Mid-August brings the beginning of the end to summer, the twilight of the pool days, and, of course, the back-to-school season. Whether or not you are currently a student, this time of year can serve as an excellent reset - almost like a second New Year. While you may have plenty of goals and aspirations for the upcoming semester, don’t forget to prioritize self-care! It can be easy to let it fall to the wayside as other commitments pile up, but by creating time for self-care, you’ll maximize both your productivity and health. Here are a few of my favorite ways to incorporate self-care into the school year.
Aim to take one day off from homework per week.
At first glance, this sounds impossible, yet with a bit of planning, preparation, and self-motivation, it should be doable in most circumstances. Having one day -- whether that’s a full day or just your time after school or work -- can be a gamechanger in both recharging and allowing you a scheduled break. I can attest to the power of the “scheduled break:” when I know that I’ll have a block of time not dedicated to school, I find myself to be much more focused and productive when I am studying. When you know that there is an end in sight, the work at hand can be much less dreary.
While this tip is directly aimed at students, it can also apply to things like bringing work home or working on your side hustle. It can be easy to be so driven and hardworking that you forget you are allowed to take a break. If that’s you, then try picking a day each week to take off from whatever your version of “homework” is.
Commit to regular exercise.
We beat this drum so often, but that’s because of just how important consistent exercise is. Exercise has a variety of benefits ranging from a better mood to a healthier body. For extra benefits, try exercising outside to get some Vitamin D and nature time in. And, whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of believing that exercise needs to involve benching insane amounts of weight at the gym for hours a day or competing in triathlons. Instead, the main goal is to move your body for at least 30 minutes a day. This could look like a power walk, dancing to fun music, or practicing yoga. If you’re more motivated when working out with others, think about checking out some local workout classes such as Pilates, Crossfit, or Zumba. Many college campuses offer them for free and students get reduced rates in many gyms and fitness clubs. The takeaway? No matter how busy you are, make time to take care of your body by moving it each day.
Take time away from screens.
You may think that screen time warnings only apply for young children, but the truth is that staring at a screen for hours a day can be unhealthy for people of all ages. Whether you’re a student or working in a different role, chances are that the Covid-19 pandemic has forced you to use screens more frequently than in the past. In fact, during the pandemic, one study found that adults were using screens for up to 19 hours out of the 24 hour day. Wow!
If you’re wondering how much screen time is actually healthy, well, the answer varies. Experts recommend two hours or less of recreational screen time for adults. However, this doesn’t include time spent on required Zoom calls for work and crunching out those Excel spreadsheets. No matter what your total screen time count is, it’s important to make sure to create some time to unplug and step away from the screen. Even while working on a screen, it’s important to take frequent breaks. I like to follow the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. It can help reduce eye strain and remind you to keep an eye on your screen time as well. As for unplugging in general, do your best to set aside a few hours a day that you avoid screens totally. It can be quite easy to tell yourself that bingeing on Netflix or scrolling through Instagram is a form of self-care (and in moderation, it may be), but make sure to take care of yourself in ways that don’t involve screens too. For more information on reducing your screen time, check out this article that includes the study referenced above.
Way too many students, and people in general, believe that sleep is a privilege - a reward for getting everything done on their to-do list. On the contrary, sleep should be a non-negotiable, a prerequisite to a successful and productive day rather than an unlikely possibility during a busy week. If you don’t think that obtaining enough sleep is feasible, I challenge you to try it for a few days and see if you don’t feel better. You may not know how much you need it until you discover the difference in your mood, energy levels, and focusing power for yourself.
Of course, there are times when it’s important to stay up finishing that paper or preparing for the big presentation. As a college student, I am the first to agree that things do indeed come up and the need to stay up late arises. However, that’s exactly why it’s important to prioritize sleep in the first place: so that you’ll be ready when that unavoidable late-night does come along. When you’re resting up on the average weeknights, that one night you do stay up super late will be a singular event rather than the culmination of weeks of missed shut-eye. Sometimes, the best self-care habits are the most rewarding too; who doesn’t enjoy getting enough sleep?
Make time for fun.
Like most self-care tips, this sounds so easy, yet it can be one of the hardest. Making time for fun looks a little different for everybody, but the central principle is the same. Don’t let school so completely consume you that you forget who you are, what you enjoy doing for fun, and how to relax. Sure, it’s important to be diligent, but there is a line between working hard and being a workaholic. No matter how full your schedule is this semester, make sure to schedule some time for fun. Fun shouldn’t only be reserved for when you’ve finished everything that you need to do; instead, sprinkle it throughout your month! Like taking a weekly day or afternoon off from homework, having something to look forward to rather than an endless grind of work, work, and more work can help spur you on. Besides, this is your life! You need to enjoy it.
How can you practically schedule some fun into your busy semester? One way might be to join a club or group that brings you joy. Not a resume-booster or one that everyone else is doing - just something you genuinely enjoy. Perhaps you like playing chess - find a chess club! Or you love painting. Sign up for a class! Another idea is to plan a regular call or get-together with friends and family. I talk to my dad every Wednesday while taking a walk through my neighborhood. It’s not only been refreshingly consistent in a year when life has seemed anything but, it’s also been a good way to make Wednesdays a day to look forward to! Remember that fun doesn’t have to be extravagant or overly time-consuming. The trick is to incorporate it into your life seamlessly.
I know, I know. Most of the time, self-care bloggers are advocating for planning things way in advance, creating a solid routine, and being consistent. They argue that self-care should be planned so that it doesn’t get thrown by the wayside. These are good points, and I agree. However, I also firmly believe that these habits make room for spontaneity which adds so much adventure and spice to life. Part of taking good care of yourself this school year is allowing yourself the freedom to step out of your routine every so often. If you’ve planned sufficiently, you’re giving yourself the liberty to go on that last-minute ice cream run or hit the track meet to support a friend without losing your mind (and sleep) because you procrastinated and have 27049 things due by the end of the night. So yes, do your exercise, take your day off from homework, and prioritize sleep, but also be ready when life happens and your perfect plan unravels. That’s all part of having fun and being human. And the best self-care is strong mental health and having peace and joy in your heart, not a bunch of rules you need to follow. So here’s to the upcoming semester!