It's no secret that college can be really overwhelming. Whether it's your first year or your last, there is pretty much always something to be stressed about. The fact that we're living in the middle of a pandemic right now does not make it any easier. Even when it appears that other people are doing fine, everyone has something that they are struggling with.
I have always been an advocate for self-care. I'm a firm believer that you can't take care of others if you can't take care of yourself first. That does not mean you can't be supportive of your loved ones, but it should not come at the cost of your own mental health. There is room for both!
After almost two and a half years, I would say that I have done a pretty decent job of making self-care a priority while away at school. While I am definitely not perfect — there are days that I struggle more than others — I know that I have the tools to be able to get through it.
1. Getting enough sleep
This one is CRUCIAL. I know that when I do not get enough sleep, both my body and my brain feel it immensely. Having a solid nighttime routine is so important to relax your mind and body before going to bed, and will help guarantee that you will get a good night of sleep. Don't forget to take care of yourself!
In my senior year of high school, I picked up the habit of bullet journaling as a way to combine my love for drawing and organization. I would use it as a way to write down all of the tasks I need to accomplish for the week, markdown how my days were going, and as a habit tracker to hold myself accountable for things such as exercising, flossing, or even not biting my nails.
In the last few months, my attention has slowly shifted away from journaling as a means of organization or holding myself accountable, but rather a safe space for me to share how I'm feeling. I have been trying to journal about my day and my feelings as often as I can. It is a great way for me to de-stress and reflect on aspects of my life. I typically turn to my journal on days when I'm struggling, but I also am trying to use it for times that I am doing well as to not forget the positives. Journaling might sound like a waste of time, but I highly recommend it.
3. Listening to music
There is nothing better than a good Taylor Swift song to instantly reflect anything that I'm feeling. The beautiful thing about music is that it has the power to evoke so many emotions, and different genres, artists, and lyrics can mean so many different things to so many different people.
Reading is by far the best habit that I have picked up this year. It is the best form of relaxation for me, but it does so in a way that keeps my brain active. Like music, there are so many different genres of books which is what makes it so great-— there truly is a book for everyone. It is also something that I force myself to do every night before bed as it does the best job of getting me tired right before I want to go to sleep.
5. Exercise, including lots and lots of walks
Staying active is one of the best forms of self-care for me. While I am all for laying in bed and relaxing, it is also so important to move your body. Some of my favorite ways to exercise are going on runs, doing workout videos, lifting weights, or even dancing. I try to do some sort of workout every single day, although I do take rest days for myself because that is equally as important.
While away at school I have also gotten into a habit of trying to go on an hour walk every day. Walking is such an underrated form of exercise but is also a great excuse to go outside when I feel like I am constantly cooped up in my apartment. Especially before it gets cold, I am really trying to take advantage of the weather and step outside when I can.
6. Taking deep breaths
Taking deep breaths is criminally underrated. I know it sounds so stupid, but they are seriously so helpful. Whenever I'm feeling particularly overwhelmed and anxious, taking a simple deep breath instantly calms me down.
7. Not being afraid to ask for help if I need it
I'll admit that I am one of those people who often wants to do things on my own. Even when I'm struggling, I still feel bad asking for help because I don't want to be a burden to other people. So I'm using this as a reminder to myself that it is totally okay to ask for support, advice, or assistance whenever I need it — the same goes for you, too. It's funny that I feel bad reaching out to others, when in reality I love nothing more than being there for my own friends and family whenever they need it.
8. Surrounding myself with people who make me happy
I can easily see my mood shift when I go from spending time with people who bring negative energy in comparison to people who are the complete opposite. I have spent far too much of my life surrounding myself with people who have done nothing for me and make me question my worth and value as a person. It is truly refreshing to spend time with people who lift me up rather than tear me down and I am so glad that I have found people who allow me to be the best version of myself.
9. Having a dance party
Literally nothing can lift my mood more than having a full on jam session to some 2000s throwbacks.
10. Staying in touch with people both in and out of my college
Since coming back to school this year, I have made it a goal of mine to do better at staying in touch with my friends back at home. I am proud to say that I've been doing really well at it and am going to do my best to sustain momentum during the school year. I am also really trying to keep in touch with my friends who go to my school that I don't live with and don't get to see often, whether that's sorority friends, high school friends, etc. I have been really bad at both of these things in the past, but remembering how happy it makes me to rekindle old relationships has been the push I need to do better.
11. Making lists of tasks I need to accomplish
As much as I brag about how I have a photographic memory, I am still human and I still forget things. Even if it's just on my phone, writing down lists of things I have to do or putting events in my calendar is something that I've had to rely on more than I thought during this time, but it has kept me more organized and on top of my work, which is a great mood booster.
12. Following accounts on social media that promote healthy self-care habits
I wrote a whole article on this in the past so I won't go into too much detail, but I have recently come across so many amazing accounts that have promoted such positive messages regarding mental health. It is so refreshing to open my feed that's filled with tips, information, and reminders that may be exactly what I need to hear at that time.
Similar to deep breaths, I am aware that this sounds very stupid and lame. I was one of those people who was skeptical, but I gave it a chance and it has seriously been so helpful for me. Finding some quotes that resonate with you or things you want to remind yourself of and not just thinking them but actually saying them out loud is truly magical. Whether you're looking in the mirror feeling down about the way you look or laying in bed anxious at night, affirmations are truly a great way to get you out of that negative spiral and staying grounded and positive.
14. Attending therapy
In the past, I have been very ashamed about the fact that I attend therapy on a regular basis, especially when I first started going in high school after exhibiting frequent panic attacks. But now I feel proud to say that I attend because it has truly given me my life back and I would literally shout it from the rooftops because I think it is so important (and has also affirmed my decision to want to do be one when I'm older as well). Through attending therapy, I've learned so many strategies that have helped me when I'm struggling. It has also reminded me that I'm not alone and I'm so glad that it has become more normalized for people.
Therapy is something that I highly encourage everyone to try if they have the means for it, even if you may not have a concrete reason for it. Sometimes the times when I am not struggling as much is when I find it to be most valuable. I'm a firm believer that if you don't have your mental health, you don't have anything, so if you were on the fence about it before, I hope this is the push that you needed to try it out for yourself.
15. Taking some time to recharge
As I write this article, I am on my way home for the weekend. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a break for yourself. It is healthy and oftentimes is better than trying to just push through. I also want to say that there is a huge stigma where people believe going home from college means you are homesick or you aren't happy at school. That definitely does not have to be the case! You can love school and love being home too, it doesn't need to be a competition. I am truly looking forward to spending time with my family, friends, and my dog, but also just having time to relax and recharge. I'm very fortunate to have testing readily available at school that I feel comfortable being able to go back and forth and I recognize not everyone is in that same boat. But whether that it is going home or just staying in for the night to catch your breath, we all need to breathe. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking time for yourself, and you don't need to justify that to anyone.