I have been in school for twenty-three years now and the hardest thing that I have faced on this journey is learning how to take care of myself.
Given the competitive nature of education—especially university—putting myself first wasn't and still sometimes isn't, at the forefront of my mind. However, the biggest mistake that I have continuously made throughout all my schooling is not taking better care of myself.
It has had some unfortunate results in my academic, professional and person life, and I would hate to see others live through the same unnecessary struggle. So, let's talk about the importance of incorporating self-care into your life as a university student.
1. Your health is important and necessary for learning
It is hard to do anything if you are sick, much less take on the course load of your university classes, your social life and maybe even a job.
Not taking the time to sleep, eat and hydrate properly increases your susceptibility to germs that cause illnesses, such as the common cold and the flu. During these times, self-care is increasingly important to help support both your mental and physical health.
Mental illnesses such as anxiety can manifest physically in things such as headaches, nausea and rapid heart rate. Which could impact your ability to do your schoolwork and result in increased stress and anxiety, and become a vicious cycle; thankfully, we can help prevent that cycle by taking the time to take care of ourselves.
2. Not taking care of yourself is costly
In case you weren't already aware, university is expensive. Not taking care of yourself by, for example, not getting enough rest or nutrients needed to study, might mean not getting your desired grade in a course or two. This not only impacts your academic career but not getting our desired grades can place additional pressure on us to do better, resulting in additional stress and anxiety.
In my experience, refusing to take care of myself resulted in the learning of several unhealthy anxiety coping mechanisms, such as avoidance, procrastination and self-deprecation.
Fast forward five years, and I pay a lot of money for antidepressants, yoga classes, mindfulness apps and professional counselling to unlearn these behaviours! So it pays, in more than one way, to take care of yourself.
3. Think big picture
Perspective is everything. One "bad" grade isn't going to be the cause of your demise, but one "good" grade isn't going to fix everything, either.
Also, believe it or not, a few short years from now your grade on your midterm will not matter. I know it's hard to believe; it's one of those things that you won't understand until you live through it.
But if you're struggling with this, ask yourself a few questions: in five years, how much will the score on this exam mean to me? In five years, will it matter that I got a 60 per cent? If yes, then what needs to be done to ensure that I get my desired grade? Do I need to go to my professor's office hours? Do I need to attend a workshop?
Act on those! And if you feel this grade won't matter in five years, ask yourself, how can I direct my energy to something more productive in my life?
I also acknowledge that in some cases, even the most meticulous self-care regimen might not be enough to curb anxiety or prevent a failing grade. However, in my own experience, I learned that valuing myself is part of what it means to be successful in anything you do.
4. Self-care can look like anything
Thankfully, self-care is not always a complex act and oftentimes, it's the consistent practice of smaller self-care activities that have the largest impact. Here are some examples of simple self-care that I do often, if not daily, to make sure that I am always putting my physical and mental health first.
- Take a 10-20-minute nap
- Listen to an episode of my favourite podcast while eating my lunch and/or dinner.
- Brush my teeth. Twice a day. Floss and Listerine, too!
- Take the scenic route to class
- Spend five minutes outdoors
- Watch funny cat videos (or other animal videos) on YouTube
- Keep my room tidy
- Call or text a friend
- Look in the mirror and say, "I love you, Keisha!"
Two important lessons I have learned are that something is better than nothing most of the time and if something is worth doing, it's worth doing poorly. Meaning, it's ok if you cannot bring yourself to shower, you can change your clothes instead. It's ok if you can't floss or brush for two minutes because 30 seconds is better than nothing. So if you are struggling to implement self-care activities to their fullest, remember that if something is worth doing, it's also worth doing poorly, because something is better than nothing.
4. Self-care won't always be easy
Self-care is not always easy. Sometimes it's calling yourself out on some of your not-so-glamorous or excessive behaviours. This includes letting your scheduled nap turn into a full-out sleep or letting a few videos on YouTube turn into a six-hour binge when you know that you have lab reports to write.
The most important note that I want to drive home is just because it's called self-care, that does not mean you have to do it alone. Sometimes self-care is the recognition that the skills you possess are not enough in that moment, and that professional help is needed.
If it comes to that, know that it's perfectly normal to feel that way. You are not alone! There are a number of resources available on campus, professional and otherwise, that you can access to help you on this journey.
Never forget that you are in school to grow! So take care of yourself and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. You are so worth it!
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