Friday, July 28, 2017

Back To School - the unconventional student

Congratulations! If you are reading this blog it means you have already overcome a huge obstacle on your path to furthering your education; deciding to go back to school.  Let me first start out by defining the “unconventional student.” This is typically an adult student.  As an adult, there are a variety of different responsibilities other than school that will have to have time and energy devoted to them; such as, children, maintaining a home, marriage, and work. Starting or going back to college can be both physically and emotionally draining. It can be terrifying to change careers, intimidating to enter a classroom after many years. How could I forget about student loan debt! Don’t panic! I have been an unconventional adult student for four years and will graduate this August from Lewis University with a Bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training. From there, I am preparing to further my education in Physical Therapy School.  With this blog I will hopefully relieve your fears and give you some tips and tricks to accomplish your goal of higher education. 

First, I want you to ask yourself “Why am I going back to school?” You could be working toward an increase in salary, pursuing a dream or goal that was put on the back burner, or simply making a shift in careers. This question is important because if you are not 100% motivated to take this step, it will be much harder to tolerate the stress. As for me, I enlisted in the army right out of high school and spent seven years working as an infantryman in a special operations unit.  Unfortunately, I was injured on a deployment and ended up medically retiring.  This injury led me to my passion of helping others in the field of Athletic Training and Physical Therapy, as I relied heavily on physical therapy to be able to walk again. I can honestly say that I would not have been able to finish my undergraduate training if I did not truly enjoy what I was studying.  I also have a wife, a child, three dogs and a new home.  I work part time and the majority of my schooling requires unpaid clinical rotations and an internship.  As you can imagine, sometimes I feel as though I am stretched pretty thin.  Luckily, I have learned to prioritize.  Obviously, coursework is a priority, but it cannot consume your whole life.  You have to make time for your kids and significant other.  One thing I have found to be helpful is a good schedule and a routine.  A few tips for this are to register and enroll early.  Adjust your work schedule to your class schedule and block in study and homework time. I tried to leave a one-hour break between classes to finish homework.  I usually leave either all of Saturday or all of Sunday dedicated to family time and do not do any coursework during that time.  Sometimes, a break is necessary to regain motivation. Wake up at the same time, leave your house at the same time, and go to bed at the same time.  In addition to keeping a good schedule and routine, keeping physically active and following a nutritious diet is essential.  I played hockey for three years of my college career, and being active 5 times a week helped keep my energy up and gave me a release from stress.  I recommend doing what you enjoy, walking, jogging, yoga, interval, HIIT, cycling swimming or sport participation.  Being active 30-minutes a day for four to five days a week can help keep your head in the game.  Many people get bogged down by diet.  Don’t count calories or macronutrients. I found you will not have time.  Develop a diet of “clean eating” with a balance between proteins, carbohydrates and fats.  Meal prepping will be vital to staying on track.  My wife makes my lunch, so I get some assistance in this area.  Diet is important because poor food choices or not eating enough will lower your energy and may affect your ability to be successful. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water will further assist a healthy diet.  For me, coffee was necessary and so drinking plenty of water to offset the dehydrating effects of caffeine was helpful.

No matter how motivated and organized you are, sometimes the stress of life wins and its okay.  I have had many instances where I could not sleep, could not focus on coursework and was neglecting my family because I was not able to handle being pulled in multiple directions.  I was still accomplishing things but I was just going through the motions. One thing that really helped me is a technique called “mindfulness.” This technique teaches you to focus on breathing to put yourself in the moment. It teaches you to recognize when your mind wanders and to get your focus back on the present. I have found this to be very beneficial, although, it did take some time and effort to really recognize the positive effects.  With that being said, I believe that having a strong support system is the most beneficial thing you could have. Having my wife, family, great coworkers and friends to seek advice from or just vent to is a great way to alleviate any stress or doubt.  Sometimes you need to be vulnerable and ask others for help. Think about who you have on your team and make sure they know how much you appreciate their help.

Remember to love what you are doing, develop a scheduled routine, stay active and eat well, utilize various techniques to combat stress and take advantage of your support systems.  Everyone has their own methods and techniques, so do what works best for you.  I have just tried to give you some pointers that have benefitted me on my path.  Below I have provided several links to help you on your way.  You will do great things!

-Brad Hojek

Aide at TheraCORE Physical Therapy

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