When we feel stressed, it is easy to stop doing things that replenish our energy and keep us going through the difficult phases of college life. Self-care is the active participation of enhancing your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and quality of life. It can alleviate some of your stress. It is important to maintain both the physical and mental components of self-care in order to achieve an overall state of wellness. Physical and mental health can balance your mind and body, which are essential to achieving wellness for optimal functioning. There are behavioral, relational, and internal self-care strategies.
On this page:
- Being at your best
- Maximizing your potential
- Improving your quality of life
- Increasing your physical and mental resources to deal with stressors
Myth: I need to stay up late to study for an exam.
FACT: Good sleep helps with memory. Sleep helps you better store the information you’ve learned in your memory, so that you can better recall it on an exam. Cramming before an exam, especially at the expense of sleep, is a bad strategy. Sleep is also important for energy and mental sharpness, two factors related to doing well on an exam. Want to do well, get a good night’s rest.
Myth: I don't have enough time to eat early in the day.
FACT: Food is fuel. Food intake is part of a chemical process impacting energy and a host of other systems that directly relate to positive performance. It doesn't’t take a lot of time to eat a piece of fruit or to prepare a sandwich to carry and eat. If you are not eating until late in the day, consider that your schedule is too jammed, too hectic. Consider that without the benefit of food you will be more fatigued, more mentally foggy, more easily stressed, and more likely to perform poorly.
Myth: I need to be strong and do it by myself.
FACT: That makes no sense! When did it become a sign of strength to make things harder for ourselves by not utilizing the help and resources around us? A university is invested in student success, students staying in school and graduating. There are offices and people devoted to helping students with studying, physical and mental health, connection and activity, and just about anything else you can think of. Students who study in groups often perform better than those who study alone. Asking for help can be hard but can spare you lots of pain down the road. You can CHOOSE the harder way but you’ll pay for it later (and your performance will suffer).
Myth: I couldn't do my schoolwork because I had to go to my job.
FACT: Many students need to work in order to get through school. However, remember you are working TO GO TO SCHOOL. School is your priority. If that isn’t true, maybe you should consider if school is something you are committed to, something that you want to be doing. It is okay to choose to work and return to school at a later time. It is okay to choose to work because right now in your life school isn’t a good fit for you. Maybe you haven’t asked for what you need at work, like time off or a flexible schedule. Have you made it clear school is your top priority? Have you looked into other funding options like grants, loans or scholarships? If working makes you unable to perform in school, rethink what you are doing before you waste your time and money.
Myth: I don't have time to....
FACT: Focus on building your time management and organizational skills. See: Academic Success Strategies
Purchase and use a planner (can be electronic). Don’t wait until the last minute for assignments. Organize and clean your living space.
Myth: All of this is easy to say but hard to do.
FACT: It can be hard. Some of it is easy. It can be done. Thousands of students before you have done it. Perseverance is critical to success. Believing that if you continue to work toward a goal that you will succeed increases the likelihood that you will, in fact, succeed.
There are multiple ways to engage in self-care. The following are a few suggestions:
- Get enough sleep- Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep each night in order to feel feel, refreshed, and energetic in the morning. Sleep disturbances can affect your work performance. You can improve your sleep habits by having a regular sleep schedule. This includes weekends! A single day of deviance from the sleep schedule can confuse your body. (Eng & Relme, 2014; Fletcher et. al., 1996; Kruger, 1989; Rosekind et. al., 2010)
- Exercise- Physical activity for 20-30 minutes each day helps in reducing your body’s physical reaction to stress by relaxing muscle tension. It also helps in relaxing negative thoughts, reducing anxiety, and boosting your confidence. (Petruzello, Landers, Hatfield, Kubitz & Salazar, 1991)
- Pay attention to your nourishment- Nourishing your body and mind with a healthy diet can help you stay focused and keep your body satisfied. Replace fast-food with smaller healthy meals every 3-4 hours and stay hydrated. Skipping meals can deprive your body from energy and dehydration can increase physical and mental stress, which can limit your performance. (Can et. al., 2000; Soh, Walter, Baur, & Collins, 2009).
- Engage in relaxing activities- Relaxation replenishes your mental resources and helps your body recover by decompressing the muscles. Relaxation activities may vary from a calm stroll through a park to taking a bath, to deep breathing exercises, to meditation and mindfulness. Find what works best for you. Be sure to make time for it in your schedule, even for 10 minutes.
- Smile- Research shows that smiling, even if you don’t feel like it, can change your mood. Your brain cannot tell the difference between a real smile and a fake smile. So, when you smile, even in the lack of a humorous stimulus, your facial muscles communicate positive feelings to your brain. So, say cheese and smile away! (Strack, Martin & Stepper, 1988)
- Help others- Helping someone else can make you feel good about yourself. It also increases hopefulness and optimism. Helping others promotes gratification and can shift your attention from negative thoughts and feelings towards fulfillment and optimism. (Glomb, Bhave, Miner, & Wall, 2011)
- Practice optimism- Optimism is highly correlated with resilience and emotional acceptance. Optimism and resilience can reduce feelings of depression, anxiety and anger. Optimism can also helps in perceiving difficulties as opportunities for personal growth and improve work performance learn more about optimism and resilience here. (Mache, Vitzthum, Wanke, Groneberg, Klapp, & Danze, 2014; Relvich, Gillham, Chaplin, & Seligman, 2013; Wright State University, 2014).
Internal Self-Care: Being mindful, compassionate, and kind to yourself. Internal self-care includes learning soothing techniques.
- Positive self-view- It is easy to doubt ourselves in difficult situations. Be mindful of negative self-talk or putting yourself down. Actively replace these negative thoughts with a positive view. Create a list of affirmations for yourself (e.g., I grow and change; I am open-minded, etc.). (Lambert, Fincham, & Stillman, 2012).
- Practice mindfulness- Mindfulness serves to alleviate distress by helping you experience situations in a different way. It will help you experience thoughts and sensations as they are, without judgment. Increasing awareness and reducing judgment can be a valuable exercise for internal self-care. You can learn mindfulness exercises here. (Liberate, Cotton, Macleish, Minglone, & O’Bryan, 2014).
- Build a social support system- Living apart from families and childhood friends can feel lonely at times. Take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone! Many other students around you feel the same way. Create and maintain contact with a small group of people you can call on for emotional support or for distraction. You don’t have to disclose your stressors if you don’t want to; social support in of itself can be helpful in alleviating feelings of isolation. Research shows that people with strong social support experience less stress and exhibit better overall health than those people who are socially isolated. (Cohen, Mermelstein, Tamarack, & Hoberman, 1985; Dennis, Phinney, & Chuateco, 2005)
- Get involved- Did you know that Wright State University has over 200 registered student organizations that vary over 10 different categories? Becoming involved in organizations of your interest can provide a great way to meet new friends and engage in activities that bring joy to you. You can find student organizations at (http://www.wright.edu/student-activities/student-organizations).
- Learn how to say no: Learn of your own boundaries, setting limits, and explore your relational expectations. Awareness of our boundaries allows for what helps us in social interactions and restricts what can harm us. Each person needs a different amount of personal time to recover his or her energy. While college life involves plenty of opportunities to engage in different activities on and off campus, know when it’s appropriate to say “no.” Time-management skills are critical for success and professional development (Britton & teaser, 1991).
- Get in touch with your values- If religion is an important part of your identity, find time for prayer or meditation. A few moments of spiritual connection each day can help improve physical health, decrease stress, and improve overall well-being. (Mass, Friedman, Lederman, Zuttermeister, & Benson, 1991; Seybold & Hill, 2001)
- Take care of your personal space- Having a comfortable and organized environment can make us feel less stressed and happier. It helps in reducing anxiety and making us feel more in control of our environment and life. Take some time at the end of each day to clean up any clutter, wash the dishes in the sink, and fold your laundry so that your personal space continues to be clean and inviting. (Moore, 2014)
These tips are for informational purposes only and are not meant to substitute mental or physical health counseling.
- Britton, B. K., & Tesser, A. (1991). Effects of time-management practices on college grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(3), 405-410.
- Clan, C., Koulmann, N., Barraud, P. A., Raphel, C., Jiminez, C., & Melin, B. (2000). Influences of variations in body hydration on cognitive function: Effect of hyperhydration, heat stress, and exercise-induced dehydration. Journal Of Psychophysiology, 14(1), 29-36.
- Cohen, S., Mermelstein, R., Kamarack, T., & Hoberman, H.M. (1985). Measuring the functional components of social support. Social Support: Theory, Research and Applications, 54, 73-94.
- Dennis, J. M., Phinney, J. S., Chuateco, L. I. (2005). The role of motivation, parental support, and peer support in the academic success of ethnic minority first-generation college students. Journal of College Student Development, 46(3), 223-236.
- Eng, J. J., & Reime, B. (2014). Exercise for depressive symptoms in stroke patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Rehabilitation, 28(8), 731-739. doi:10.1177/0269215514523631
- Fletcher, G. F., Balady, G., Blair, S. N., Blumenthal, J., Casperson, C., Chaitman, B., Epstein, S., Froleicher, E. S. S., Froleicher, V. F., Pina, I. L., & Pollock, M. L. (1996). Statement on exercise: Benefits and recommendations for physical activity programs for all Americans. Circulation, 94, 857-862.
- Glomb, T. M., Bhave, D. P., Miner, A. G., & Wall, M. (2011). Doing good, feeling good: Examining the role of organizational citizenship behaviors in changing mood. Personnel Psychology, 64(1), 191-223. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6570.2010.01206.x
- Kass, J. D., Friedman, R., Leserman, J., Zuttermeister, P. C., & Benson, H. (1991). Health outcomes and a new index of spiritual experience. Journal For The Scientific Study Of Religion, 30(2), 203-211. doi:10.2307/1387214
- Krueger, G. P. (1989). Sustained work, fatigue, sleep loss and performance: A review of the issues. Work & Stress, 3(2), 129-141. doi:10.1080/02678378908256939
- Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., & Stillman, T. F. (2012). Gratitude and depressive symptoms: The role of positive reframing and positive emotion. Cognition And Emotion, 26(4), 615-633. doi:10.1080/02699931.2011.595393
- Luberto, C. M., Cotton, S., McLeish, A. C., Mingione, C. J., & O’Bryan, E. M. (2014). Mindfulness skills and emotion regulation: The mediating role of coping self-efficacy. Mindfulness, 5(4), 373-380. doi:10.1007/s12671-012-0190-6
- Mache, S., Vitzthum, K., Wanke, E., Groneberg, D. A., Klapp, B. F., & Danzer, G. (2014). Exploring the impact of resilience, self-efficacy, optimism and organizational resources on work engagement. Work: Journal Of Prevention, Assessment & Rehabilitation, 47(4), 491-500.
- Moore, B. A. (2014). Taking Control of Anxiety: Small Steps for Getting the Best of Worry, Stress, and Fear [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
- Reivich, K., Gillham, J. E., Chaplin, T. M., & Seligman, M. E. (2013). From helplessness to optimism: The role of resilience in treating and preventing depression in youth. In S. Goldstein, R. B. Brooks (Eds.) , Handbook of resilience in children (2nd ed.) (pp. 201-214). New York, NY, US: Springer Science + Business Media. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-3661-4_12
- Rosekind, M. R., Gregory, K. B., Mallis, M. M., Brandt, S. L., Seal , B., & Lerner, D. (2010). The cost of poor sleep: Workplace productivity loss and associated costs. American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 52(1), 91-98.
- Strack, F., Martin, L. L., & Stepper, S. (1988). Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: A nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 54(5), 768-777. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2068
- Seybold, K. S., & Hill, P. C. (2001). The role of religion and spirituality in mental and physical health. Current Directions in Clinical Psychology, 10(1), 21-24.
- Soh, N. L., Walter, G., Baur, L., & Collins, C. (2009). Nutrition, mood and behaviour: A review. Acta Neuropsychiatrica, 21(5), 214-227.
- Wright State University-a (2014, Feb 5). Counseling and Wellness. Retrieved from: http://www.wright.edu/counseling-and-wellness/workshops-and-self-help/optimism
- Wright State University-b (2014, Feb 5). Student Organizations. Retrieved from: http://www.wright.edu/student-activities/student-organizations