As my second day of self care in a row comes to a close, I’m left wondering why I didn’t jump back into this sooner. When it comes to self care, everyone is different. Some self proclaimed “workaholics” enjoy a good break, while others can’t understand the concept of one. However, when your mind is always running – I along with millions of Americans can agree, it’s great to have a break.
A fascinating article by John Hall, dives into the stress epidemic before COVID took over America. If you haven’t properly dealt with stress before or currently feel stuck, know that you’re far from alone. Hall states a 2019 survey found 57% of participants “paralyzed by stress”. For students, the promise of a new semester can alleviate stressors. A fresh start, a way to get back on track. At the start of a new semester I go in with a plan on how to tackle everything and keep a sliver of time for self care. As most know from experience, it takes more or less two weeks to veer off track. Life will always be different than how we anticipate it to be, and it isn’t any fault of our own to inaccurately predict something that’s so sporadic. What’s important to remember when we do veer off track at the start of the school year, is that we still have plenty of time to reimagine what we want out of this semester. In fact, a few weeks into the term actually gives us a better understanding of what is to come. Sure changes will arise, but most likely that hour break will still exist between Class A and Class B. So how do you want to spend that time?
Self care for me is journaling, going to the gym, reading, listening to podcasts, painting, and generally being alone. Self care for you could be completely different, and that’s totally okay! For some of my friends, it’s baking, at home spa days, cleaning and maintaining a clean environment, organizing, and walking around campus during golden hour (in a safe area). Make sure you find something that makes you feel comfortable and gives you a break from everyday stress. Homework, exams, work, finances, friendships, and more can all eat away at the average college student. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to take a break! In more extreme circumstances, consider going to your school’s therapy office (often called Student Services) to request help. Besides offering counseling advice, you may be able to ask for specific accommodations for a week or two weeks, like getting an extension on homework or some extra exam study help. However you go about this, consider the importance of telling your professors what you’re going through. Turning projects in late, being distracted during lectures, lacking in participation, and doing everything last minute all send the wrong signals to your professors, so it’s important to explain.
So how can you tackle self care in the new semester? First, write out a list of five to ten different self care activities that you know you’d enjoy. Here’s a good list to get some inspiration. Next, know of two time slots this week where you’d be able to fit self care in. I like to plan out my weeks using a recurring Google Calendar so I can easily see where I have free time. Pick two activities from your list that would fit well during those times, mark it on a calendar, and treat it as mandatory. When you don’t give yourself the power to move it around in your schedule, you avoid pushing it off all week, or doing something worse for you during that time off. The survey that I mentioned earlier which measured stress in Americans, found that 47% of participants “say that their response to stress is to take it out on themselves”. This may sound extreme, but all it really means is indulging in unhealthy stress relivers. Over or under-eating, isolating, being self destructive in relationships, and more. Use your list of self care activities to prevent major stress from building up, or for damage control when you realize how much stress you’re under.
I challenge the students who pride themselves on never taking a break to look at the benefits of self care, and the scary effects of chronic stress. It can feel exhilarating now, but burnout at 30 is something I hope we can all avoid. Your body takes you through each and every day, so don’t forget to nourish it during the stress of the semester. Get a good amount of sleep, take breaks, and just breathe. With a few activities each week to calm your body and mind, you’ll have a new found passion and ability to tackle this semester. Good luck!