See if this situation sounds familiar: On my day off last week, I knew that I should read for class, start writing a paper, do some work for a club I belong to, finish a task for work, and then get to bed early. I was already tired and frazzled from the week so far, but I had a busy weekend ahead, so I wanted to get a lot of work done that day.
Typical college day, right? We’re pulled in many different directions; classes, work, clubs and activities can feel overwhelming very quickly. But there is a mindset that can help us feel more balanced and relaxed: self-care.
Here’s what I actually decided to do on my day off: I slept late, made some tea, read a magazine, started reading for class, got tired of the reading and took a nap, cooked an actual dinner, and then finished the reading. The next day, I felt more prepared to tackle the work that was left, and I felt more “at peace” about what I could and couldn’t get done.
Did I do all the things that I thought I “should” do? Nope. But did relaxing still benefit me? Absolutely!
What is self-care?
Self-care is just what it sounds like: taking care of yourself. It sounds simple, so why is it so hard to practice? It’s because self-care requires us to do three things, which don’t always come naturally:
- Be aware of what we need in order to feel better.
- Understand that it’s okay for us to take care of ourselves.
- Commit to doing the things that make us feel better, on a daily basis.
Let’s break these things down:
- Being aware of what you need can be a very enlightening experience! Sometimes your body tells you very clearly what you need (like sleep if you’re tired, food if you’re hungry), but sometimes you have to look a little closer. A few examples:
- Does eating a certain type of food energize you, or make you feel sluggish?
- Does being physically active amp you up, or calm you down?
- Do you need some time alone to recharge, or do you feel best when you’re with a group of people?
- How much sleep do you usually need to feel OK the next day?
Self-awareness requires us to pay attention to how we feel, which can feel strange if you haven’t done it before. But once you start paying attention, it’s amazing how much you can learn about yourself!
- Once you know a few things that help you feel better, what’s next? The second step requires self-value. Self-value or self-worth is the idea that you feel as if your presence plays a valuable role in the world around you. It is very easy to let other people’s needs and expectations of us (professors, supervisors, co-workers, classmates, family, and even friends) seem like they shouldWhile being responsible, generous, and team-oriented are still important, it’s just as important to help yourself feel your best. It’s like the safety notice on an airplane, telling you to put on your oxygen mask before helping someone else; to be able to do anything else, you have to keep yourself safe!
Take my example. If I stayed tired and frazzled, I probably wasn’t going to do my work nearly as well as if I was relaxed or refreshed. So I might as well attend to my needs, knowing that in the end I’ll be better prepared for whatever else I have to do.
- The last piece of self-care is making a commitment to practicing it. The good news is, you’re going to feel better when you practice it! The not-so-good news is, it’s hard to do, even when you really want to do it. To use the airplane example, it’s very easy to help someone else put on their mask first, especially if you’re used to doing things that way. Sometimes, it can also feel like something you do for self-care is just one more thing on your way-too-long to-do list.
It takes a commitment, one day at a time, to remember to put yourself first. It takes a commitment to change your perspective. Self-care doesn’t have to be a task to get done. Self-care is a tool to help you feel better about yourself, and to help you perform that much better at all the other things you do in life.
There’s one big thing to make clear: self-care should not be confused with procrastination. They may seem similar, but self-care is a proactive effort to nurture yourself; procrastination is an avoidance tactic.
So the next time you’re in the middle of a jam-packed week, take a few moments to think about what you need in order to feel better. Then think about whether you’re worth it (here’s a hint: you are). Then be brave and take care of yourself! Maybe not everything you wanted to get done will get done. But how important were all of those things? I’ll bet they weren’t as important as feeling better! So take that nap, or drink that tea, or catch up on your favorite TV show, and be proud that you’ve chosen to take care of yourself!
The Counseling Center