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INSPIRE TO MOVE - Strengthen Your Social Muscles
NOURISHING YOU - Southwestern Crockpot Chicken
HEALTHY HARMONY - Healthy Habits
GOOD DECISIONS - The Power of Time Off
EMPLOYEE SPOTLIGHT - July 2021 Wellness Connection Employee Spotlight Interview with Cassie Tafilaw

Wellness Lessons Learned During the Pandemic Survey
In March of 2020, a global pandemic turned the workplace on its head. We were all forced to limit, or in some cases cancel, all travel. Many of us were working completely remote for the first time -- sometimes while juggling caregiving and other responsibilities. Workplace connections that commonly took place in the breakroom or the office corridor were replaced by virtual meetings. Throughout the past year-and-a-half, we have learned to be adaptable. The System Office Wellness Committee would like to take this opportunity to reach out to you to find out how the pandemic has impacted your health and wellness. The information from this anonymous survey will be utilized to create future wellness programs. We will share a summary of the key findings from the survey in our September Wellness Connection Newsletter. The survey will remain open until July 21. Thank you in advance for your participation.

Take the Survey

Feedback - SOWellness@uillinois.edu
The System Office Wellness Committee strives to cite relevant information from reputable sources. Employees should always consult with their health care provider before making any kind of health decision or change.


INSPIRE TO MOVE - Strengthen Your Social Muscles

People sitting with friends - Photo credit: Helena Lopez of Pexels 

By Lydia Schillinger
Life is full of changes. Whether we are living through a pandemic together, relocating, changing  jobs, starting at a new school, or adopting some other lifestyle change, we must adapt to our new social circles. Humans are social beings by nature so learning how to strengthen our social muscles by overcoming the sense of ambivalence about how to interact with others again will be beneficial to creating new friendships.

When meeting new people, give yourself permission to set small, achievable goals and try to accept that others are going to have a different response than you. For example, you may prefer eating lunch at a favorite restaurant, but someone else may want to try some place new. Accept that certain activities may feel challenging for a short time, but be ready to create a new normal – one that is functional for you.

Start socializing a bit at a time and if your plate becomes too full or if you feel uncomfortable, politely decline some invitations. It is okay to say no. Getting out there again is the key to moving in the right social direction. 

Here are a few great tips on how to strengthen your social muscles:

  • Strike up a conversation with a stranger. Pick a fellow dog walker or the new office buddy down the hall. Make eye contact and talk to them as a person rather than as a function. Be interested in people’s stories – ask related questions and pay attention.
  • Share food with someone. Eating a meal together boosts your mood and is a potential antidote for loneliness.
  • Tell someone a joke in person. You may have to work on your timing if you are out of practice. Eye contact and laughter are essential to feel connected to someone.
  • Ask someone what music they are listening to or what book they are reading right now. Music and literature may be a community-building gift. Listen to music together, exchange books, and have an in-person discussion afterward.
  • Move with someone. Dance, run, walk, swim, or even fold the laundry or do the dishes together. Physical synchronicity is one of the most important ways we have to connect with someone else.
  • Make a date for the future. Think of something fun to do with someone. It could be a summer beach weekend, going to the dog park, or out to dinner. Having something to look forward to is essential for your well-being.

Friendships are one of those things that may take some work, but it is well worth the effort. Do yourself a favor by getting out there and having fun with it!


NOURISHING YOU - Southwestern Crockpot Chicken

 Tacos recipe adapted from SavoyNothing.com - link

Recipe by Benjamin Taylor
Serves 6 - 8
Prep time: 10 min. | Cook time: 8 hrs. | Total time 8 hrs 10 min.

Having a hard time keeping up with dinner in the midst of all the activities, events, and games you find yourself running between these days? This incredibly easy and healthy meal is here for you! Most of us think of the slow cooker as a fall or wintertime staple in the kitchen, but at our house it gets year-round use!

Simply combine all of the ingredients in a slow cooker early in the day, and you will have a healthy and delicious protein to put inside tacos, spoon over brown or white rice, or use on top of salad greens.


  • 4-5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 1 (16 oz) jar salsa – use ½ jar for less sauce
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup corn, frozen or canned (drained if from a can)
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped (optional)


  1. Place chicken breasts in bottom of crockpot (frozen is fine!)
  2. Add all other ingredients
  3. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours
  4. Shred with two forks
  5. Use for tacos, over rice, or on a salad

Nutrition Information: (serving size:  1 1/2 cups) Calories 355 | Carbs 45g | Fat 4g | Protein 37g


HEALTHY HARMONY - Healthy Habits

Photo Credit: Danielle Macinnes of Unsplash - Mug that says "Begin" 

By Jackie Billhymer
If there is one thing that is true, it is that change is inevitable. When we want to make changes to improve our well-being, it can be overwhelming to decide where to start. We want to increase things like physical activity, eating foods that are more nutritious, and getting more sleep. Deciding on which steps to take to improve well-being can become a source of stress.

Human beings thrive on routine, and habits form our routines. Habits are created when our brain assigns automatic behavior responses to our everyday activities. If I take the stairs to my office every morning, over time my brain does not have to use as much energy to make that decision. It can use the “extra” energy to focus on activities or behaviors that change every day, such as deciding what to have for dinner. There is an awareness involved in making changes, and a key part of building awareness is to understand how our brain creates habits.

James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits,” explains a simple and thought-provoking framework for the process of building a habit. Habits form through four consecutive stages: cue, craving, response, and reward. All four stages rely on habits to have a reward that gives our brain an incentive to remember the outcome of the particular habit. Clear also assigns four laws to each of these stages and outlines the basis for creating good habits.

Once you understand how habits are formed, you can take another step towards increased awareness by asking yourself what stage of change you are in right now. Changing habits can be hard and often takes time. Drawing from the transtheoretical model, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) outlines four stages of change for developing or changing your habits:

  1. Contemplation: “I’m thinking about it.” Includes a pros and cons chart for weighing common decisions such as healthy eating and physical activity.
  2. Preparation: “I have made up my mind to take action.” Includes a chart outlining possible roadblocks and solutions when you start to change your habits.
  3. Action: “I have started to make changes.” Includes steps to stick with your newly formed habits.
  4. Maintenance: “I have a new routine.” Includes ideas for staying motivated and taking setbacks in stride.

I often wonder why I do not do the things that I know will benefit my well-being. After reading these articles, I am more aware that I have some successful habits (like flossing) and some not-so-successful habits (like late night snacking). Change is a process and better managed if you concentrate on one habit at a time. Good luck!


GOOD DECISIONS - The Power of Time Off

Relaxing by the pool - Photo Credit: Engin Akyurt from Pexels 

By Christina A. Worthington
Vacation time is a benefit that has become a requirement for many people when accepting a role within an organization. Though many choose to accumulate their time off for a future lengthy vacation or an emergency, it is important for your well-being to make the most of your time off whenever you choose to use it. All too often, we find ourselves checking in or working for a few minutes here or there during our scheduled time away from the office.

Here are some tips to create better work-life balance:

PTO = Prepare The Others • As soon as you make the decision to take time off from work, begin making a plan. This will help you to prepare your colleagues for your time away. It also will help you complete tasks prior to your temporary departure and outline items that need to be delegated to direct reports or other colleagues. Be sure to turn on automatic replys for your work email to let other know you are out of office. This sets the expectation that you may not be able to respond right away or at all depending on the circumstance.

Unplug to your fullest • Technology makes it so simple for us to be connected 24/7. Checking work email after hours has almost become a standard in today’s professional climate, which is why setting expectations during your time away from work is critical. Each person’s “fullest” capacity will vary. Some individuals will be able to remain disconnected during their time off, while others may have agreed in advance to check email or take a conference call. However, actions of managers and leadership are observed by employees and are often mimicked. If you are in one of these roles, be conscious of how it could affect your employees’ choices for work-life balance.

Reap the benefits of work-life balance • Employees who take advantage of their paid leave are happier employees! Workplace studies have shown that employees who pursue more balanced time between work and leisure show an increase in productivity, improved motivation, and a decrease in absenteeism and stress. Organizations that encourage use of paid leave see the residual benefits of a decrease in employee burnout.

If you are able to, take some time away from your work. While work is a large part of our lives, it is not the full picture of your entire life. Visit that place you have always wanted to go. Embark on that adventure you have always dreamed of. Stay home and complete that project you have been putting off or simply relax! There is nothing better than recapping great experiences when your colleagues ask how your time off was!


EMPLOYEE SPOTLIGHT - July 2021 Wellness Connection Employee Spotlight Interview with Cassie Tafilaw

Cassie Tafilaw 

By Seth Yoder

Q. Could you tell us a little about your role at the University of Illinois?
A. I am a Business Analyst Coordinator with the Office of Organizational Effectiveness and have been at the University of Illinois for 14 years working for the same department throughout my tenure. In my role, I work with internal and external customers to gather requirements on projects that are then developed into a wide variety of deliverables. Another big component of my job is business process improvement, which includes the analysis of a business process to identify opportunities to improve overall efficiencies or effectiveness.

Q. During the pandemic we have learned a lot more about the importance of mindfulness and mental health. What do these two areas of health and wellness mean to you?
A. I hold the belief that there are four overall elements to wellness: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. People will often spend a great deal of time focusing on the physical element by working out and eating properly while neglecting the emotional and spiritual elements of wellness. In my experience, I have come across a number of different ways to develop a routine that will support mental wellness. Some experts believe it is important to maintain a frequent and consistent pattern when it comes to mental wellness. However, I have found if I regularly change my routine, I am more likely to engage with the activities and prevent my routine from becoming stagnant. Some elements of mental wellness that I try to incorporate in my life include practicing meditation, staging my workstation, setting an intention for the day, and setting aside an hour a day to work on my focus and particularly look at professional/personal aspects of my life through a positive lens. While it may not be practical to include all of these activities into my day, as long as I am including at least one of these activities, I feel I am contributing to overall mental wellness.

Q. There are a variety of ways to incorporate physical activity into our daily lives. You mentioned that you have an appreciation for the power of weightlifting. Could you describe your weightlifting regiment and what type of power you gain from it?
A. I try to include weight training in my fitness routine 4-5 times a week. To monitor my progress, I log the amount of weight, sets, and reps of each exercise I perform during each workout. This way, I am able to see my progress and push myself a little harder each time I encounter that workout. In addition to tracking my progress, I also track my heart rate and calories burned during a workout. I started doing this because I found that I could burn the same, if not more, calories during a weight training workout as I would doing cardio. Much like in my job where I look for efficiencies, I discovered while doing weight training, I could accomplish both building strength and improving my heart health. One way I am able to accomplish this is by improving the overall efficiency of my workout. Rather than performing and completing one exercise at a time during my workout, I perform two exercises during the same interval. For example, if I am doing a leg exercise when I break to rest, I will do another exercise using a different muscle group and then continue to switch back and forth until both exercises are complete. This allows me to complete more exercises in a shorter period of time. An added bonus of my workouts is that, not only do my workouts improve my overall physical strength, but they also impact my mental fortitude, which has enabled me to be just as strong mentally as I am physically.

Q. With busy schedules and constant distractions, it can be challenging to make time for healthy eating habits. You have said that nutrition ranks very high on your list of priorities, and I am curious how you are able maintain a well-balanced diet with a busy schedule?
A. Prepping my meals has been the key to my success. Some people will meal prep for the entire week; I choose to do no more than three days at a time. This prevents the meals from getting soggy and allows me to mix up the types of meals in the middle of the week. I prep four meals for each day, and while I am preparing at the start of the week, I look for foods that are on sale to help me determine what I will make. I also look for individual packages of foods like olive oil or yogurt to make the prep a little more convenient. A couple more things that I have found to be important when it comes to prepping meals are to choose foods that you enjoy eating (because you will most likely be eating them a lot) and add spices. Spices allow you to mix up the flavor of the food even though you may be using the same base ingredients and they don’t add any calories to the meal. Another recommendation would be to get creative in the kitchen and prepare your meals using a variety of methods. For example, if you are preparing chicken, instead of baking it in the oven, you could use a crockpot or pressure cooker. Not only will different methods change the length of time and work it takes to produce a meal, it will also allow you to vary the types of meals you can make while using the same ingredients.

Thank you to everyone who participated in UI Stride Well Traveled! Winners will be announced the week of July 12.