I Practiced 7 Days of Self-Care to See What It Would Do to My Mental Health

More college students suffer from mental illness than ever. Anxiety is a top concern among 41.6 percent of college students (myself included), according to research from the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors. With sleepless nights, conflicting deadlines and typical stress, students often skip taking proper care of themselves for the sake of their GPA –– especially when poor mental health is a factor.

There is a stigma when it comes to mental health that says that putting on a face mask will solve your problems. I took this to the test and tried seven days of superficial self-care to see if it would actually have an effect on my mental health. Here’s what happened.

Day One: Foot peel mask

To start off on the right foot, I made sure to use the foot mask first, because it is supposed to take five to seven days to start fully working its magic. This was very easy to work into my busy schedule because you just wash your feet, and then sit for one hour as the booties sit. The mask’s lavender aroma was also a nice touch.

The uniqueness of the mask is what I think made me feel excited about this one. Foot masks are something generally unheard of to most, so this was really exciting to try. One day was too soon to see any changes in mental health, because there are always good days.

Day Two: Cool eye mask and face mask

First, I did the Blackhead Remover Charcoal face mask that I used for about 15 minutes. My face felt clean, refreshed and ready for the eye mask.

After letting it sit in the freezer for 20 minutes, I used the Plush Soothing Gel Bead Eye Mask on my face for about 15 minutes. I get chronic migraines nearly every day, and a lot of my anxiety comes from this. One of the mask’s benefits that I was unaware of is alleviating migraines and headaches. When chilled, the mask is intended to reduce puffiness in your eyes. Though the results weren’t immediate, my bags under my eyes were evidently minimized and my eyes were overall less puffy. This made me feel more energized and less weighed down, both emotionally and physically.

Day Three: Hair mask and no caffeine

Using the Garnier Fructis Nourishing Treat 1 Minute Hair Mask on my natural hair left it feeling smoother and softer than it had for as long as I can remember. The shine in my hair had me feeling confident in a way that I hadn’t in a very long time. It was different than normal, because I didn’t have to straighten it or take an excessive amount of time into getting ready to feel that way. It was just natural.

I also tried to go the whole day without caffeine, which although may seem small, as someone who averages four hours of sleep a night, caffeine is my livelihood. But even though it may help me get through the day, it also contributes to bringing me down to begin with. Studies have shown that caffeine increases symptoms of anxiety and can increase side effects in common medications, including antidepressants. We often forget that caffeine is a drug, and a psychoactive one at that.

By the end of the day, I hadn’t seen a drastic change, but overall felt better and more relaxed.

Day Four: Face mask w/ cucumbers

In the name of self-care, I thought I would switch it up and add cucumbers to the mix. Cucumbers reduce eye puffiness and water retention when placed around your eyes for about 20 minutes. I also used a green clay mask from Sephora, in tandem with the cucumbers.

My eyes were noticeably less puffy, I looked less exhausted and I got a better sleep afterward because of how refreshing it was.

Day Five: Hair mask

In an effort to minimize heat damage to my hair, and continue with the theme of caring for myself, I again used the Garnier Fructis Nourishing Treat 1 Minute Hair Mask on my hair. I loved how I felt after day three, and wanted to see if the feeling was a one-time thing. Like the first time, I felt refreshed, confident and slept more soundly because of it.

Day Six: Face Mask

I used L’Oréal’s Detox and Brighten Clay Mask for about 15 minutes before washing it off. As controversial as it may be, the smile therapy from relaxing and having a cleaner complexion was starting to take effect.

Day Seven: Warm Eye Mask

For my last day, I used the same eye mask from day two, but instead of using it chilled, I microwaved it for 10 seconds and used it for about 20 minutes. It was very hard to not fall asleep from using this just because of how relaxing the whole thing was. The mask also helped alleviate some eye strain caused from excessive screen time.

The results are in:

One eye mask, a foot mask, two hair masks and three face masks later, I feel more refreshed than ever before. After seven days of using cliché self-care tips, I felt refreshed, rejuvenated and my overall anxiety was lower than it had been in months. At the end of each day alone, I did not notice any major differences, but at the end of the week, I overall felt better.

My mental health did improve slightly from treating myself and taking care of myself in ways that I normally don't think to do. Each day, regardless of what I had going on, this gave me something to genuinely look forward to. Although I typically do have a skin routine that I try my best to stick to, like sleep, it often gets neglected. Sticking to a strict schedule of all of these tips before bed established a sense of routine that is enough to relax anyone.

I consistently slept better just from going to bed in a relaxed state that subsequently relieved some anxiety symptoms in the process.

Though item-by-item this can be considered superficial, my small change in health has nothing to do with smooth skin or shiny hair. What it comes down to is taking the time to do things that you may not normally do, for no other reason but to take care of yourself and knowing that you are worth taking care of.

Although in my case, performing these small self-care routines helped improve my short-term mental health, this isn’t to say that wearing a face mask will cure you of your depression or anxiety. Relying on self-care tips like these can be destructive to those dealing with mental illness.

In the end, I think the deciding factor was the small change in attitude that was caused by just taking extra time for myself that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Feeling hopelessly worn down and emotionally drained is a common symptom in both anxiety and depression. One week of minimal self-care boosted my confidence, rejuvenated my energy and reduced my anxiety. It’s in the little things.

Mental illness is not one-size-fits-all and requires an entirely different league of self-care. However, improving your inner self-confidence through feel-good, healthy activities can definitely be a positive thing.

If you are struggling with mental illness, please remember that this is by no means a treatment. Luckily, UF has amazing resources and communities for students looking for support — like the Counseling and Wellness Center and U Matter, We Care