This article was written by Peer Academic Coach Michelle Ajobena (she/her, fourth-year Global Management Co-op student). Michelle is an Academic Success Centre’s student staff member who participated in the Self-Care Community of Practice. She has written this article to show how important it is to practise self-care in our daily life as university students.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, there has been a strong emphasis on self care, which has raised a lot of awareness to people all around the world. A study found that 71% of university students experienced increased anxiety due to the pandemic, and 82% were concerned about their academic performance (Homework Help Global, 2021). As Ted Rogers School of Management students, we were also affected by COVID stress and anxiety.
Since school work loads change over the semester, so should our self care. We might need self care a lot more during peak workload times in the semester, which includes the week before and during midterm/final exams. This is because assessments from each course are usually due around those times, as well as studying for and taking the exams. These periods usually cause a lot of stress due to the workload and anxiety of exam results.
Hence, this blog will highlight why self care is important for us as Ted Rogers School students and some techniques that you can use to take care of you at times of peak pressure. But what is self care?
What is self care?
Self care can be defined as the intentional act of taking care of oneself in all aspects of wellness. In broader terms, it is what people do for themselves to promote and maintain health and to prevent and cope with illness (WHO, n.d.). The concept of self care encompasses our nutrition (type and quality of food eaten), hygiene (personal and general), environmental factors (social habits, living conditions, etc.), lifestyle (leisure, sporting activities, etc.) and socio-economic factors (cultural beliefs, income level, etc.) (ISF, 2020). More specifically, self care involves asking yourself what you need, and following through with the honest answer (Maldonando, 2022).
Another way to look after your self care is an Indigenous model from Dr. Nicole Bell who talks about the Medicine Wheel from an Anishinaabe cultural perspective. The Medicine Wheel depicts wholeness, which means to look into our entire self. It highlights four elements of wholeness: emotional, mental, physical and spiritual (Bell, 2014). Hence, this encourages us to fulfil the needs in these elements and establish a relationship with our well-being by supporting our whole selves. Therefore, self care is the act of identifying these needs and taking steps to improve them.
To me, self care is being able to pay attention to my needs and mitigate the risk of being overwhelmed or anxious by ensuring all the different parts of what make up who I am are fulfilled and well taken care of.
Why is self care important?
As university students, it is very common to feel overwhelmed and stressed by both our school lives and our personal lives. This is due to the fact that university coursework is more demanding than high school. The transition can be very unsettling, hence, the need for self care. Self care will help to manage stress, as well as nourish our well-being during those moments. By practising self care, you are able to allow yourself to breathe and engage with the world in a more healthy and meaningful way.
Personally, self care is very important in my life because it helps me stay calm during stressful situations that arise especially with school work. I also notice that I am more focused in all activities I partake in and able to engage with my environment positively when I practice self care. Alternatively, when I do not practise self care, I mismanage my time and my anxiety increases.
How can students practice self care?
Upon understanding the importance of self care, the next step is to take action towards developing a healthy lifestyle to improve both your physical and mental health. Studies have shown that practising self care can improve your immune function, increase the capacity for empathy and lower levels of anxiety (Withers, n.d). It is essential that we learn how to create our own self care routine because it will help with focusing, studying and getting through our academic journeys successfully.
Self care is unique for everyone and requires you to make a plan. Here are ways I practice self care:
- Our bodies need a good six to eight hours per day of sleep to function properly. It allows for our brains to actively work and helps us reset. It serves as a natural healer for our bodies.
- It is strongly advised to turn off all devices 30 minutes before sleep to create a better sleeping habit.
- Another great tip is to use sleep apps such as the Sleep Genius app to schedule naps, track your sleep patterns and listen to calming sounds (Francois, 2016).
- I make sure I have at least six hours of sleep every night, and take naps after a stressful day to recharge myself for activities afterwards
- As students we need to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into our diets for our bodies to thrive on natural nutrients (Francois, 2016).
- Eating breakfast, drinking eight glasses of water and having small snacks for long work periods can help to reduce the reach for junk foods.
Exercise (Physical Activity)
- Exercise is a great way to reduce our stress levels. It helps to increase energy, stimulates brain growth, enhances our immune system and even decreases feelings of sadness.
- Ryerson offers every student free access to the Recreation and Athletic Centre (RAC) for wellness recreation and sport activities.
- My favourite form of exercise is taking a walk. It is a simple exercise that can help stimulate the brain, reduces stress and enhances calm energy making it a perfect way to practise self care.
- During a break, you can intentionally breathe and relax.
- Breaks can be especially helpful during long work periods to replenish energy.
- Doing something you enjoy during breaks puts you in a positive mood and encourages you to continue the work you have started.
- During my own breaks, I usually listen to music or watch a very funny video/show to put me in a positive mood before returning to studying.
- Journaling is a good way to express our thoughts and feelings.
- Something as simple as journaling a list of things you are grateful for, can help to positively reset our minds amidst stressful situations.
- A good journal resource is the Five-Minute Journal, which is available online (Francois, 2016). I have personally used this and it has helped me to take some time to reflect on the positive things and to live a life of gratitude.
- Turn off your electronic devices to reduce distractions.
- Instead of connecting on an electronic device, try listening to soothing music, completing religious rituals, or reading; all personal favourites of mine.
Be in the Present Moment
- This means finding a way to centre yourself.
- Meditation and relaxation techniques are essential to build self-awareness and develop a strategy to manage our stressors. You can practice these by finding a quiet space to take deep breaths in a relaxed position. YouTube also offers a wide array of guided meditation exercises to practice.
- Another way of being present that I practise often is daily affirmations. This is the act of saying positive things about yourself as it increases motivation.
- Write out your goals and place them in an area where you can easily see them daily to stay motivated.
- The ASC website has a tip sheet that shows how to use S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Timely and Realistic) when creating your goals. As a Peer Coach, this is a strategy I have recommended to a lot of students to break down goals into smaller chunks to build motivation.
Get Support from Relationships
- Having a good, supportive system is great for your mental health.
- Aside from spending time with family and friends, getting involved in student groups and other campus related activities of your choice to help you recharge.
- Ensure to set aside time to have a social life.
- I talk to at least one family member or friend everyday who encourages me and also helps me grow.
Self care is very important for students due to the potential stressors that may arise in school and life. It is important to look at all aspects of our wellness and ensure that we continually fill them up so that we can positively contribute to the world. The following are extra support and resources that can help with self care.
How-to’s and Apps
- Micro-Changes with the The Fabulous is a virtual coach that helps you build a daily routine towards your goal using behavioural science.
- Mindful.org is a blog space that provides articles that can help you with mindfulness.
Wellbeing on Campus
- Visit the Centre for Student Development and Counselling (CSDC). Ryerson offers this as a campus support to the students who might want to speak with a professional on a more personal level about stress anxiety.
- The Thrive RU webpage has great tips and resilience statements to help us keep positive and healthy.
To get extra help from professionals off-campus, you can reach out to:
- Good To Talk by phone or text at 1-866-925-5454
- The Gerstein Centre at (416) 929-5200
- Bigwhitewall.com: A safe, online community where people anonymously support each other to improve mental health and well-being.
- getmaple.ca/providers/psychotherapist-counselling/: Connects you with a Canadian-licensed virtual therapist for mental health support.
Bell, N. (2014, March 30). Teaching by the medicine wheel: Education Canada Magazine. EdCan Network. Retrieved from https://www.edcan.ca/articles/teaching-by-the-medicine-wheel/
Francois, M. (2016, October 23). 8 quick self-care strategies for college students. Mindsoother Therapy Center. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from https://www.mindsoother.com/blog/8-quick-self-care-strategies-for-college-students
Homework Help Global (2021, May 5). 250 self care ideas for students: Homework help canada. Homework Help. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from https://www.homeworkhelpglobal.com/ca/blog/self-care-ideas/
Maldonado, M. (2022, March 11). A guide to practicing self-care with mindfulness. Mindful. Retrieved April 12, 2022, from https://www.mindful.org/a-guide-to-practicing-self-care-with-mindfulness/
ISF. (2020, November 20). What is self-care? ISF. Retrieved April 12, 2022, from https://isfglobal.org/what-is-self-care/
WHO. (n.d.). Self-care interventions for health. World Health Organization. Retrieved April 12, 2022, from https://www.who.int/health-topics/self-care#tab=tab_1
Withers, T. (n.d.). Self-care toolkit for university students by Tyler Withers. Retrieved March 31, 2022, from https://studentexperience.uwo.ca/docs/Self-Care%20Toolkit%20for%20University%20Students.pdf