How to Build Healthy Habits

The Science of Healthy Habits

Humans are creatures of habit, following similar rhythms each day. But changing our rhythms towards health can be difficult! Here are strategies, backed by research, for forming new healthy habits: 

Stack Your Habits

Look for patterns in your day and connect new habits with existing ones. For example, while you brush your teeth, you might stand on one foot to practice your balance. Or every day when you get back to your residence after class, start with a healthy snack and mindful moment before you succumb to your work or couch. 

Start Small 

Big behavior changes require high motivation that is difficult to sustain. Instead, consider tiny changes to make the new habit as easy as possible. 

Do it Every Day

Habits take a long time to create but they form faster when we do them more often. You’re more likely to stick with a habit if you do a small version of it every day rather than big, deep versions of it a few times a week.

Make it Easy

Set yourself up for success by removing friction to your success, or adding friction to the habits you want to avoid. Sleep in your workout clothes to make it easier to wake up and move. Choose a mini-habit that requires minimal equipment. Make the healthy choice the easy choice! 

Make it Fun

Try adding habits with fun built in – listen to a good audiobook or podcast while doing your new habit. Do your new activity with someone you adore. Create reward systems that will motivate you. 

For more habit-changing advice, check out the Learning Center’s website.

Finding Inner Peace at College

The middle of the semester sometimes feels as if a thousand tasks are coming at you from every direction – whether it’s assignments, clubs/organizations, a job, or imposter syndrome. Don’t forget to make time for the activities that keep you mentally balanced. 


Person sits cross legged on a rock in a lake at dusk

Be calm in the storm 

Inner peace means a state of physical and spiritual calm despite stressors. Finding inner peace is a process – it won’t happen overnight – but working towards it will help you focus and have a clear mind. 

6 Strategies to Maintain a Peaceful Mind 

  1. Spend Time in Nature. Take a short, mindful walk where you notice your senses – the breeze on your face, the ground beneath your feet, the warmth of the sun. Remind yourself to relax, take your time, and notice sensations – especially in moments when you feel stressed.
  2. Meditate.  You can try yoga or listen to a guided meditation on a podcast. Meditation has many proven benefits and can help you find your path to peace and happiness. 
  3. Give yourself time to worry.  Spoiler alert: You won’t be able to get rid of all your worries for good. In fact, the more you tell yourself not to stress, the more you probably will. What can help is to schedule a “worry time” during your day. Choose a small window of time to sit quietly. Let yourself go over all the things that have you concerned, as well as some ways you might solve them. You may find that this allows you to worry less — and ultimately feel more peaceful throughout the rest of the day.
  4. Declutter. Do you notice how your environment can be a reflection of your inner world? Create an environment around you that supports your goals. Organizing your space, tasks, and thoughts, can help your mind be more peaceful.
  5. Be accountable and take responsibility. Even when it’s difficult, admitting your mistakes helps you find peace and happiness. Criticisms are an opportunity to improve yourself, and accepting that you’re imperfect and make mistakes makes you more resilient.  
  6. Practice acceptance and contentment. Accept that you are imperfect and figure out strategies to deal with problems. Release yourself from self-criticism and comparison. Remember that your journey at UNC-CH is your own unique experience. Be kind to yourself.

Nutrition Philosophy

Here at Healthy Heels, we view food as fuel, nourishment, and something to be enjoyed. We encourage Tar Heels to eat a wide array of foods that are both nourishing and delicious. There are no bad or forbidden foods – it’s all about paying attention to your body’s needs.

Eat When You’re Hungry

Keep your body biologically fed with enough nourishment. This helps avoid the natural response to over-consume food in moments of excessive hunger. Learning to honor your initial biological signal of hunger sets the stage for building trust in yourself and in food.

  • Help yourself by bringing yummy, nutrient-dense snacks with you so that when you notice hunger, you have food available.

Enjoy Your Food

Feel the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. Some studies indicate that when you look forward to the food that you’re about to eat, your body absorbs more of its nutrients. Plus, eating food you enjoy in a pleasurable environment helps you feel satisfied and content. 

Stop Eating When You’re Full

Trust yourself with eating and listen to your body. Your body will tell you what foods you need and when it needs them no longer. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of eating and ask yourself how the food tastes, and check in on your current level of hunger.

Use Gentle Nutrition Strategies

  • Zoom out. Focus on the big picture when it comes to nutrition. Individual food choices make very little difference when it comes to health. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or become unhealthy from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Consider overall patterns in your food intake.
  • Add foods, don’t subtract. Remember that all foods can be a part of a healthy life and no foods are off-limits. Instead, consider how to add nutrient-filled and diverse foods into your eating patterns.
  • Focus on variety. Different foods contain different nutrients, which means that eating a diversity of foods helps to ensure that we are getting adequate nutrients.
  • Pay attention to food that feels good. Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making your body feel good.
  • Try to include 3 things at each snack and meal: protein, fat, and fiber. This will help keep you full and nourished.
  • Create an environment that makes health easier. Your environment is the biggest predictor of your health choices, so consider how you can make shifts to your space to set yourself up for the health behaviors you want.

Why Therapy Is Not For Me (but actually might be)

1. I want to get through it on my own.

We live in a society that places a lot of value on independence, but in truth, we are interdependent. Each of us does need other people to some degree. Participating in therapy is not a passive process. You are not “attending therapy”, or “getting therapy”.  Therapists are not administering something to you. Therapy is an active, collaborative process of figuring out life. Therapists do have some specialized knowledge about mental health, but we act as guides, not fixers. In fact, but of the unique aspects of therapy is that therapists act as guides, not as fixers.

2. If my friends and family can’t help me, how will someone I don’t even know help me?

Friends and family play extremely vital roles in our lives, and there is no substitute for those types of relationships. Often the people in our life have a vested interest in what we choose to do or in what direction we move. The role of a therapist is very different. When you go to therapy, the first task is for the therapist to be able to understand your hopes and goals, because your agenda is our agenda. Sometimes family and friends have the tendency to try to make things better for you. Therapists are trained to help you find the tools to make things better for yourself.

3. It’s not that bad. I’m not crazy. Therapy is a last resort for me.

People participate in therapy for a wide variety of reasons.

Sometimes things in their lives are pretty bad when they initiate therapy.

Sometimes they start treatment because they aren’t feeling fulfilled, or because something in life feels “off”. They want to not simply get through each day, but instead want to thrive. Sometimes students come to therapy because they are aware that academic stress is unavoidable and they want to learn strategies to manage it before it starts to create problems. At UNC Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), we work with people throughout the whole spectrum, between preventing problems before they start and treating issues before they begin.

Mental Health is similar to physical health in that it is often a quicker, easier process if you take a proactive approach. I often hear from students who have recurrent depression that the first episode was the worst, in part because they didn’t know to take action until things felt completely unmanageable.

Stigma is real. Often times we are socialized to have some negative feelings towards individuals with mental health disorders and towards seeking mental health treatment. Where have you heard some of those messages? What do you believe? How might you overcome the stigma associated with seeking services?

4. Therapy is too _____________________ (Expensive, Time Consuming)

There is no arguing with that. Participating in therapy definitely takes time (typically 45-60 minutes weekly). It also may require a financial investment. Although CAPS brief therapy services are free, there are times when students may start off with or transition to a community provider, where there will likely be a copay.

Often when I meet with students, their symptoms are impacting their ability to be as successful as they could be academically. Their friendships or relationships with loved ones may be impacted. Anxiety, for example, could make it extremely difficult for a person to concentrate and learn new material, and to seek frequent reassurance from friends, or to avoid social situations altogether.  Also, some of the symptoms they are experiencing are painful. They are in real distress. Can you relate to this? How are the issues you are having impacting your quality of life?

If one part of the equation is the cost/time/effort, please remember to include the other side of the equation- the impact the symptoms are having on your well-being.

In Conclusion

Therapy is not for everyone. But therapy is helpful for some people, and it just may be that it could be helpful to you. But don’t take my word for it! See if therapy can help you. The best way to get something out of therapy:

  • Come in with some goals in mind.
  • Ask your therapist questions.
  • If you don’t feel as if the first person you see is a good fit, work with someone else.
  • Monitor your symptoms and your progress toward your goals, and work with your therapist to get the most out of your time together.
  • Be open with your therapist about any concerns you have about the therapy process.

If you would like to initiate therapy or simply talk with a clinician more about your options for mental health services, please walk in to CAPS between the hours of 9*-12 and 1-4 M-F (8-5 if you have urgent concerns). *Friday morning initial appointments begin at 9:30 a.m. 

 

Originally posted August 6, 2013. Revised and updated 2016. 

Take a Break! Hey, Take 10

This blog post was originally published on July 7, 2015.

Tar Heels, if you’re still hanging around the general vicinity of North Carolina this summer, you don’t need me to tell you it’s hot, but…OMG it’s sooooo hot! If you’re anything like me, a long string of hot days might make you complain a lot and think less clearly than you might otherwise.

Also, while the pictures on my Facebook feed tell me that this is vacation time for a lot of people…it might not feel like vacation time for all of us. Yes, NECESSITY, as well as our culture that socializes us to ideals of BUSY! and ACHIEVEMENTS!, can chase us down even into these summer months.

So, please allow me to be your Captain Obvious right now and give you a loving reminder:

Here is a comfy pink chair in the forest a person might sit in if they were taking a break.
Here is a comfy pink chair in the forest a person might sit in if they were taking a break.

Take a break.

Take a break! There are many ways to take a break today, this week, this month, this summer, even if you’re jamming out in Summer Session II and can’t afford a beach condo for the next decade. Here are some ideas to get your creative break-making juices flowing:

  1. Finish reading this blog post and then turn off whatever screen you’re looking at for at least 5 minutes. Feeling brave? Do it in silence. Feeling tense? Think about relaxing each part of your body, starting with the toes and working your way up. It’s just 5 minutes. You can do it. Too easy? Make a summer resolution to do this every day and see what happens.
  2. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a long time and catch up.
  3. Commit to listening to an entire album you haven’t heard ever or haven’t heard in a long time. Do it in one sitting. Invite some buddies over for a listening party.
  4. Find a path you’ve never walked and walk it. (If you’re in Chapel Hill, consider these!) Find some flowers and sniff them.
  5. Take a social media hiatus. Y’all. I haven’t been on Facebook for 3 days and I feel like a new person right now.
  6. Drink some water. It’s hot.
  7. Do something you haven’t done since you were a kid. Is there a swing set at your apartment complex? Can you get your hands on a pool noodle? Are there old board games for sale at PTA Thrift Shop? Where are those crayons your roommate was waving around? Can you YouTube your favorite old cartoon?
  8. Plan a day trip to a swimming hole or a waterfall.
  9. Cook something for dinner tonight that you’ve never cooked before. Never cooked at all? Then this assignment has NO LIMITS!
  10. Read a book…for fun. When was the last time you read a book for fun??

Other ideas? Do share in the comments!

How Being YOU Can Reduce Stress

I always joke with my coworkers that they have to watch what they say around me because I believe everything that I hear.  And, although I think it is important to draw on other people’s experiences to shape your own success, at the end of the day you are the only person who knows what is best for you.  As a follow up to last week’s stress-free blog, I’d like to leave you with four more tips focused on how being YOU can lead to a productive and carefree school year. Continue reading

Getting Busy (Doing Nothing)

Have you ever noticed how many things require your attention?

School. Family. Work. Friends. Homework. Clubs. Papers. Post-graduation. Wait, me? Oh yeah. Me. Or you. Us, really.

It’s really easy to forget to give ourselves attention when all these other things are happening around us. Think about sleep. When was the last time you cheated yourself a little sleep? Or a lot of sleep? What about meals? Ever find yourself pushing those back further and further in the day?

No one’s saying it’s easy, but it is important to be sure we take a little time to ourselves to do absolutely nothing.

Nothing.

But how do YOU do nothing?

Maybe you’re taking a break to do nothing and you start watching some Netflix. Or maybe you pick up that new book – finally. Or maybe you just take a few minutes to check your updates: Facebook. Twitter. Instagram.

But this isn’t nothing.

Photo by Jason Howie of Flickr Creative Commons
Photo by Jason Howie of Flickr Creative Commons

A great blog by Nicole Liloia explores the difference being busy doing nothing and actually, truly, really really doing nothing. Liloia talks about how we tend to feel overwhelmed by all the “something” we have to do that when we take time to do nothing, we don’t truly allow ourselves to do nothing. Sometimes, when we’re worn out and overwhelmed, binging on Netflix doesn’t seem to recharge us at all.

This is being busy doing nothing: giving into the subconscious guilt that we should always be doing something – anything.

The times at which we do nothing are essential for recharging our bodies and our minds. When we really allow ourselves to do nothing, we give ourselves time to reconnect with ourselves and to enjoy our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

By keeping ourselves busy – even if it’s only Facebook – we are distracting ourselves from ourselves. We are losing focus of the most important person in our lives: us.

So let’s give ourselves a fair chance, shall we?

In 2003 Amitay Tweeto created the quiet place project, an online site where you can “choose quiet.” It may see a bit counter-intuitive, but look at is as a first step in one of many to get yourself back to you.

The quiet place project uses several different ‘rooms’ to guide you through the process of reconnecting and doing nothing. It’s a judgment free place – a place free of social media and cell phones and advertisements. There aren’t even capital letters!

In the quiet place, you are invited to shut off all your devices and absorb yourself into a guided conversation with yourself for at least 30 seconds. Another ‘room’, the thoughts room, is a place where you can get out all of your thoughts and feelings and stress using a status bar, and watch your words burst into stars. Finally: the dawn room. The dawn room is extra special because it’s a place to go when everything seems too hard. As you navigate through this area, you are bombarded with kindness and encouragement to get you through whatever hardship your dealing with.

Though this isn’t technically doing nothing, it is a good step. The quiet place project is space where you can learn to do nothing, to connect with your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and begin to enjoy them.

“i’m gong to say goodbye soon.

and let you get back to your notifications

but before that, i just want to give you some advice

from time to time

stop everything you do

and go to your quiet place

goodbye.”

Take a Break! Hey, Take 10

Tar Heels, if you’re still hanging around the general vicinity of North Carolina this summer, you don’t need me to tell you it’s hot, but…OMG it’s sooooo hot! If you’re anything like me, a long string of hot days might make you complain a lot and think less clearly than you might otherwise.

Also, while the pictures on my Facebook feed tell me that this is vacation time for a lot of people…it might not feel like vacation time for all of us. Yes, NECESSITY, as well as our culture that socializes us to ideals of BUSY! and ACHIEVEMENTS!, can chase us down even into these summer months.

So, please allow me to be your Captain Obvious right now and give you a loving reminder:

Here is a comfy pink chair in the forest a person might sit in if they were taking a break.
Here is a comfy pink chair in the forest a person might sit in if they were taking a break.

Take a break.

Take a break! There are many ways to take a break today, this week, this month, this summer, even if you’re jamming out in Summer Session II and can’t afford a beach condo for the next decade. Here are some ideas to get your creative break-making juices flowing:

  1. Finish reading this blog post and then turn off whatever screen you’re looking at for at least 5 minutes. Feeling brave? Do it in silence. Feeling tense? Think about relaxing each part of your body, starting with the toes and working your way up. It’s just 5 minutes. You can do it. Too easy? Make a summer resolution to do this every day and see what happens.
  2. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a long time and catch up.
  3. Commit to listening to an entire album you haven’t heard ever or haven’t heard in a long time. Do it in one sitting. Invite some buddies over for a listening party.
  4. Find a path you’ve never walked and walk it. (If you’re in Chapel Hill, consider these!) Find some flowers and sniff them.
  5. Take a social media hiatus. Y’all. I haven’t been on Facebook for 3 days and I feel like a new person right now.
  6. Drink some water. It’s hot.
  7. Do something you haven’t done since you were a kid. Is there a swing set at your apartment complex? Can you get your hands on a pool noodle? Are there old board games for sale at PTA Thrift Shop? Where are those crayons your roommate was waving around? Can you YouTube your favorite old cartoon?
  8. Plan a day trip to a swimming hole or a waterfall.
  9. Cook something for dinner tonight that you’ve never cooked before. Never cooked at all? Then this assignment has NO LIMITS!
  10. Read a book…for fun. When was the last time you read a book for fun??

Other ideas? Do share in the comments!

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Avoiding the Stress Competition and 6 Other Tips for Surviving Finals

This blog was originally posted on April 30, 2012 and was written by Sarah Weller. Also check out this post by Bob Pleasants for more study tips or The Learning Center for finals week services like Study Boot Camps, Academic Coaching and Peer Tutoring!

Finals period! Oh what a wonderful time of year!

Sike. Let’s just be blunt. Finals. Period. Sucks. It’s a stressful time of year. End of story. There is really no way that a 2 week period testing your knowledge on ALLLL the things that you learned during the past 14 weeks could be anything but a little stressful.  But there are some ways to make it suck less, and maybe to even harness some of that stress for good.

  Above all- Don’t Engage in the Stress Competition at all costs!!!

Person 1:“I’m so stressed. I have 2 papers, and 3 finals to go. I’ve been up since, like, 6:30 this morning.”

Person 2: “Uh, me too. I’ve had like 6 cups of coffee today. I only got like 3 hours of sleep.”

Person 1: “Oh yea, I only got like 2.5. I had to finish that take home we had due for biochem.”

How often have you been hanging out with friends during high-stress times like finals period and suddenly found yourself in a similar conversation, wherein, one person’s stressors just feeds off the other’s. BEWARE! While this might seem like simple commiseration, it only serves to perpetuate an atmosphere of stress! In fact, let’s all actively FIGHT the stress competition. When you find yourself beginning to engage in a Stress Competition, immediately say something nice. Something positive. Do jumping jacks. Make a scene. ANYTHING but engage in the stress competition- for serious.

Oh and here are 6 other handy tips for finals times…

1.       Make a Schedule: Sound familiar? You’ve probably received this advice on repeated occasions, but it’s a good suggestion, so it bears repeating. Many times, stress stems from trying to squeeze too much into too little time. By setting out a schedule, you help to structure your time, ensuring that you’re not left at the 12th hour with 20+ pages to read/write. (Bonus: By creating a schedule and using your time wisely you have more time for #3 and #4!)

2.       Prioritize: Much like making a schedule, prioritizing helps you to avoid that last minute cram.

3.       Avoid Productive Procrastination (Or Procrastination At all): Personally, I often try to do smaller easier tasks, while ignoring my looming larger assignments, something a friend of mine calls productive procrastination. While this might seem like at least I’m getting something done, it really just causes me extra stress when I have to scrabble to finish the BIG assignments in the end. Those little assignments aren’t going anywhere, and they’ll be just as easy when you’re done with the big one. Same thing for procrastination at all. It’s only going to sneak up on you in the end. Facebook, Twitter, that trip to Taco Bell will still be there when you’re done (and can even serve as a pleasant reward for finishing!)

4.       Take Care of Yourself: I CANNOT repeat this enough. If your body is not well, your mind is not well. Deprive it of the essentials– sleep, nutrients from good food– it’s just not going to perform the way you want it to, and you’re not going to perform the way that you want to. So treat your body right. Take care of yourself.

5.       Don’t Forget Balance: Staying balanced during finals period can be hard. But don’t forget to intersperse some of the activities that really make you happy in between papers and study sessions.

6.       Set Realistic Goals: Know what you can and cannot do. Finishing an X page paper in X amount of time might be realistic for some, but not for you. Use this knowledge to help guide you in #1 and #2.
Any other great suggestions on avoiding finals time stress?

WORKOUT WEDNESDAY: A Beautiful Body is a Masterpiece. Your Masterpiece.

The following fantastic article was written by Jordan Lee for the UNC 2015 Body Beautiful Project. Jordan is a Fitness Graduate Assistant for Campus Recreation and is a second year master’s student in the Exercise Physiology program.

A beautiful body is a masterpiece. Your masterpiece.
A beautiful body is individual and unique in that it literally can’t be like anything else. It is original and independent. It has no loyalty to the preordained, finds joy in the potential for change, but exists as a delicacy.
A beautiful body always juggles its strengths and weaknesses. It admires room for improvement but doesn’t injure itself with intentional pain. A beautiful body is a canvas for development, decorated with the impact of both disasters and dreams.
A beautiful body seeks and explores its limits, but is conscious of absurdity. It is both nourished and occasionally indulgent, but lacks intention to seek drought as balance. By the grace of self-perseverance, a beautiful body salutes dangerous frontiers.
A beautiful body collaborates with both the extravagant and the mundane. It is creative and curious, learning the lessons of mistakes and the glory of discoveries. It does not gloat in the spotlight nor undermine it’s own success. It is able to step up or step aside, but never surrender.
A beautiful body grits its teeth and lies perfectly still. It is dedicated to challenge itself as a precious machine, yet it finds peace and repair in the silence of nothing.
A beautiful body is attentive to the vivacity of laughter and the depths of tears. It is thankful for the repair reflected in scars, but does not dismiss or forget their birth. A beautiful body is dynamic and malleable, experiencing the pull of a strong-will and the tremors of fear. It brims with self-purpose, even when mute.
A beautiful body is bold but patient. It seeks novelty and endures struggle, but never abandons its intrinsic flame. It venerates opportunity and obligation, even in the face of mystery. Without excuses as a crutch, it takes a conscious oath to respect, nurture, grow and protect the fragile life beneath the skin.
A beautiful body is inextinguishable, thriving, and is an entity of its own. It is everlasting. Granted with the most precious privilege there is, a beautiful body holds itself accountable. For its own sake and not for you or me.
Because responsibility is the cornerstone of beauty.