It is two months into the spring semester, and by now, you possibly have a better understanding of how demanding the rest of your semester will be. Some of you might be feeling overwhelmed by all you have to do this semester, from classes and assignments to work (for those with on-campus jobs) and exams. So, there is perhaps no better time than now to bring up the topic of self-care.
In this blog, I’ll explore various self-care practices you can implement to avoid burnout toward the end of the semester. Although I now work as a Diversity Counselor for international students at the Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC) here at The University of Texas at Austin, I’ve been where you are now. Both in college and graduate school as a former international student, I dealt with the effects of a lack of self-care. As such, I know you will find these insights helpful for your own self-care plans.
What is self-care, and who is it for?
I know some of you may be thinking: “I don’t have time for self-care,” or, “Self-care is for rich people,” or perhaps “I can’t afford facials and massages” … I am here to tell you that self-care is not just fancy dinners, facials, massages or expensive gifts. In the simplest terms, self-care means that you actively and intentionally take the time to do something to help improve your overall wellness.
For some, the words “mental health” evokes a lot of thoughts, some of which may be stigmatizing and reinforce certain stereotypes. However, mental health is not only what goes on in our minds; it encompasses the emotional, psychological, spiritual and social aspects of our lives. Similarly, self-care encompasses physical, psychological, emotional, religious or spiritual and academic or occupational domains. To be our best selves and function at the highest level, we need to learn how to take care of ourselves before it is too late.
It is not new information that international students encounter a variety of challenges and stressors, such as adapting to a new social environment, accepting new academic roles and navigating culture shock, as well as experiencing challenges in communication due to language proficiency, insecurities regarding finances or job opportunities, loss of established support, social isolation, alienation and homesickness (Altinyelken et al., 2020).
Learning how to manage and care for yourself while experiencing all those challenges can have a positive impact on your level of motivation, ability to concentrate, efficiency and level of energy.
Self-care can be a small act that can have a big impact on your day or even week. Read below for some ideas and suggestions on how you can make self-care a part of your daily practice!
- Get outside for a 20-minute walk. Just 20 minutes of physical activity a day can boost your mood and have a positive impact on your overall health.
- Make sleep your priority. Create a sleep schedule and stick to it. Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. And remember to get off your devices at least one hour before going to bed.
- Try a relaxing activity. This can be listening to your favorite music, baking cookies, meditating, praying, painting your nails, playing a video game, etc.
- Practice gratitude. Get into the everyday habit of writing down three things you are grateful for! This does not have to be anything big: it can be your favorite sweatshirt, coffee mug, and stickies that help you study — or anything else that you feel grateful for in the moment.
- Eat a piece of fresh fruit every day. I personally eat either a banana or an apple every day, but feel free to choose any fruit — or vegetable, if that is your preference.
- Stay connected. Sometimes we need a listening ear or an extra push; that’s why we have our friends and/or family. Give them a call and let them know what you need, like “Just listen to me while I vent about this super-hard class.”
Contact the CMHC for help
Lastly, do not forget that you can always reach out to counselors at the CMHC by phone (512) 471-3515, via the Crisis Line (512) 471-2255 for crisis situations, through MySSP (My Student Support Program) or the Thrive App!
Dr. Arna Erega, LPC