Students Need Self-Care
University is such an interesting and chaotic time of our lives.
Our schedule is packed with classes, assignments, tests, seminars and work clashing together—and that’s just for an undergraduate degree.
It feels like we have no time for ourselves except for a few hours to sleep. And even that’s not guaranteed.
Studies have shown that burnout amongst high school and university students can create symptoms of PTSD. And while I’m a few years removed from university, I still experience some of those symptoms.
Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with this website):
National Library of Medicine – Student Burnout and PTSD Symptoms
Preparing for the new school year with a self-care plan may help students to manage and hopefully prevent burnout.
September is the perfect time to start as school is just beginning, and you may have more wiggle room to try out new things.
But if you’re discovering this post during midterms or spring break, that’s fine too!
When you start doesn’t matter—having a plan does.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, psychologist, therapist or similar. This blog offers ideas, tools, strategies and recommendations based on my experience with anxiety, panic attacks and mental health. I do not guarantee any results or outcomes as strategies that have worked for me may not work for you. For diagnosis and treatment of any physical and mental health condition, consult a licensed professional.
Make Time For Self-Care
I realize it may not feel possible, but I guarantee you can add self-care to your daily, weekly and monthly routines.
As a student, I would sleep in the university library, eat lunch outside my next class and schedule bathroom breaks into my study time. I was shuffling through my days like a zombie.
It was not until my third year of university that I learned to add proper me-time to my school agenda.
I scheduled when I’d eat, when I’d exercise, how often I would clean and when I would literally do nothing.
That may sound very constraining, but it resulted in a wonderful transformation. I suddenly felt like I had more control and time and generally felt more like myself.
Creating A Self-Care Plan
In this post, I will help you to formulate a plan to add self-care activities to your schedule.
Below, I have outlined four self-care categories.
The best self-care plan will combine activities from every category to create a holistic* routine. This will ensure that you fully take care of all aspects of yourself.
*Holistic refers to treating or caring for the whole person (the body, mind and spirit) rather than one part.
And you are not expected to do all of the activities every day. That’s simply not possible.
Instead, consider these general guidelines when adding self-care activities to your schedule.
- Daily activities are those that require roughly 5-10 minutes
- Weekly activities: ~15-30 minutes
- Monthly activities: ~1 hour
- Annual activities: ~half a day
Remaining cognizant of the time you have and the time you need will provide a better chance of scheduling your self-care.
5 Steps To Create Your Self-Care Schedule
1. Look at your current school and work schedules to identify the number and duration of break times. Don’t forget to factor in homework and study time.
2. Highlight or list the duration of your break time–just the time in minutes or hours.
3. Look over the list below and choose the activities you consider interesting, relaxing, or useful. Write them in a list along with the amount of time they take.
4. From your activities list, choose three daily activities, four weekly activities, and three monthly activities. You may, of course, choose more, but I suggest starting with these numbers.
5. Add those activities to your school calendar, agenda or planner.
- Set a specific or general time of day to complete them.
- It may be helpful to add these activities in another colour.
A Brief Caution
A problem I often face with lists like this is that I want to try everything all at once. And it’s overwhelming!
So while creating your self-care plan, start slow. Choose a few activities that you can start doing today.
You want to try to build a habit of doing these activities but don’t want them to become tasks.
Aim to include these activities in your schedule, but give yourself some leeway and don’t be too tough on yourself if you can’t get them done when you hoped.
4 Self-Care Categories
There are many categories for self-care.
For this post, I have chosen to focus on the following four: physical self-care, practical self-care, psychological self-care, and social self-care.
And I’ve ordered the categories alphabetically because no one category is more important than the rest.
Physical self-care aims at caring for your body. It involves focusing on what you put in your body, ensuring you’re well rested and keeping your body moving. Remember that physical health can help or hinder mental health, so you want to take special care of both.
1. Schedule Meal Breaks
- 5-30 minutes
- Many people opt for fast food because it’s a filling meal you can eat quickly. But it’s full of harmful ingredients that drain your energy.
- Set 2 meal breaks where you can eat a full meal (perhaps breakfast and dinner) and mini breaks for snack time.
- Another option is to designate lunch as your big meal of the day and have smaller portions for breakfast and dinner, supplemented with hourly snack breaks. (This is my preference for my schedule. Follow the plan that works for you and your schedule.)
- 10 minutes-8 hours
- Micro naps during the day can help you to stay focused. But don’t rely on napping to keep yourself healthy.
- Try to get a full night’s sleep. For some people, 6 hours of sleep is sufficient; for others, 9 hours may be necessary. Listen to your body and what it needs to feel rested.
3. Breathing Exercises
- 2-5 minutes
- Practice breathing exercises anywhere, at any time, as needed.
- Breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds, hold for 5-7 seconds, and exhale through the mouth for 8 seconds.
- Breathing exercises will allow your body to relax while providing a mindful moment as you focus on your breath and the counts.
Read More| How To Self-Soothe During A Panic Attack
4. Get Sunlight
- 10+ minutes
- Take a walk, study on a patio or sit on the greenspace at your school.
- Vitamin D and fresh air are essential for our bodies and overall happiness.
- In winter, vitamin D drops and a light therapy lamp are helpful.
- 15+ minutes
- We are recommended to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, and it is possible to allocate 15-minute exercise sessions during breaks.
- Remember that walking, yoga, cycling and jump rope are all forms of exercise, so you are not required to go to a gym unless you choose to.
- 1-2 minutes
- Drink water. Bring a water bottle to every class and take a few gulps every hour.
- If you drink water regularly, you will feel and see a difference.
- Always remember that what you drink matters because not all beverages will support your body the same way.
Practical self-care can be thought of as the necessary chores to relieve us of future stress—like the adage to plan today for a better tomorrow. Taking small steps to prepare for your day, week or year will pay off substantially and cut much stress from your life.
1. Create A Budget
- 30+ minutes (to create), 2 minutes (for upkeep)
- You may buy a budget planner or create a spreadsheet. (Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets offer annual and monthly budget templates.)
- Steps to create your budget:
- Write down your net income (this will be the income you receive, less taxes and other work expenses).
- Track how much you spend—write every purchase down, including your bills, Netflix subscription, groceries, coffee, etc.
- Set a budget for how much you can spend for the month to ensure you will keep some savings. For example: If I earn $1,000 per month (net income), my bills are $300, and my loans are $200, I may set myself a budget of $200, so I can save $300 per month.
- Adjust your spending habits to stick to your budget (this may mean less Starbucks).
- Review your budget to see how you are doing, what is working, and what needs improvement.
Read more from the pros (I have no affiliation with these websites, but have found them useful on my journey):
WorkBC – Student Budgeting
Clever Girl Finance – How To Create A College Student Budget You’ll Actually Use
Student Space – How to make a student budget
2. Organize Your Closet
- 1+ hours (for initial organization), 5 minutes (for upkeep)
- Use baskets, totes, shelves or a whole closet organizer to organize your clothes and storage.
- Separate your work clothes from casual ones so they are easier to find. This may be done simply by having work clothes on the left side of the closet and casual clothes on the right.
- Seeing disorganization and interacting with it daily can result in a sensory overload leading to stress and distraction. Therefore, having an organized closet with everything in its place can be freeing.
3. Make Your Bed
- 2 minutes
- Make your bed every day. You don’t need perfect corners or to change the sheets every day.
- Having a bed in disarray can cause a room to look messy and may add to your overall stress. Having an organized bed to fall into at the end of the day creates a peaceful area that will help you feel relaxed and may lead to better sleep.
4. Meal Prep
- 30+ minutes (to prepare), 3+ minutes (to heat)
- Depending on your fridge and freezer space, you may meal prep for a week or month at a time.
- Preparing meals that will only require a quick warm-up will ensure you eat properly and save money.
5. Schedule Decluttering
- 10+ minutes
- Slowly start decluttering by donating or throwing away things you no longer need or use. And organize the things you need regularly.
- If you believe your clutter has a system, create an improved design with baskets and shelf dividers.
- Less clutter leads to tidier spaces, creates more peaceful and stress-free environments and ensures everything is easy to find.
6. Set Out Clothes For The Week
- 10 minutes
- Decide your tops, pants and shoes and arrange the items in your closet from Monday through Friday.
- Choosing your outfits ahead of time will ensure you have clean clothes for the week and fewer decisions to make first thing in the morning.
Psychological, emotional, mental self-care is all about taking time to identify your headspace and express your feelings. There are many activities for psychological self-care that will allow you to channel stress and negative thoughts into a medium that will help you to let them go. Some activities will also allow you to sit with and enjoy your happy moments. Being able to positively impact and express your inner world is very important for your mental health.
1. Affirmations And Mantras
- 1-2 minutes
- Keep positive affirmations and mantras posted on your mirror, phone lock screen or anywhere you will see them. Repeat the affirmations a few times a day.
- Affirmations and mantras will help you to rewire your brain to think positively and calmly.
Read more| Generate Positivity With Affirmations
2. Practice Gratitude
- 5 minutes
- Make it a habit to take a few minutes at the start or end of your day to write a list of things you are grateful for. Do not rush! Be slow and mindful while you make your list.
- Speak what you are writing and try to use the expression “I am grateful for….”
- During stressful times, creating or reading these lists will remind you of the positive things in your life.
- 5-10 minutes
- Write when you are happy, stressed and overwhelmed.
- There are many uses for a journal and many ways to write in a journal. Choose the option that serves you best. And choose the time that works best for you. You may find journal prompts to get you started here: link.
- Writing a journal entry will provide relief and is an interesting keepsake.
Read More| Why You Should Start Journaling
4. Create Art
- 5-20+ minutes
- Draw, paint, sculpt, knit, whittle, etc.
- Depending on your medium, art may be created between class periods or give you an extended mindful release a few times a week.
- Art will give you something to focus on while releasing stress. Or it may allow you to express your feelings.
5. Play Music
- 2+ minutes
- This may refer to listening to your favourite artist or playing an instrument.
- Music can help us to feel lighter, connect and release pent-up feelings.
6. Meet With A Counsellor Or Therapist.
- 30+ minutes
- If your high school, college or university offers free or discounted counselling services, take advantage of them!
- Counselling is a genuinely positive experience as it will help you understand yourself, learn how to handle stress and disappointment, and, most importantly, celebrate and focus on your achievements.
- If you do not vibe with your assigned counsellor, talk to your school and try to seek an alternative option. You deserve a counsellor or therapist who is working with you.
Social self-care directs its focus on social interactions and how to maintain healthy relationships. Whether introverted or extroverted, our social life will add to our happiness. However, during school, our social life can sometimes hinder our schoolwork. So while considering your social self-care, you want to create a beneficial school/work/life balance. Please note that I could not list specific times for some activities because what you need and your available time varies significantly from person to person.
1. Set Boundaries
- Unfortunately, I cannot create a timeframe here as it involves deciding, communicating and reinforcing your boundaries. This may take consideration and practice over a few days or weeks.
- There are many different types of boundaries, but perhaps while focusing on school life, you can narrow the boundaries to what you need for a successful and stress-free year.
- Consider these questions while creating your boundaries:
- What do you need from friends and family when you are stressed? For example, do you need someone to vent to, alone time, comfort foods, etc.?
- What will help you focus on your studies? This may be quiet time, a peaceful area, fewer messages and screen time, etc.
- What will take the pressure off? Perhaps you want to ban certain questions about your schoolwork or tests. Questions like How is your dissertation coming along? Are you ready for your midterms?
- Asserting your boundaries may sometimes feel rude, and some people may consider them selfish, but they are necessary to your well-being. Boundaries communicate our needs to others so they can support us.
2. Call A Friend (Or Your Safe Person)
- 5+ minutes
- Have a friend or a safe person you can call, FaceTime or message whenever you need to. Let them know ahead of time that you may be contacting them during stressful times and what you may need from them (a listening ear or advice).
- You may also schedule regular calls to ensure you are both available and give you something to look forward to.
- A safe person is someone you can share with who will keep your conversation private and whose sole interest in the conversation is in supporting and protecting you.
3. Meet With Friends
- 30+ minutes (or short breaks between classes)
- Schedule time with your friends. Everyone has a busy schedule, so last-minute plans may not work as well as they used to.
- Friendships can strain and start to fizzle during university. So use the time to catch up, share a little about school and be a support system for each other.
4. Be Intentional With Social Activities
- There is no time suggestion here, as this option involves deciding if, when and where to add social activities to your schedule.
- Accept that you should not partake in every social event or go out drinking every weekend. A night out will impact your budget and physical self-care.
- Pick and choose events that are important to you and your experience. They will be more memorable and give you something to look forward to.
- And practice saying NO. It may be hard at first, but it gets easier with practice, and you will be happier.
5. Join An Online Support Group
- 2+ minutes
- Join a Facebook or Reddit (or similar) group for your school or area. If a gender, religion or ethnic-specific group exists, that may also be beneficial.
- Try to ensure it is a safe space for people to share stories, ask questions and offer advice without judgement or bullying behaviour.
- I recommend observing the group before asking any sensitive questions and using the anonymous post option whenever necessary.
- While living in South Korea, I joined five Facebook groups: three regional and two women-only groups. I never commented in the regional groups because I followed them for events and found the most active members to be very opinionated and rude. It did not feel like a safe space to ask questions. But I was very active in the women-only groups, and though I no longer live there, I am still part of them today because they’re incredibly judgement-free, and everyone is looking out for each other.
Read More| 10 Ways To Expand Your Comfort Zone
6. Play With A Pet
- 2+ minutes
- Take a break and spend time with someone who loves you unconditionally and does not care about your schoolwork.
- Playing with a pet releases serotonin and will make you feel happier.
- If you currently do not have a pet, consider your budget and the free time you will need to care for your pet properly—it’s a lot of work.
If self-care is selfish, be selfish.
Caring for yourself provides the benefits of reducing stress, thinking clearer, maintaining relationships and, most importantly, not losing yourself to your studies.
Creating healthy habits takes time and practice, and there are many options for adding self-care to your schedule.
Again, I have only covered four self-care categories, but many more options exist.
Please let me know in the comments below if you are interested in learning more about self-care and additional self-care categories and activities.
And if you like this post, please like this post, comment, share and follow for more.