It’s Never Too Early for Self-Care

Whether it came from a Ted Talk, a Buzzfeed listicle or an issue of the Stall Seat Journal, you’ve probably heard about the importance of self-care and the myriad ways people practice it.

Mindfulness and practices like yoga and meditation may seem ubiquitous online, but for many it can still seem like a distant goal while facing the day-to-day struggles of life.

So what exactly is self-care, why is it so important and how can you make time to prioritize your physical and emotional health?

Self care at its core means providing “adequate attention to one’s own physical and psychological well-being” (Beauchamp & Childress, 2001).

While there are many obstacles to implementing self-care practices,stress and anxiety are the most pervasive according to VCU students in the Spit for Science survey.

Stress is problematic for a number of reasons. There is a clear pathway between stress/anxiety and being overwhelmed by your responsibilities that can lead to burnout and feelings of hopelessness. This in turn can impact your health and ability to work, which can in turn feed back into more stress.

Stress is not just mentally tasking either. In the short term, stress can increase muscle tension, cause shallow or quickened breathing and constrict blood vessels. In the long term, stress can lead to major health problems including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, stroke, alcohol and substance use problems, obesity, diabetes and more.

Everyone experiences stress differently. Thus, the ways we manage stress need to be geared toward the individual based on their lifestyle, emotional needs, support system and the types of stressors they currently experience.

Some basic stress management and self-care techniques include:
Deep breathing
Diet and nutrition
Healthy eating
Talk to a friend
Drinking water
Sleep and time management
Sleep hygiene
Get some sun

As for what specific strategies are most effective at promoting your mental and physical health at any given moment, the short answer is that there is no one size fits all approach.

But there are concrete ways to introduce self-care into your daily life. Be sure to make time for self-care and specifically schedule it. In moments of peak stress you may feel like you don’t have time for self-care. But those are the times that self-care is most important!

Make SMART Goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-based) and know your warning signs for when you are stressed or anxious. And never shy away from seeking community support from friends or professionals.

When in doubt, use a checklist:
Have you drank enough water today?
Have you eaten recently?
When was the last time you exercised?
Have you gone outside?
Have you taken a shower?

And remember there are resources both on campus and online that can help, including:

University Counseling Services
The Wellness Resource Center
Student Stress and Anxiety Guide
Kaiser Permanente Healthy Living Podcasts

Ted Talks such as:

Got a Meeting? Take a Walk by Nilofer Merchant
Self-Compassion Exercises by Dr. Kristin Neff
The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion with Dr. Kristin Neff

And apps for self-care that will help you integrate daily practices into your spare time:

Stop, Breathe, & Think

Remember, if you are experiencing stress, you are not alone.

Self-care takes many forms, and it does not have to be an extra hoop to jump through. You can increase your productivity and overall life satisfaction through daily practice of self-care in small bursts. Even in the busiest and most stressful of times, there’s always a moment to take care of your emotional and physical needs.