For Me, Self-Care is Non-Negotiable — Here's How I Make It a Priority

This piece has been syndicated from Her Campus at Western. You can join a chapter at your school (or start your own!).

I feel like in the past two years, ‘self-care’ has become a buzzword, especially on social media. We all know that self-care looks different to everybody and it’s not always bath bombs and face masks. I like to think of self-care as activities I know will put me in a better head space, regardless of whether I actually feel like doing them.

Some days it’s going to the gym or for a walk, other days it’s taking a hot shower or a nap.

I’m good at identifying what makes me feel better but not always great at actually doing it. That’s why I’ve been toying with the idea of setting some non-negotiable self-care habits. When I say ‘non-negotiable’ I don’t mean things I’m going to force myself to do every single day. I mean when I know what it is that I need, I’m going to force myself to do just that. I think it’s important when adopting new habits to give yourself grace and be kind when you mess up or don’t meet your goal. It’s okay if you don’t always make the healthiest choice. If you’re able to recognize what you need, that is already such a huge win and you should be proud of yourself.

If you have trouble with this, try talking to yourself the way you would a friend. I often find myself being so much more understanding and accepting of others and then so hard on myself. There are so many healthy habits I want to adopt but I’m taking it one day at a time, starting with these three.

1. Meditation

My psychologist suggested this one to me, and even though I’ve heard people really benefit from meditation I was kinda hesitant to try it out. I’ve done yoga before and while I enjoyed it, I could never figure out the whole “just focus on your breathing and don’t think about anything.”

Over reading week I downloaded the Headspace app. First, it has all these cute characters and is very aesthetically pleasing. Just opening the app makes me feel a little bit happier. Secondly, you can set an alarm for the same time each day to remind you to take some time for yourself. Also, you can set up nice motivating quotes to be sent to you during the day.

I know you can pay $12.99 USD ($17.32 CAD) a month for full access to the app, but they have some cool free content too! When you first download it, you can select what you’re dealing with and it’ll pick out a basics meditation based on your needs. I picked anxiety and stress to focus on but if you have trouble falling asleep, there’s something for you too. The basics course is ten meditations ranging from three to ten minutes and introduces you to meditation in a stepwise manner. After you finish all ten, you can either restart and do it for longer or you have access to three other free sessions from the rest of the app.

I don’t find that meditation leaves me in a state of nirvana, but it certainly doesn’t make me feel worse. One of my favourite analogies that it gave me is to think of thoughts like cars passing by on the highway. Lately when I’m feeling anxious, I’ve been trying not to chase after my thoughts but just to let them come and go. If Headspace isn’t for you, I know people also like the Calm appYoga with Adrienne on Youtube also has some great meditation videos!  

2. Intuitive Movement

If you know me personally, I am a big proponent of intuitive eating. If you haven’t ever heard of it, here is a really cool link to give you a little intuitive eating introduction. Connie is a super body positive non-diet registered dietitian to be and you should also check her out on Instagram cause she’s amazing! One of the pillars of intuitive eating is getting in tune with your body’s cues and using that to guide your eating choices. It honestly changed my life (can you tell I’m a fan?) and also taught me how to be intuitive with my movements and sleep habits.

Going to the gym and doing weights usually puts me in a really good mood. Something about blasting pop music and lifting heavy things into the air makes me feel a lot less like a crazy person. But lately I cannot motivate myself to go. Around Christmas I got into a really good routine but I’ve probably been only once in the last month. Instead of beating myself up, I’m trying to make it a goal to move in some way that I enjoy every day. I absolutely love going for walks and it’s something that I never feel like I have to push myself to do. Regardless of what makes you feel best, finding a form of movement to do each and every day can have such a big impact on your mental health if it is something that you LOVE to do.

3. Relax without a screen

I don’t know about you but my go-to study break or wind down before bed is always Netflix, and there is nothing wrong with that.  I just feel like I could better spend my downtime doing something other than rewatching a Friends episode. I also feel like as a student, I spend way too much time staring at my computer. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read a single book (besides textbooks) in almost a year. Sometimes reading a book doesn’t feel like enough of a break for my brain so I find listening to a podcast or music also very calming.

I recently went to the eye doctor and she informed me that I have dry eye and prescribed that I lay down with a warm compress for 15 minutes, twice a day. That was about a month ago and I still have yet to do it. Here’s to learning to be okay with downtime and quiet. I also find showering to be very therapeutic and relaxing, especially if you’re really busy and can’t find more than 15 minutes for yourself. It’s also a great way to give your brain a break from studying.

As I mentioned before, self-care has a different meaning to everyone and even looks different to one person depending on the day. What is important is being able to recognize when you need to take some time for yourself and choosing something that is fulfilling to you, even if it may not be what everyone else is doing. My new year's resolution was to only make decisions with my best interest in mind, which really helps me make sure I’m taking good care of myself and making healthy choices. I encourage you to try to do the same!