The start of the fall semester brings a heaping helping of stressful assignments and exams. In 2020, this comes served with a side of anxiety-inducing college reopening plans that never stop changing. Saying this school year will look different is an understatement. Now more than ever, students must prioritize their own health and well-being in the form of self-care.
At the thought of self-care, your mind might immediately conjure up dreamscapes of bubble baths, ten-step skincare routines and spa days. You might groan at the one-size-fits-all regimen of sleeping more, eating healthy, exercising and meditating. These practices, though valid self-care for some, may be unsustainable and futile for others.
The pressure of an unattainable self-care ideal, often reinforced by the media, can actually deter individuals from checking in with themselves. I’m especially guilty of this during hectic weeks when I find myself running on fumes, struggling to forge past a crashing sea of academics and extracurriculars. How can I find the time to do a facemask when I need to cram for an organic chemistry test?
Misconstrued perceptions of self-care can attach the feeling of guilt with taking care of yourself, often presenting a single “right way” to do so. You might think it’s selfish to invest time in yourself if you have better things to do. Or maybe you don’t have the energy or money for conventional self-care practices. But investigating the real definition of self-care dispels these misconceptions.
“If it’s okay to brush your teeth and hit the gym, it is equally ok to give yourself permission to stop, rest and top up your energy bank,” said Suzy Reading in her book, “The Little Book of Self-Care.” A psychologist and self-care aficionado, Reading equates self-care with healthcare.
“Just like a car needs fuel to move, we need energy to get through our day and the greater reserves in our energy bank the more effective we are. An act of self-care is like a deposit in our energy bank,” Reading said.
According to Reading, sometimes you might itch for a restorative and healing practice during a time of stress or crisis, but other times, truly taking care of yourself can be especially challenging.
In order to proactively arm yourself with a self-care toolkit in the face of a semester during a daunting pandemic, you must center the practice of self-care on what fuels you as an individual. Doing so can boost your resilience, nourish you in difficult moments and help you access your best self.
If you have exhausted the conventional self-care checklist and are in need of fresh ideas, here are a few replenishing practices to integrate into your routine this semester.
1. Look up at the stars
For students who are privileged with a home or college campus unburdened by light pollution, a simple self-care practice can be to step outside and look up.
This is actually my favorite and most grounding habit, especially because it’s so low commitment. When I’m burned out from hours of glaring screens necessitated by virtual learning, I find great peace in making the brief excursion to my driveway to stare up at the night sky.
As I crane my neck so far it’s perpendicular to my shoulders, one hypnotizing glance at the stars clears my mind of worry, if just for a moment. I can find solace in seeing the same seven stars of the Big Dipper each clear night, perfectly aligned against the horizon.
I think about how I am seeing the light of a star millions of years old, from millions of light-years away, a speck of white in a universe smattered with countless other stars. The anxieties of my singular, human problems temporarily melt away. After all, what’s an organic chemistry test in the grand scheme of the boundless heavens?
2. Do some chores
Adding extra work onto a platter already full of other responsibilities might seem counterintuitive. But investing effort into doing your laundry, washing the dishes or cleaning your space can bring you the peace of mind and sense of rejuvenation you need to reset after a long day of classes.
When I become overworked, my inner turmoil often manifests as external disarray. A crime scene of crumbs on the floor is a reminder of my late-night stress-snacking. But a quick vacuum can bring order to my living area, and it brings inner harmony to my mind. Plus, doing something small and simple that’s also productive can kickstart a slow-moving study session.
3. Make yourself some food
All too often, college students might settle for a cup of instant ramen or an expensive DoorDash meal when they are swamped with work. But cooking for yourself can be a cheap, nutritious and quick way to fill your belly and your soul.
Find a recipe or two that you love to eat and can easily prepare within the constraints of your living arrangements. It can be as simple as you’d like. I’m not a chef by any means, but making a nourishing, delicious meal with my own two hands can be one of the most gratifying experiences of my day. Nothing beats my 15-minute rice and daal that tastes like home, especially when home is hundreds of miles away.
4. Add mindfulness to small moments
People might consider self-care to be grand, sweeping gestures of pampering. But that’s not the case. You don’t have to physically change anything you do. As you go about your day normally, consider bringing mindfulness and intention to quiet moments.
Think about the sensations of the warm aroma of your morning coffee, or the soft feel of your favorite sweater. Maybe you actually listen to the lyrics of a song as you walk outside, or take off your headphones and listen to the orchestral chirping of faceless crickets. You can just sit in silence and escape into a soundless void.
By switching off your autopilot and doing your daily routine with awareness and care, you can remember the meaning behind your actions and restore a sense of gratitude to an otherwise draining time.
5. Take time to do what you love, guilt-free
Self-care, at its core, is about fostering the self. Notice what makes you feel better after periods of stress or depletion. Notice how you feel when you are nourished and energized, and think about how you got to that point.
Make a list of practices that can help alleviate the daily tensions of your life and commit to regularly doing them, no matter what they might be. It could just be something you love to do, like playing video games or making art.
Whatever practices you add to your list, it is now your responsibility to honor the time you take in actually doing them. Understand that you might never find the “right time” to take care of yourself, and it is up to you to make your moments of self-care non-negotiable.
Self-care is a journey entirely your own, and it might just be the key to overcoming the looming threat of digital burnout and chaos of the upcoming school year.