Last year I wrote “The First-Year’s Guide to Self-Care,” with all of the advice I had accumulated from my freshman year. Thankfully, that list kept me accountable: when my self-care routines and goals were woefully lacking, I turned to the list I had written all those months ago and imagined what I needed when I wrote them down. Over the course of freshman year, I’d learned how to handle stress and manage the anxiety that made my heart pump too loud and fast when triggered. But when it came to mindfulness and intentionality, I found myself disorganized and more focused on what would solve the immediate problem. However, sustainable, affirming, calming self-care is much more than that, and this article proves a timely update.
Write it out. Last summer my good friend Haley and I spent a ridiculous amount of time examining all of the notebooks and planners on the sale rack. I picked up a large pink one that I liked because you could circle the month and date and pick a subject line at the top. I hadn’t ever been a journaler before, but the purchase felt right. That journal truly became my refuge. I thought about writing like processing. Even when I didn’t think that I had the words to express myself, I found that my pen had another story. Even when there are no words, there are certain things your writing needs. Your sentences will need nouns and verbs, adjectives if you are feeling descriptive, adverbs too, and punctuation somewhere in the mix. Your story will need a beginning, and if there’s a beginning there must be something in the middle, and if there is something in the middle, there must be an ending too. I never felt quite as understood as when I read back what I had written and saw it for what it was: anxiety, stress, hurt, sadness, joy, and love.
Set goals. On her newest album When I Get Home, Solange samples a YouTube video in which a woman repeats “Do nothing without intention.” In March when I listened to the album for the first time, my big theme for 2019 was born. Making a list of everything you want to accomplish for not just the year, but for the semester, or the week, or even just the day will keep you focused. Furthermore, if you’re a people pleaser, I can’t stress having a game plan enough. Sometimes it can feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that your friends, roommates, peers, or parents need from you. As a perpetual yes-sayer, all of that running around felt exhausting and completely unsatisfying though I couldn’t quite place why. I eventually found, however, that having my own agenda changed the way I viewed school, my extracurriculars, and my job. I couldn’t just drop everything and be where/what someone needed if there were defined boxes on my own checklist. Suddenly, helping other people felt so much more intentional. I took inventory of myself first to see what I needed, and put time aside because that person, assignment, favor, or whatever else was truly important to me.
Breathe. As someone who is generally anxious, I struggled to come to terms with the fact that’s just me. I hoped that visiting the University Counseling Center or the Center for Student Wellbeing would just suddenly cure my anxiety after a couple of sessions. But that’s unrealistic. Management was the most realistic goal, especially for the short term. Practicing deep breathing was one of the most rewarding, soothing activities I started doing mindfully. In through the nose, out through the mouth, and suddenly I can think much clearer. The problem seems less daunting. Anxiety and stress reduction are actually proven benefits of practicing deep breathing techniques. According to a Psychology Today article, “proper breathing techniques work on anxiety on a physiological level by automatically slowing your heart rate. The effect on anxiety is almost instant.” Anxiety - especially for college students face a never ending loop of assignments, exams, and job searches - can seem inescapable. But taking a moment to yourself to just feel yourself breathe is something you can do in class, in Rand, or in your bed as you drift off to sleep.
Keep your boundaries intact. One of the most difficult things about school is the lack of boundaries. You go to school, shop, work out, hang out with friends, and sleep all in the same place. It’s important to establish your own boundaries between these things, so you don’t find yourself overexerted halfway through the fall semester. For me, that looks like keeping my phone on silent after 10pm, not responding to emails at all hours of the night, and being intentional about when I don’t have the time, space, and/or energy to meet. For you, it might mean leaving homework that’s not done by 11pm to be completed at a later date, or taking days to just be by yourself regardless of what’s going on. I know a full inbox can make the hub that is college seem urgent, but it’s okay to close out all of your tabs and just watch Living Single and Sister, Sister reruns for as long as you need to. Some feelings may be hurt in the process, but it’s important to trust yourself to draw lines in the right places.
Take care of yourself, and be intentional about it: your body, mental health, and even transcript will thank you dearly.