Simplifying Self-Care

photography by Olivia Kaiser | illustration by Asher Bozman

You find yourself waking up before the sun today. You need to attend class, turn in assignments, participate in meetings, pay bills and — at some point — eat food. College students are expected to get the most out of their time in school while earning their degree. They are expected to be heavily involved on campus, work a job so that they can start paying off those looming student loans and have a social life to get the full college experience. The pressure to be a perfectly well-rounded student creates many stressors. An effective way to help manage these stressors is to integrate self-care into your everyday routine .

What is Self-Care?

Dr. Kirsten Condry, a professor of psychology, said, “Self-care is monitoring [emotions and stress levels] and trying to maintain balance in your life so that stressors can be balanced with positive things.”

Stressors can weigh on someone so that they negatively impact physical well-being, Condry added. Something as small as a reward system during an intense homework session is effective self-care.

Liana Altieri, a second year ASL Interpreting Education major, defines self-care as “doing the things that you need to do before you can take care of your responsibilities.”

Altieri also explained how self-care is not frivolous. Self-care is not always taking a bath and lighting a few candles. It can simply be taking a shower to get clean or eating a meal so that you have energy to get through the day. The focus of self-care lies in putting one's own health and well-being first, whether that be eating, sleeping, exercising or talking to someone about what is going on in your life.

“[Self-care is] a person’s ability to be aware of the way that they are currently feeling, being able to correctly identify that state and a skill set to help and recognize that emotion,” Dr. Joseph Baschnagel, the chair of the Department of Psychology, said.

Baschnagel expanded the meaning of self-care by highlighting the importance of monitoring and acknowledging one's feelings at any given point in the day. Accurately knowing when one is sad and why they may be feeling that way is an important component of self-care. However, recognizing when life is in balance is just as important as recognizing when sadness and stress are taking over. It is in those moments that we get a chance to pause and reflect on why things are going well.

“When things are going well, and we recognize it, we can aim to repeat those events,” Condry said.

Self-Care for College Students

With college students having to manage their education, job and social life as they transition into adulthood, time for self-care can easily slip away. The pressure to get good grades and finish assignments on time drives students to stay up late or pull all-nighters. These are some ways that students take time away from self-care to put towards school.

“There is a lot of evidence coming out that ... college students are the most 'underslept' of anybody and it has dramatic effects on [the student's] cognitive ability,” Condry said.

One of the most crucial times when students should ensure they are getting the proper amount of sleep is during finals week, according to Condry. Monitoring your sleep and starting to form healthy sleeping habits can be a way to integrate self-care into daily life.

Baschnagel stressed the importance of sleep, but also suggested that college students incorporate exercise into their daily life. Whether it's hitting the gym or walking around campus, exercise can take students' minds away from school work for a few minutes to re-center themselves.

“Make time for your physical health, make sure you have time to exercise and are being healthy. The hardest part is starting, [but] once you fall into a habit it becomes easier and easier,” Baschnagel said.

Working out at the gym is not for everyone; some may find it hard to get to the gym and others may find it intimidating. However, physical health should be worked into a busy schedule. With hundreds of at-home workout videos on YouTube and countless healthy recipes online, college students can find a form of physical activity that fits with their lifestyle.

Finding a workout routine that's right for you is just as important as finding a friend group. A network of peers who are going through similar experiences is an invaluable asset.

“Being genuine is super important. Figuring out what values you align with and then being your honest and open self ... you will find people come to you,” Altieri said.

A network of supportive friends is crucial to thriving in college. However, Altieri also said that it is important to be independent and able to stand on your own when you need to.

“We give all day, every day. It is super important we take care of ourselves before we do that, and during and after too.”

Importance of Self-Care

Self-care can seem like a lavish experience that only those living stress-free lives can enjoy, but it's necessary for all individuals. Everyone has stressors in their lives that can be difficult to deal with at times.

“You can’t often make stressors disappear, but you can manage them,” Condry said.

College students are expected to wake up at the crack of dawn and sometimes stay up so late that they see the rooster wake up the next day. Condry said that lack of sleep can impair cognitive ability, meaning your grades could suffer from that week you got four hours of sleep a night. As important as finishing assignments is, ensuring that your body is cared for takes priority.

Putting yourself first sometimes isn’t weak. It shows maturity and strength.

“We give all day, every day," Altieri said. "It is super important we take care of ourselves before we do that, and during and after, too.”