Phones ringing! Texts pinging! Tweets chirping! In this world of snappy quick chats, insta-friendships, and constant distractions vying for our attention, it’s no wonder people in general and at our university in particular are more stressed than ever. How does one balance the demands of work, school, family, friends and social media? In this blog I offer suggestions on how to practice self-care for long-term health and wellbeing.
I realize that it can be tempting to put off self-care while working on a graduate degree. It can be easy to rationalize, “This is only a few years; I can rest when I start my career”. That sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? A career brings a new set of responsibilities, schedules, timelines and pressures. Not to mention things like moving, settling into a new home, meeting new people and perhaps starting a family. My self-care prescription has three parts: reflection, recharging and resiliency. These are not linear steps; rather these ideas can be practiced every day in many different ways. Practicing the first two will help develop the resiliency needed to get through the ebbs and flows of life.
Take a moment right now. Stop doing and just be. Perhaps close your eyes. Call to mind something for which you feel grateful. Whatever that is, person, place or thing, write it down. Think about what you wrote down and what it means to you. Think about why you’re grateful. You’ve just started a gratitude journal! Research tells us that the simple act of expressing gratitude has a positive effect on happiness, wellbeing and overall life satisfaction. It can also help reduce stress.
Take time each day to reflect on something – perhaps a relationship, a presentation you gave, or a goal you have. Think about its importance right now and what you may or may not do differently moving forward. If something seems difficult, think about how it will be in one month or six months or one year. A perspective check is a good way to alleviate stress and practice self-care.
How do you recharge your emotional, mental and physical batteries? Whether you take a long walk, relax in the tub, exercise, pray, talk to a friend, binge watch TV, play with your pet or meditate, there’s sure to be a way that you re-energize. Realize that there is no “right” way to recharge. However, some methods can be more self-harming than self-caring. Be aware of habits that may be unhealthy for you and reflect on why you’re choosing such a method to recharge. Often those behaviors (e.g. excess drinking, drug use, over eating, over or under sleeping) mask underlying issues, and not only stress. Seek out the services of a professional counselor if you’re stuck. We have them here for you at USC while you are in graduate school. Practicing the simple act of deep breathing will also help focus attention, calm the mind and soothe the spirit. Try it for a few breaths. Start with 2 or 3 and then work up to 21. Why 21? It’s not too high and not too low. Starting over after 21 could help those with a competitive streak who may seek to “best” their last “score”. Deep breathing is a mindfulness technique, not a contest.
Finally, I encourage you to find ways to reflect and recharge so you may build resiliency to help you deal with whatever life brings you. Developing such techniques will help you build a strong repertoire of self-care such that you are able to be present to others in your life in the way you want to be.
Marguerite O’Brien, MSW, is Director of Wellness, Prevention, and Advocacy in Student Health Services at the University of South Carolina. Learn more about the many resources of Student Health Services available to students at UofSC: https://www.sa.sc.edu/shs/.
Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at firstname.lastname@example.org.