It’s time to rethink how we talk about mental health, and one way we can do that is through managing our self-care. At the start of the school year, you want to work harder, smarter, better, and longer because you want to prove to yourself, your professors, or your family that you can do well in school and in life. But by signing up for a full course load, taking on leadership roles in extracurricular activities, working a job, and having a social life, we give, give, and give without filling up our own cup. You want to say “yes” to everyone and everything—yes, I can stay late after class. Yes, I can take that club executive board meeting. Yes, I can help my friends by listening to their problems. However, NO is a valuable tool for self-care and to preserve your health so you can continue to operate at your peak performance level. Yes, I can give to my professors, my friends, and my community, but no, not at the expense of my health.
Here are a few important elements of self-care:
Self-talk. You’re probably you’re own harshest critic. Would you let a friend speak to themselves the way you speak to yourself? Find ways to build yourself up and celebrate the little wins and what’s going well. Practicing gratitude—you can find a way to do this that works for you—helps provide perspective throughout the day and is proven to temporarily enhance the neurotransmitters in the body that boost your mood. In a sense, intentional gratitude is a natural antidepressant.
Movement. Take a walk, which can be like putting jumper cables to the battery that is your brain. A little physical exercise can help relieve tension and increase focus and can help reinvigorate the creative process.
Better, proper sleep. I like to think of sleep as preventative maintenance. If I get the amount of sleep my body needs, I can quash easily preventable problems and crises. (e.g., I won’t get overly emotional about a perceived slight, make a knee-jerk reaction when a difficult work problem arises, and/or ugly-cry when something doesn’t go my way) By many accounts, anywhere between 7 and 9 hours for adults; no study has reported less than 6 hours as a good idea for optimal health. This enhances clearer thinking, better learning, and reduces the effects of sleep deprivation that include enflamed symptoms of depression, anxiety disorders, and ADHD. There are many ways to optimize sleep but actually setting the intention to do so, researching, and even asking healthy people around you are all great first steps.
Restorative and relaxing activities. As someone who lives with generalized anxiety disorder and clinical depression, this is a big one for me. I constantly need to find ways to reset and recharge in big and small ways, so my disorders don’t get the best of me. This could include reading, journaling, drinking water, journaling, taking short but regular breaks throughout the day, naps, deep breathing, any form of meditation, reading, and self-education. It should be easier to make time for restorative activities when you set them up as rituals. These aren’t necessarily goals or resolutions but the installation of practices that become integrated into your lifestyle. Installing these practices becomes easier when you create systems to set them up (as rituals).
By practicing self-care, you ensure that you’re operating at as close to 100 percent as possible and are taking care of your most precious asset: you.