How to Take Charge of Your Well-Being in 2023

From exercise, to reading and salsa dancing, staff and faculty appreciate what gives them balance

Hands holding a happy face.

Liza Butler and her dog.
Liza Butler, seen here with her dog, Luna, has found ways to improve her mental balance. Photo courtesy of Liza Butler.

The dawn of a new year is a popular time to think about, and adopt, new methods of improving well-being. Duke University Hospital Chief Quality Officer Jonathan Bae, one of the co-conveners for the Mental & Emotional Well-being portion of Healthy Duke, said that approach makes sense, since the new year serves as a collective fresh start.

“I think people should always be in the habit of periodically asking questions about how they’re doing and recommitting themselves to what they see as healthy for them spiritually, physically, nutritionally or whatever,” Bae said. “What’s convenient about the new year is that, culturally, it’s a time when we all kind of do this together.”

A survey of 1,005 American adults conducted by Forbes Health shows that 45 percent list improving mental health as one of their top resolutions for 2023, compared to 39 percent who want to improve their physical fitness.

Regardless of the wellness goal, Bae said that it’s important to identify and prioritize resources or activities that can help you reach it.

“It’s not about the specific activity, but more about taking a break from things that don’t inherently bring joy,” Bae said. “It’s healthy to take time out of your day for restoration and renewal. And people can do that however they want to.”

We caught up with a few other Duke colleagues to hear what’s helping them improve their well-being heading into the new year.

Time for Herself

Kelly Onyenwoke reading
Kelly Onyenwoke plans on devoting more time to reading in 2023. Photo courtesy of Kelly Onyenwoke.

During the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelly Onyenwoke, a mother of three and associate project leader with the Duke Clinical Research Institute, found herself feeling stressed and unhealthy.

“Between working and taking care of three kids, the idea of taking care of myself just sort of fell away,” Onyenwoke said.

In 2022, she took the first steps toward rectifying the situation. She joined an online fitness and nutrition program that helped her lose around 40 pounds and boost her energy. She also made it a point to spend more time surrounded by small dose of nature, whether that meant tending to the garden at her Cary home or being sure to devote time to her many houseplants.

As a next step in her wellness journey for 2023, Onyenwoke is going to focus on her mind. She has set the goal of reading more books, ideally around one per month.

“I have a list of books I keep on my phone, just recommendations from one of my librarian friends or books that I’ll hear about on NPR which I think might be interesting to read, and I never get around to them,” said Onyenwoke, who has a long list of fiction titles to tackle. “Working full-time and having three young kids, I definitely don’t read for fun as much as I would like to. With this, I wanted to set a goal that’s doable and also be able to have fun, learn some things and read the books I’ve been interested in reading for a long time.”

Hitting the Trails

Dan Hoffman
Dan Hoffman has found that time spent running, or on his bike, is beneficial to his well-being. Photo courtesy of Dan Hoffman.

As he finished up his medical residency about a year ago, Dr. Dan Hoffman found that running became a way to relieve stress and, after long days in a clinical environment, get a much-needed change of scenery.

In 2022, he and his wife moved from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Durham, where Hoffman is now an internal medicine doctor at Duke Primary Care’s South Durham Clinic. Being able to join running groups and run by himself on the trails and streets of his new city have helped make him feel at home.

“It’s great, it keeps you active and can give you a little bit of a social life,” Hoffman said of running. “Honestly, it’s been one of the surprises of my adult life, I didn’t expect to love running this much.”

For 2023, Hoffman, 31, is challenging himself to embrace another mode of travel. After getting a bike he enjoys riding, Hoffman is aiming to commute from his home in downtown Durham to his clinic via bike on half of the days on which he works.

“I’ve already been doing it several times a week,” Hoffman sad about his commute on the American Tobacco Trail. “It’s a beautiful ride. I love getting to enjoy nature and being able to do something active before coming in.”

Finding Creative Outlets

Veronique Koch and her painting.
Veronique Koch holds the painting she completed with Duke Create. Photo courtesy of Veronique Koch.

Since beginning to work toward her master’s degree in Duke Graduate Liberal Studies, Veronique Koch, a senior science producer with University Communications, has come to value new ways to stoke her creativity. In the fall of 2022, it was a course on 16mm filmmaking – which felt more hands-on than the digital video she’s more familiar with – that left her feeling inspired.

Later in the fall, it was a painting class that she found through Duke Create that left her with a new stress-relieving activity. Taking place over an evening in November, the no-cost workshop – which is geared toward students but open to staff and faculty – showed participants how to structure their painting and mix the colors which will make it come alive.

“They showed us step-by-step, so even the very beginners could follow along,” Koch said. “It took a couple of hours and you didn’t think about anything else. You were just focused on drawing your shapes and mixing your colors. It was very meditative.”

By the end of the session, Koch had a painting, depicting a colorful slice of cake, which she now proudly displays in her home kitchen. And with an appreciation for the restorative energy she gets from painting, there will likely be more self-produced artwork on her wall soon.

“I’d like to join Duke Create classes regularly for a creative outlet outside of work, to meet other people and produce something for myself,” Koch said.

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