Before moving to Spain for my first year as an auxiliar, there were plenty of things on my mind. However, health and fitness were not among them.
When it came to working out in college, I was on a pretty regimented routine – water polo practice a few times each week and the gym on my off days, so I figured I would have no problem adjusting this schedule to my new life.
The truth is that sticking to a healthy routine proved to be a lot harder than it seemed. In the beginning, I was super motivated and going to the gym a few times per week. Instead of opting for workouts I chose therapy/coffee/dinner/caña sessions with my friends in between school and giving private lessons. While this allowed me to make some super strong bonds and create some of the best memories I have from living in Spain, I did notice that my lack of working out began to take its toll – I really wasn’t feeling great physically or mentally.
Come springtime, I was started to spend more time exercising – I joined a gym again and on the weekends spent time hiking around Jaén. I immediately noticed the effect on my mood. Just like Elle Woods said – exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy, and happy people just don’t kill their husbands.
What did I learn from this situation? For one thing, it really cemented the fact that when living out of your element, whether in a new country or a new city, taking care of yourself is important. It’s pretty obvious, but often easier said than done.
Without further ado, here are my tips – gleaned from my personal experience of course – for current and future auxiliares on cultivating a healthy mind and body while living abroad.
1. Commit to a workout plan: Spain has gyms just like everywhere else, and plenty that fit within the auxiliar budget – mine in Palma this year is 25 euro per month. Get a friend to go with you and check out the classes – these can be a good way to practice your listening skills and matar dos pajaros de un tiro.
2. Get enough sleep: Those of you who know me probably already know what I’m gonna say here. Getting enough sleep has never been one of my strong suits. I’m a natural born night owl, and I do my best work past midnight. However, getting enough shut-eye is vitally important, whether you’re faced with a group of screaming 2-year-olds or half asleep 16-year-olds. Trust me on this one, and go buy some manzanilla tea.
3. Dar un paseo: Basically, this is what Spaniards call taking a walk with no destination in mind. It sounds simple, but it truly helps clear your head, and I think American society could reaaalllyyy benefit from this habit. If you’ve been following this blog, you might know that I didn’t exactly love my job last year, and while I didn’t mention it much I also had a stressful living situation. The best thing I did when I was feeling overwhelmed was not lighting candles or doing yoga – it was simply leaving my apartment to take a walk.
4. Keep learning: This one doesn’t have as much to do with physical health as it does with mental health, and it’s something I really wish I had put more effort into last year. Get yourself a library card or make use of that Kindle instead of scrolling through Instagram during your breaks at work, and if you want to improve your Spanish, sign up for classes or go to intercambios in your city. Maybe you’ve always wanted to play the ukelele? Well, now is the time!
5. Journal: This is something I’m glad I stuck with on and off throughout my year in Jaén and I’m continuing the habit this year in Mallorca. Journaling is a great exercise to get whatever you’re feeling down on paper, whether you’re elated or frustrated. If I’m feeling negative emotions and I start to scribble them down, I usually reach a point where I’m sick of whining and decide to get off my butt to do something else. It’s also an amazing souvenir that afterward will help you appreciate how much you’ve grown throughout the year
6. Eat well: I realized last year that I am indeed one of those people who enjoys grocery shopping. Mercadona and I are tight. I also made a hobby out of turning the food I bought into yummy (usually, there were a few failed experiments) and healthy meals. The thing is, when you cook for yourself in Spain, it’s pretty easy to eat well. Fruits and vegetables are super cheap, which is good news for the vegetarians out there. Even here in Mallorca, which tends to be more expensive, I spend way less than I did in the US and still eat healthier.
7. Give yourself a break: With all that being said, this point is probably my most important piece of advice, and something I realized a bit too late in my Spain journey. There’s no need to beat yourself up if things are not going well. Maybe you aren’t committed to that workout plan I mentioned before, or you’re feeling super homesick and just want to indulge in a bag of Doritos or your junk food of choice. When you’re far away from your support system, you will have some low moments, and its okay to sulk for a minute, but just remember that there will be equally as many high points.
If you’ve worked as an auxiliar or made the transition to living abroad and have suggestions for this post, let me know in the comments!