This is part of a series of interviews I'm doing with creative entrepreneurs who I find inspiring. I was curious to know how they incorporate healthy habits into their work + life blend. I figured you were probably curious too, so I'm taking one for the team and having great conversations with amazing bosses so I can share them here with you. (Hard work, right?!)
So, tell us a little about yourself and what industry you're in?
My name is Renessa Ciampa and I own Ciampa Creative, a multi-disciplinary design firm based in Boston. We work with both nonprofit and corporate clients on everything from brand identity to print collateral and marketing, to digital and web. Every client and project is different, and that’s what makes my job interesting and exciting!
You mentioned to me once that you live with a condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis. Do you mind sharing with us what that is and how it affects your life as a creative director at a design firm?
Absolutely. Ankylosing Spondylitis, or AS, is a form of arthritis that causes inflammation of the spine that can lead to chronic pain. In the most advanced cases, this inflammation can lead to new bone formation on the spine. The hallmark feature of AS is the involvement of the sacroiliac (SI) joints. It can also cause inflammation and stiffness in other areas of the body, like the shoulders, hips, ribs, and joints in the hands and feet. Sometimes the eyes, lungs, and heart can also be involved.
I started noticing symptoms around age 23, but after years of emergency room and and doctors visits, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 33 (unfortunately this is a common issue with AS patients). I’ve been on a treatment plan since then—in addition to taking care of my health in general—and am doing great now!
As a designer, creative director, and business owner, my time is divided between computer work, meetings, photo shoots, and being on the phone. Physically, both sitting and standing for long periods of time do not seem to be conducive to my condition, so I try to remember to move around every so often and stretch, particularly if it’s a day where I have a lot of computer work to do. I’m thinking about trying an adjustable ergonomic desk so that I can rotate between sitting and standing as I want to!
I’ve found a healthy diet and stress reduction to be big factors for me in helping to minimize symptoms of my AS and keep me feeling energized enough to be a boss while living with this condition. So I balance the hustle with making sure to eat healthy and do yoga (my workout and stress reduction method of choice!). There are times where I let things go a little and hustle harder (like project deadline times), but I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself and listening to my body over the last few years and know now that if I do have to go hard for a little while, I have to balance that out with some down time or I’m completely mentally and physically exhausted. And no one can be a good Boss in that condition!
As you know, my tag line is health fuels hustle. How do you prioritize your health so that you can continue to be a boss day in and day out?
Being a creative professional and a business owner both basically mean that my brain is always "on"! I'm often thinking about ideas, projects, or how to improve my business, outside of work hours and sometimes in my sleep! I think a big part of prioritizing my health is all about using my energy —physical and mental—wisely. I’m more aware lately of how I’m using my energy and my time, and how I don’t want to use my energy and my time. And I need some time to recharge. I need some quiet time to balance out the busy agency work. I didn’t always—I used to just keep going and going, working into the nights and weekends. But I’ve had periods of time where I did feel burned out and just had nothing left to give, and said to myself, “listen to your body Renessa!"
There’s a term that’s used in the chronic illness and disability communities: Spoon Theory. As Wikipedia explains it, the spoon theory is a metaphor "used to explain the reduced amount of energy available for activities of daily living and productive tasks that may result from disability or chronic illness. Spoons are an intangible unit of measurement used to track how much energy a person has throughout a given day. Each activity requires a given number of spoons, which will only be replaced as the person recharges through rest.”
On a day-to-day basis for me, this means trying to work within designated work hours (except for the occasional deadline-driven-hustle), and not into the night anymore like the first couple of years I was getting my business established! It means taking a little time for self-care everyday, whether it’s going to a yoga class, being outside for a lunch break, taking a hot bath, or just sitting with a cup of Chamomile tea, watching a favorite show, and zoning out for an hour! I also try to block of a few consecutive hours of self-care time to myself every weekend, or taking a half-day off on a weekday when my workload is a little lighter. (this is not always possible with other life commitments, but I strive for it!) And of course, it also means getting enough sleep.
Are you the type of person who thrives on habits and routines? If so, what are your top habits that make you feel like a total boss?
I’m actually the opposite! I get bored with routine (which is perhaps why I love running an agency and doing project-based work!), but I know that there are certain things I have to get done for my business, and certain things I have to do to take care of my health.
Containing work within certain work hours (usually between 9am to 6pm for me, and that’s a long day).
I practice yoga 3 times a week, and I like to switch up the types of classes I take to keep it interesting and challenging!
I started juicing just about daily a couple of years ago (the NutriBullet is the best purchase I’ve ever made!), and it has made me feel great! I make a lot of green juices to alkalize my body.
Taking a probiotic every morning and a multi-vitamin every day.
Keeping up with my AS treatment plan and doctor’s visits is a good habit I have.
I fully believe that indulging in less-than healthy-behaviors once in awhile can be part of a well-rounded healthy lifestyle. What is your number one less-than-healthy indulgence?
Pizza and beer! Either on their own or together.
Are there any Renessa Ciampa health tips that you want to spread the word about?
I've mentioned yoga a few times here! Yoga has been a big part of how I take care of my health on and off for probably 20 years now. I wasn’t really able to practice it regularly for a while when I was really struggling with being undiagnosed for all of those years. It’s not something that’s easy for someone with active AS to do. So now that I’m physically able to do it more regularly, I really feel like it helps me holistically. I feel that I’ve gained some strength and grace (physical and mental) through doing yoga that I carry throughout the day and week that help me better deal with any stress or physical challenges.
I’m not at 100% wellness and I don’t know that I will ever be. But both my health and my business are top priorities, so being conscious about nurturing both are very important to me! I feel lucky and privileged to be able to say that.
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