Self-Care Blog

Self-Care for the Busy College Student

Author: Ryan Borden

Published: May 2018

Self-care isn’t as easy as it seems. As college students, it can be hard to prioritize our own health, especially when we are pushed to prioritize academics, work, and extracurriculars. However, how we take care of ourselves now determines our health in the future, which is why developing good self-care habits is important.

In our society, self-care is often portrayed as a break from our everyday routines. From taking a 15-minute walk to relaxing with music to treating yourself by buying that ice cream, it is often seen as a time away from the stressors of life to relax and rejuvenate. Although these forms of self-care are all valid, I argue that self-care is more than a pause from our everyday life.

True self-care is a journey, a lifestyle, and a continuous process to living a healthy life. It involves assessing various aspects of our lives to see which areas need improvement and then addressing these areas. Sometimes it is doing the tasks that we don’t want to do that take time and effort.  Self-care involves determining what is most important in your life and being proactive with your situation.

It is realizing that you are important, and what you have to say matters. True self-care is prioritizing your mental, physical, and emotional health to have a more complete and balanced life.

The good thing is that self-care doesn’t have to be complicated. It isn’t a binary system where you either do self-care or you don’t. It is a gradient, with varying degrees that is relative to where you are in your life. Minor changes accumulate into major developments in the long-run. The path to better self-care may take time, but it is realistic and attainable.

So, how do you start on a path to better self-care? Here are some simple steps that if followed can lead to significant changes down the road.

Step 1: Start where you are now and set it as the baseline for your self-care strategy.

Be honest with yourself and determine where you are in terms of self-care. Try to accept where you are and realize that any improvement from here is helpful. We are all at different points in our lives, so try not to compare yourself to others. It is never too late to make a change and work towards a healthier life.

Step 2: Choose one thing that you want to focus on and set a goal.

Wanting to improve many aspects of your life is natural, but if you focus on too many things, it can hinder improvements in all areas. Focusing on one goal lets you ease into a new lifestyle and will lead to better results in the long-run. Write this goal down, in a notebook or on a sticky note or type it out on a computer, whatever works best for you. This could be something like ‘exercise more’ or ‘become better at dealing with stress’ or ‘eat healthier.’ The purpose of one general goal is to prime your brain for growth and improvement which can materialize through the area of self-care you choose.

Step 3Break this into smaller, specific and realistic self-care activities.

For example, if your focus is exercising more, break this into small tasks that you can visualize, such as “go for a walk in the Arboretum for 15 minutes on Monday after class” or “bike to campus on Friday instead of taking the bus.” The more specific you are in terms of time, location, and other details, the greater the chance that you will follow through with your self-care strategy. Also, even if you are excited and motivated to make a change, start slow. Habit formation and lifestyle change take time and being too ambitious may quickly lead to burnout. Write these specific activities out as well or get a notebook or a note app specifically for your specific tasks.

Step 4: Schedule self-care into your routine.

If you use Google calendar or other forms of organization, scheduling in time to work on tasks is important for holding you accountable. Being proactive is vital for gradual growth because without a plan, the task will likely continue to be pushed off to the point of non-existence. An easy way to do this is to couple your task with something already in your daily routine. This could be deciding to meditate before you shower or drinking a glass of water right when you wake up. Adding something to your current habits can take less energy and be more efficient than creating a brand-new habit for self-care.

Step 5: Set up a system to check-in with your self-care strategy.

This step is critical in the maintenance and growth of the change you want to make. This is the step where you evaluate what is and isn’t working. It is checking in with yourself to see how you feel after each time you work on your specific tasks. Do you have to put in a lot of effort or go out of your way to do it? Do you enjoy doing it? Do you see how it is benefitting you? Try to see what barriers are preventing you from doing something and set up systems to go around or reduce these barriers.

These steps are now part of your toolkit that you can use to work on your self-care. However, you are the one who must use these tools on yourself, to tighten the bolts, hammer down the nails, adjust the gears.

If the 5 steps are too much for you or you feel like you don’t have the time or energy to follow them, try starting by simply checking in with yourself throughout the day. Take a few seconds to think about what you are doing and how you feel when you’re doing it. How do you feel when you drink a cold glass of water? How do you feel when you spend time with others? Are your physical and mental needs being met? Understanding where you are and seeing if you need to make any changes is the first step to better self-care.