. Sure, not every moment of your time will have a silver lining -- no one likes the DMV -- but having personally had to take the driving and written exams to renew my expired license, know that it is much better to be proactive than reactive, especially in that case!
Remember to take care of you, too, while on your busy summer whirlwind trip. Remember to enjoy your time, as it will not be the same the next time you come state-side. And appreciate the many good things you’ll happen upon, like consistently stocked grocery stores, current magazines in waiting rooms (in English!), and a Starbucks on every other corner.