Semester self-care and survival tips
University life can be hectic. Without a doubt, it’s a period of life wherein everything feels like a bit of a whirlwind and you have to work harder at keeping a good routine among all of your assignments, trips, social nights and regular day-to-day activities. You meet new people, you get introduced to new ideas, you may even discover a new hobby or love of something that leads you on a whole new pathway. Exam periods are always notoriously stressful because your degree often depends on their results, so there’s no doubt that after combining all of the above factors with the pressure of wondering if you’re on the right track mentally and physically, you’ll need to find a way to actually take care of yourself.
Self-care actually sadly tends to weigh in at last place in terms of priorities. With our days being busy, often we feel a little guilty if we take time out for ourselves. But we need to! It doesn’t mean you have to take off on a two-week holiday and detach yourself from social media (though, if you have the means, why not?!). You can take simple measures to ensure your mental wellbeing is cared for, your stress levels aren’t through the roof, and you are generally feeling good about your life circumstances. Here are some self-care tips and self-care activities for students!
Tip #1 - Get some fresh air
This sounds like the most obvious of tricks, but the benefits of getting yourself some fresh air are underestimated. No matter the weather, throughout the day, find time to step outside and breathe in the air, deeply. Replenish all of your senses to go back into whatever you were doing (or are about to do) with a clear head. Around the block, up and down your stairs, across the beach, or out in the bush, or even just outside the university library or grounds, are all examples of places you could go for a walk. Walking improves circulation, wakes you up, and helps you refocus your energy. Whenever you feel you have a mental block or need to process something, walking is super helpful. Go with friends and use the opportunity to discuss lighthearted things that lift your mood.
Tip #2 - Drink water
Again, it sounds so straightforward, but many of us forget to drink water throughout the day. Our bodies (especially our brain) need to be hydrated to function at full capacity, so if you’re not drinking a minimum of around 2.5 litres per day, you’re automatically restricting your potential to both perform and relax effectively. Head to your AppStore to discover water apps (such as Aloe Bud, Drink Water Reminder, and Aqualert), get yourself a 3L drink bottle and keep it near you all the time, or set little reminders on your phone to keep your head in the game if you’re not naturally inclined to pour yourself a glass of water.
Tip #3 - Exercise
Other forms of exercise include anything from stretching to swimming to team games, joining a gym (there are classes or you can work out by yourself!), or team sports. Exercise is a fantastic way to blow off steam, release built-up tension find some time for yourself away from study and work, specifically to improve your physical and mental health. Exercise releases endorphins which make you happier and give you a mental boost.
Tip #4 - Get a wall planner
If life is a bit ‘all over the show’ and you feel the need to declutter your brain so that the next few months don’t seem so overwhelming, get yourself a wall planner. Diaries are great but you have to open them and flick to the right date to know what’s happening. Wall planners give you one big space to write everything down, and you can then reassess whether all of your activities and commitments are actually benefitting your overall goals. You’ll also get a clearer picture of deadlines and course-related commitments.
Tip #5 - Say no!
We are all guilty of overbooking ourselves and ending up going to three commitments in one evening. Sometimes it’s hard to resist going to every party and day out, but self-care involves actually saying ‘no’ to things every now and then. FOMO (fear of missing out) is definitely a thing, but it doesn’t have to have as much power over you. For each event, consider whether you’re going because you genuinely want to be there, or if you’re just going because everyone else is, or you want to impress someone. After a while, as you declutter your calendar, you’ll feel better about how you are spending your time.
Of course, spending time with family and friends is very important, and we don’t want to hide away in a bubble away from those we love and who love us. But it’s more important to find a healthy balance that allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds. A balance will help you appreciate the time you do spend with others, even more.
Tip #6 - Plan regular breaks
If you’re an active person who remains active even when relaxing, remember to take breaks - which means doing sweeeeeeet nothing! Make yourself sit down, breathe in and out, and ‘take five’ between the things you are doing. If you like to fill your time with distractions and/or entertainment, why not grab a coffee, catch up on your fave Netflix series, or scroll through your newsfeed. Make a phone call home or listen to some tunes to get you pumped up for the rest of the day.
Tip #7 - Journal
Don’t underestimate the power of journaling. All year round it’s easy to lose sight of how far we have come, what we have achieved or what we have been through to get to where we are. It can be hard to get to sleep or fully relax if our brains are full of too many thoughts. Journaling is like a huge ‘brain dump’ and can help you gain clarity on a lot of aspects of your life.
Tip #8 - Practice setting (realistic) goals
We tend to let ourselves get so caught up in other people’s lives that we forget to take care of our own goals and dreams. Take time out to physically write down your own goals, and then you’ll be able to see if the life you are living is aligning with where you want to go. You’ll instantly feel better and more taken care of once you put your goals into perspective.
This might sound like a complicated task (especially if you don’t know what your goals are), but all you need to do is write down things you enjoy doing and hope to continue or start doing in the future. Once that’s all on paper, circle the things that stand out to you as ‘most important’ and ‘least important’. Visually seeing what you want to achieve can really help focus your brain, and suddenly you’ll feel more able to figure out what else you need to do in order to get to where you want to be.
Tip #9 - Reduce tech time
Technology practically dominates most of our lives these days, and going through university often means you spend more time on your devices than at any other stage of life. Essays, exam prep, group work, research, online meetings and webinars, skyping home … the list goes on. It’s crucial that you find time to put your devices out of reach and find non-digital things to do (such as exercising, seeing friends or going out for lunch). You’ll start to feel increasingly relaxed when you stop waiting for notifications and phone calls if your devices are far away from you. Self-discipline is needed here. Why not switch your ‘do not disturb’ mode on in order to help you stick to your efforts. You’ll be far less inclined to look at your phone if you don’t hear it!
To help you out, iPhones have the ‘Screen Time’ feature to track how much time you’re spending scrolling through your phone or iPad. It’ll probably be good for you to see just how many hours you’ve spent in front of your devices. The Android equivalent is called Digital Wellbeing - so the clue is in the name! Some apps available to both Apple and Android even reward you for not using your phone for a certain amount of time (The Flora App & The Forest App, for example) - so, even the tech giants understand the need for you to detach yourself from their products.
Tip #10 - Sleep more
No-brainer, right? You’ve probably done an all-nighter before and downed 4 coffees to get you through the next day. (If you haven’t done that yet, good on you!) It’s best you look at how much sleep you’re getting in the week in comparison to your usual mood and general feelings. If you’re feeling extra stressed or sleepy, you know what to do. These days (as much as it’s good to switch off your devices every now and then) technology can assist you with establishing healthy routines. Take advantage of things such as Apple/smartwatches, fitbits, and applications within your phone or watch which can help track your rest time over the week.
Self-help student care is really important, as you will have hopefully understood, or will come to understand throughout your university life. As mentioned, you don’t need to do anything drastic to be able to say you’re taking care of yourself. Earlier nights, more water, simple exercise and reducing your commitments are great ways to start looking out for number one!
Written by Ellie Bambury