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 a full course load of university classes, a job and a social life.
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.
Not only that, but mental illnesses such as anxiety can manifest physically in things such as headaches, nausea and rapid heart rate.
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 not getting the nutrients needed to study all day long might mean failing a course or two.
This means taking a course for a second time, and paying for it twice, too. In my experience, refusing to take care of myself resulted in the learning of several very bad anxiety coping skills, such as avoidance, procrastination and self-deprecation.
Fast forward five years, and I pay a lot of money for antidepressants, yoga classes and training, 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 Calculus I 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 my Calculus I 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 higher than that? Do I need to go to my professor's office hours? Do I need to attend a workshop?
Act on those! If this grade won't matter in five years, then how can I direct my energy to something more productive in my life?
There is absolutely no shame in failing classes, dealing with mental illness, or being nervous about our future career prospects.
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, had I learned from an earlier age that valuing myself is part of what it means to be successful in obtaining an education, so much of my post-secondary studies could have been less stressful and much more meaningful!
Self-care is not always a complex act. As much as I love to spend hours doing multi-step skincare routines, or "unplugging" from technology for days at a time, it's not always realistic to do so.
- Take a 20-minute nap
- Listen to an episode of my favourite podcast while eating my lunch and/or dinner. Currently, it's "Ologies" by Alie Ward
- 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. Let them know I'm thinking of them.
- Look in the mirror and say, "I love you, Keisha!"
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-glamourous, excessive behaviour.
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.
This requires a certain level of discipline that can be hard at first. It might even make you re-evaluate your choice in program of study or career choice, and that's okay; there is always someone there to help.
The most important note that I want to drive home is just because it's called self-care does not mean that 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.
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!
Want to see the campus where you could be learning and growing? Check out our virtual tour.