by Lisa Tran, Student Experience Coordinator at Make School
College is an exciting time filled with transitions, challenges, and personal growth. This is a transformative period where students are emerging into early adulthood, finding their independence, and forming their identities. However, those years can also be overwhelmingly stressful. If students don't have healthy coping strategies to minimize the potential negative impacts of being in a rigorous academic program, they may put their mental and physical health at risk.
Knowing how to practice self-care is one of the easiest ways to prevent burnout, minimize stress, and ward off other health concerns.
Self-care was a foreign concept to me until I started grad school at the University of San Francisco, where I received a Master's in Counseling Psychology with a concentration in Marriage and Family Therapy. I took a class in Trauma and Crisis Counseling and on the first day, my professor shared a metaphor that has stuck with me ever since. You know that spiel they give you on an airplane where they tell you to put on your oxygen mask first before helping someone else with theirs? They say that because if you don't have oxygen, you're not able to help others.
Whether you end up in a helping profession or not after college, think of self-care as your "oxygen mask" that will enable you to function as a student, relative, friend, significant other, and any other identity that you may carry with you every day. Take care of yourself first, and everything else will get a little easier.
Now, as Make School's Student Experience Coordinator, I always make an effort to explore how our students are incorporating self-care into their lives. Our students' overall wellness is a top priority at Make School and we want them to come out of here with the tools to be great software engineers as well as healthy individuals with a meaningful work-life balance.
Here are ten simple self-care tips I recommend for all college students:
Check in with yourself -- mentally and physically: Stress looks different for everyone so having self-awareness about your personal experience is crucial to understanding what you need to take care of yourself. Thoughts like, "I don't think I can handle this" or "This is too much for me" are usually indicators that you should probably take some time to rest. Stress can also manifest in physical symptoms like feeling tired, shortness of breath, tight chest, and body aches, among other things. Taking the time to check in with yourself and understand where things are coming from is the first step to practicing self-care.
Take a deep breath: Learning to practice deep breathing can help ground you when you're feeling overwhelmed. Deep, intentional breaths allow you to take a pause and be present in your body. Use this breathing gif to help guide your deep breaths.
Create a sleep hygiene routine: Pulling all-nighters to study for an upcoming exam, type up a paper, or finish writing code is common amongst college students. However, sleep deprivation can impair cognitive functioning -- which is counterproductive to being a successful student. Good sleep hygiene, also known as sleeping habits, involves going to bed at a consistent time, having a comfortable sleeping environment, and getting the recommended hours of rest every night. For specific recommendations on creating a sleep hygiene routine, check out Harvard Medical School's 12 Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep.
Stay hydrated and eat regularly: Your body needs to be properly fueled to function -- consider yourself to be a plant, but with emotions. This means listening to your body by drinking water and making healthy eating choices. Always having a reusable water bottle with you can serve as a physical reminder to drink more water. This bottle from Amazon is under $10 and it has time markers to help you measure how much you're drinking throughout the day. If you need a digital reminder, Plant Nanny is a fun app that helps you track your water intake -- the more you drink, the more you water your digital plant.
Move your body: Being a student often means adopting a sedentary lifestyle because you're constantly sitting in class, typing behind your laptop, or reading a textbook. This can take a toll on your body, so getting in the habit of incorporating at least 30 minutes of physical activity in your daily routine can be extremely helpful in keeping your body healthy. Take a break and hit the gym, go for a walk, or have a dance party in your room -- do whatever it takes to get your body moving!
Soak in the sunshine: Some studies have found that Vitamin D from the sun can have a positive mood-boosting effect on people. When you're feeling low, step outside for some fresh air and get a natural dose of Vitamin D to re-energize!
Make a playlist with your favorite songs: Have you ever heard your favorite song come on and instantly felt better? Try making a playlist filled with all the songs that make you feel good and listen to it when you need a boost -- don't be afraid to completely rock out.
Use your senses as a way to self-soothe: Engage your senses in a relaxing activity. Eat your favorite snack, light a candle, take a warm shower/bath with your favorite bath products, or wrap yourself in a soft, cozy blanket -- happy senses makes for a happy you.
Set boundaries and learn to say "no": This one is easier said than done, but learning this skill can make a huge difference. Students often over-exert themselves by saying "yes" to too many things (i.e., staying up all night, social outings, committing to too many extracurricular activities, etc.). However, it's totally ok to say "no" sometimes and put your well-being first. Prioritize what's essential and consider turning down anything else that may deplete your energy.
Identify a support system: Asking for help can seem like a daunting task, but I reassure you that reaching out for support is not a sign of weakness. It's helpful to have a few family members or friends you know you can call, text, or hang out with when you need to talk. Once you've identified these people, reach out to them and let them know how much they mean to you and ask if it's okay for you to call them in times of need. You can also always schedule an appointment with your college's Counseling Center if you'd prefer to have confidential conversations with a trained professional. Whatever your preferred method, know that you have a community waiting to support you.
Self-care can take many other forms, but I hope these ten starting recommendations inspire you to create a self-care routine that works for you. A simple web search for self-care ideas can also help you identify other practices that make sense for your lifestyle.
Remember the oxygen-mask metaphor and best of luck on your personal self-care journey!