More Than a Bubble Bath: The Truth About Self-Care
Self-care has become a buzzword on campus and on social media. It’s become a new way for brands and companies to advertise their products and services to the masses. Don’t get me wrong! Taking care of oneself is definitely imperative to not only a successful university career, but also to having a happy and healthy life.
The thing is, self-care can include relaxation techniques like a bubble bath or face mask, but it is also so much more than that. When taking care of ourselves, we need to recognize the importance of self-awareness, the breadth of self-care practices, and seeking help when we need it.
Self-awareness allows us to check-in with ourselves and determine if we are being kind to ourselves, while also considering what feeling unwell looks like for us. This is especially crucial when we are busy balancing school, work, friends, family, relationships, and more! My suggestion is to get into the habit of asking yourself questions like:
- What does it look like if you’re feeling well or unwell? What changes in your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour when you’re not doing well?
- What helps fill you back up if you’re low? What helps recharge your batteries?
- Are you practicing self-compassion? Are you being harder on yourself than you are on others? If your best friend was going through what you’re going through, would you treat them the way you’re treating myself right now?
Your answers to these questions will change as you change, so remember to regularly check in with yourself. It’s also a great idea to let a friend, family member, or significant other know the answers to these questions, so they know what it looks like when you need to recharge and re-calibrate. If they know your tells when you’re unwell and know what you need from them, then they are able to support you better!
Alright, so now that you’re on the path of knowing yourself and being kinder to yourself, let’s talk self-care strategies: they are activities than not only help us relax and de-stress, but actively build up our self-esteem and resilience in handling tough situations.
Most importantly, self-care looks different for everyone. Perhaps going for a walk or having a self-made spa day works for some people, but others may need something totally different. Self-care strategies change and evolve as we grow and experience new things.
Many don’t realize that self-care strategies include engaging in activities that build up our self-esteem, even though we know that self-esteem is so essential to our mental health and what makes us feel good. These activities should give us a sense of competence, control, and belonging. We’ve heard of physical and artistic activities like hitting the gym, signing up for a yoga class, or joining a paint night, but things like organizational habits, making social connections, and setting healthy routines are necessary too.
Organizational habits include making to-do lists, bullet journaling, or using alarms or reminders on your phone to make sure you stay on track and refrain from overbooking yourself. Ever noticed how in control you feel after noting down all your upcoming bills, meetings, exams, papers, and assignments in your Google Calendar or agenda? BOOM. Self-care!
Maintaining social connections like staying in touch with friends or joining a student group on campus also increases your sense of belonging. Stop by Clubs Fair at the beginning of the semester, check out the UAlberta Involvement Opportunities group on Facebook, or look into your department or faculty students association to meet like-minded folks!
The final piece of self-care strategies is healthy routines. You may not love to hear it, but as university students sleeping enough and eating well should not be optional. During my time as an undergrad, I pulled all-nighters, depended on too much caffeine, and messed up my eating schedule for the “sake” of better grades. Guess what? When I re-organized my priorities and made space for at least six hours of sleep a night and three meals a day, I actually became more productive and saw my grades go up. It’s almost like…optimum mental health and optimum cognitive function are connected or something!
Look, mental health is complex, and so is self-care. It is important to use those self-awareness strategies to figure out what we need in terms of self-care strategies. Prioritizing self-care and making time for these activities shouldn’t take a back seat to school, work, or volunteering — especially when you consider how difficult it can be to be good at these tasks when you are struggling with your mental health.
The third part of taking care of oneself is recognizing that when self-care strategies are unable to keep us from feeling unwell, that we should reach out and talk to someone. If you find that after using your self-care strategies and talking to friends you are still unlike yourself or unable to do the things you want or need to do, then it is a sign one is struggling with their mental health. If we notice those intense, long-lasting, and affecting struggles, then we need to reach out for help. No problem is too small if it’s negatively affecting our wellness and talking to someone can make a world of difference.
There are many options we can turn to like the Peer Support Centre or Counselling and Clinical Services on campus. You can access services online or by phone through Kids Help Phone which serves people up to age 25. Not only do they have a phone line, but they also offer help through online chat, text, and their app. Furthermore, you can find services through Alberta 211, Edmonton Distress Line, or check out the Kids Help Phone “Resources Around Me” tool to receive referrals to a wide range of community, social, and government services. The more we have open conversations about mental health and how we take care of it through self-care, social support and community supports (like a therapist or social worker), the more we can break down any negative stigma.
It’s not lame, weak, selfish, or a waste of time to properly invest time and effort into self-care. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Not only will your loved ones rest easy knowing you know what to do to go from unwell to well, you will become more resilient and successful too! Take care, everyone!