Wellness IRL Series: Interview With Caitlin

Wellness IRL: Interview With Caitlin | Jennifer Diaz | Photo by   Alexis Smith  | Hand Lettering by  Amy May Paper

Wellness IRL: Interview With Caitlin | Jennifer Diaz | Photo by Alexis Smith | Hand Lettering by Amy May Paper

I am incredibly excited to kick off the Wellness IRL series this month! One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to hear personal stories. I've been able to work with and get to know some really awesome people over the course of my career and they have provided an amazing source of inspiration for me.

Being a health and wellness professional, I teach people how to exercise effectively and live a well-balanced life. This job is very much a modeling profession. Therefore, exercising, eating well, managing stress, etc. is not only necessary for my own personal wellness, but also for my occupation. While I'm not perfect, and I have areas that I'm working on improving, many healthy behaviors have become habits for me. After all, no one wants to take advice from someone who doesn't live out what they teach.

When some of my clients talk about all the tasks their lives require of them, I'm amazed. I tip my hat to people who live incredibly full lives and still make their personal wellbeing a priority. There are times when I even wonder "if this weren't my job, what would my wellness and health look like?" Once a month, I will be highlighting someone who has a life full of work, family, to-do lists, and still maintains balance and prioritizes their health and wellness!

Caitlin is a wife, a mom of two, and a full time Civil Engineer professor (I basically need a nap just after typing all of that). After spending time with Caitlin, I was immediately impressed with her calm and positive demeanor, as well as the subtle ways she integrates healthy behaviors into her daily life. So, I asked her how she managed to balance life and keep her health a high priority:

What aspect of your personal wellness is going really well for you right now?

Over the last six months I have been very intentional about not overeating, which has helped me have more energy throughout my day.  Initially, this was a big challenge for me, but now it has grown into a good habit.

Finding balance in everyday life can be challenging. What helps you stay focused?

Intentionally scheduling everything.  For me, everything has to be scheduled or something will be missed. 

If you were to name an aspect of your wellness that has had the largest impact on your life, what would that be?

The “one thing” philosophy.  I have learned that in order to have lasting change in my wellness I have to intentionally phase good changes in one at a time.  I started a long time ago with phasing out soft drinks, then I phased out red meat, then I started yoga, then I phased in more fresh fruits and vegetables, then I started Zumba, then I started spending time in the Word with my children in the mornings, then I phased out caffeine, the list goes on, but I think you get the idea.

Being a full time wife, mom, and Civil Engineer Professor, how do you best find the time for yourself to stay active and also decompress?

I try to make the most of my time.  I work in active time with my children.  They have incredible amounts of energy.  If I can chase them around the yard to get a little exercise in, while at the same time get them worn out for bed, then I have accomplished two goals for the day.  I schedule my exercise for each week or I will not do it.  
At school, I work in small amounts of yoga in my office if I’m feeling overwhelmed or need to clear my mind.  I also like to decompress with my husband after the kids go to bed.  This is a good time for us to share about our days and to reconnect.  
Though I am not great at this yet, I have found that the day goes best for me if I wake up before my children to prepare my heart and my mind for the day.  Sleeping in is a big temptation for me.
Wellness IRL: Interview With Caitlin | Jennifer Diaz | Photo by  Alexis Smith

Wellness IRL: Interview With Caitlin | Jennifer Diaz | Photo by Alexis Smith

When you’re feeling burned out or demotivated, what/who do you look to for inspiration?

My strength comes from God. Everything that I have is a gift from God- body, mind, and spirit, and I want to take care of them for as long as I have them in order to best serve others.  My husband is also a huge encouragement to me. He is a wonderful teammate and challenges me to take care of and to better myself. Another big motivator for me is a desire to be active with my children. I want to chase them around the yard and teach them how to play sports and enjoy life with them.

What is your favorite form of exercise?

I really enjoy group exercise, because it allows me to mix things up and offers a social aspect that I enjoy.  I have taken classes in Zumba, yoga, Pilates, and Barre.  I enjoy each for different reasons.  Zumba is just a fun cardio, yoga really helps open my body and clear my mind, Pilates is a fun strength and core exercise, and Barre is a great workout that is also a fun throwback to my days as a kid in ballet class. 

What is the best piece of health/wellness advice you’ve received?

My husband made the excellent point to me that if you want to make a change you have to start NOW.  There is no reason to wait for tomorrow, or for New Year’s, or for when you have more time… because you will never have more time.
Wellness IRL: Interview With Caitlin | Jennifer Diaz | Photo by  Alexis Smith

Wellness IRL: Interview With Caitlin | Jennifer Diaz | Photo by Alexis Smith

What is your favorite healthy recipe? 

I really like Mexican flavors - lime, a little spice, black beans, and corn! My favorite thing to cook is a Persian Lime Chicken and Brown Rice dish.

What is your go-to splurge?

Gelato at Milk & Honey in Chattanooga! So good!  

Describe your typical day-to-day routine.

Wake up, wash my face, brush my teeth, and get ready for work.  As I go through this morning routine I also pray about things that I know are coming up in the day and for my family and the people I will encounter.  
After this, I wake up my kids, and while they are getting dressed, I make breakfast.  I enjoy sharing a meal with them before we go about our separated days.  Breakfast is usually simple, cereal with milk and fruit more often than not.  During breakfast, we talk about what our day will be like and I try to share a Bible story with them.  Then, I take my children to school and head to work.
At work I rely heavily on my “to-do” lists.  I make one every day.  My days are always different, which I really enjoy about my job.  I check emails, set up labs, prepare lecture materials, meet with students for academic and career advising, organize advisory boards and professional meetings, and teach.  I enjoy working with students and helping them learn about themselves and the course materials.  I enjoy watching them grow academically and professionally, and just as people over the two years (sometimes more) that they are at our institution.  Each student has a unique story, and it is inspiring and humbling to be a part of their journey.
I leave work to pick up both of my children, and we head home.  We play outside for a little while.  Our activities include sidewalk chalk, bikes, volleyball, softball, or running.  Then we head in to make dinner.  We eat an early dinner when my husband gets home from work, then he takes a shift with the kids and cleans the kitchen, while I go to my group exercise class.  
I come home and read for 20 minutes with the kids (books and Bible story), and tuck them in with a song and a prayer.  After that, I shower and my husband and I decompress.  Sometimes, we watch a show from a series we are enjoying on Netflix, and some days just require long and deep discussion.  It doesn’t matter what we do as long as I finish the day with my best friend. 
Then I get ready for the next day - clothes, lunches, etc.  I end with washing my face, brushing my teeth, and then early to bed so I can have the energy to do it all over again the next day!  

What are you most excited about in 2016?

I am looking forward to continuing to grow closer to God, simplify my life, improve my personal wellness, and connect with my family and friends.  

Any encouraging words for someone looking to improve their overall work-life balance?

It’s okay to say “no” to things.  Even good things!  It is better to focus on a few things and do them really well than it is to try to do a lot of things and only do them half-way.  I am learning the truth of this now.  The more I pare down my extra things, the better I feel!

Any additional thoughts: 

I think that personal wellness should be holistic in nature.  I not only consider my physical well-being a part of my personal wellness, but I also strive for good health and balance emotionally, socially, mentally, and spiritually.  They are all delicately connected.  Physical exercise has a positive impact on the mind and helps to reduce stress levels.  The spiritual practice of prayer also helps to alleviate stress and changes the way you think and feel about people around you for the better.  Mental toughness is required to stick to exercise routines when there is temptation to quit.  Emotions can have negative effects on food consumption (overeating or going for comfort foods) if they are not kept in check with social interaction (discussion) and/or prayer.  

I hope you are as inspired by Caitlin's story as I am and were able to glean some wisdom and ideas for your own personal lifestyle! 

What aspect of your wellness are you excited about working on this year?