September means the start of a new school year for many of us. Whether you’re moving away from home for the first time, inching closer to graduation, or starting a new educational journey after some time away, you will likely have some adjusting to do. As we bid farewell to summer and hit the books, let’s pause for a moment and think about all the ways we are going to mind our mental and physical health. The term “self-care” has established a significant presence in the lexicon of school campuses. We hear that we need to prioritize self-care, but what does that even mean? It’s probably obvious, but at its core, it means caring for ourselves. Setting aside time for ourselves may sound selfish. It may sound like a waste of time. But stop and think about this for a moment: how can we achieve our goals and fulfill our obligations when we are overwhelmed, exhausted, or constantly occupied?
The journey to figuring out what self-care looks like varies from person to person. For me, it requires a lot of trial and error. A year ago, I started a new full time job. Last week, I started graduate school… and will continue working full-time. This nebulous idea of self-care seems like the key to sustaining my energy, but also an impossible task given my workload. So this is where one of my favorite mantras comes in:
“Do what you can… where you are… with what you have.”
If you’re completely lost about where to start or looking to shake things up, here are a few things to try:
1. Find a quiet place you can easily access.
This might mean steering away from your Pilipn@ org’s fave spot, your Greek life stomping grounds, or your dance crew’s usual hangout. It’s easy to go somewhere familiar where we will have someone to chat with, but then you’ll have to be “on.” You are looking for a place you can be alone with yourself. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Put down your phone and unplug for a little. You could sit quietly, journal, or do some leisure reading.
2. Have a friend or family member on the outside.
A typical piece of advice is calling your mom (or parental-figure or primary support) on the regular. While this feels fulfilling, it might also mean increased pressure to succeed. Designate a family member or friend who is completely outside of your school experience — someone who knows you at your core, but doesn’t see your life at school first-hand. Use those chats to vent and not feel judged.
3. Sleep 7–8 hours a night.
Pulling all-nighters seems like a necessity, especially during midterms and finals season. But the amount of sleep we get affects both our mental and physical health. Getting enough sleep might mean leaving the family party early. Do NOT believe your parents when they say you are “leaving soon.” You may need to drive there separately to ensure you get home at a decent hour.
4. Use a kamatis (tomato) timer.
Tomato timers are meant to get you on the productivity train. You are supposed to sit down and do something for 25 minutes, record what you did, and then take a mandated 5-minute break. These breaks help you regroup, break up the monotony of working on a tedious task, and be proud of what you can get done in just 25 minutes. Get your chicken adobo ingredients together and spend that first 30-minute block simmering your delicious dish.
5. Seek therapy or counseling services.
In our culture, we keep a lot of issues quiet, thus stigmatizing conversations and actions around them. We must be put together and can’t “air our dirty laundry.” Our silence about the importance of mental health issues holds us back. School campuses will likely have free or low-cost resources to help you start or continue your mental health journey. These could come in the form of licensed therapists, graduate school interns, peer counselors, or referrals to other community resources. There is nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to seeking help! We all know exercising and eating well helps our physical health. Why not take steps to take care of our mental health?
Starting school again means taking advantage of opportunities — academic, professional, social, or otherwise. It might mean survival — working, family obligations, and dealing with personal issues. Likely a mix of both. Remember that self-care looks different from each of us. With social media permeating our lives, it’s easy to feel like everything we do should be Instagrammable, including our self-care practices. Even those focused on self-care, looking so good taking care of themselves, are not experts. This practice is ongoing, if only we start somewhere.
I’d love to hear about your favorite self-care practices — tweet us or drop us a line in the comments. Sending you good vibes for that back to school grind!