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For years, I pushed myself to the absolute limit. My focus wasn’t on my wellness or happiness, but on what I needed to do to get ahead. It was how I felt good about myself. But it was also how, on a gray October day last year, I ended up crying my eyes out in the dining hall and deciding to take a semester off.
In that time away, I made time for me. I did what the things that fed and nourished my body and soul. I realized that if I had listened more to my own needs at school, I would have been happier, healthier, and more successful than I had been.
In that “click” moment, I saw that my focus had been wrong all along. Life isn’t just about the things you do. It’s also about the person you are. And that person needs love and care not just from her friends and family, but also from herself.
That’s why I’m so passionate about self-care. Self-care is exactly what it sounds like; taking care of yourself to make sure that you stay a happy, healthy, and balanced person. But for many of us, that's easier said than done. Here are seven ways I've learned to self-care.
I don't know about you, but for me, college is often a time of deprivation. I'm working, I'm studying, I'm waking up early – there's little time to indulge and relax. If this sounds like you, a great way to practice self-care is to indulge; or, as Tom and Donna say on Parks and Recreation, “Treat yo'self!” I'm not talking about fine leather goods; on a college student's budget, just a cookie or a cup of coffee from your favorite café will do.
Unplug for a few hours
I get about 30 emails a day at my college. While some of them need my immediate attention, most of them don't. Likewise, while social media can be a fun and fulfilling distraction, it can also be too much of a distraction, without contributing much to my life. For that reason, I like to spend some time every day “unplugged” – away from my phone, away from my laptop, just spending some time with friends or reading a book. If that sounds crazy to you, give it a try for just an hour. If it sounds totally normal, then you're doing something right!
People thinking I'm joking when I say this, but I'm totally serious: sleep is my number-one priority. I think, focus, and live better when I'm well-rested. When I wake up too early or go to bed too late, I feel like I'm walking through jello, and everything is three times harder to do.
For that reason, I prioritize sleep. There is no need to stay up until 3 AM every night, only to wake up at 8 again for class. Your health is incredibly important, and it's not something to sacrifice for a grade or a great party. Staying up sometimes is fine, but make it a habit to get the right amount of sleep for you.
Spend time outside
There's something nature does that nothing else quite can. Whether you're in a slump or you're feeling great, spending time outside can help you clear your mind, focus on the positives, and return to your normal life feeling calmer and more focused (it does for me, anyway). Try to spend a little time outside everyday, connecting with nature or, if you're in the city, just connecting to the outside world. There is a universe outside of your campus, and it exists to be explored!
Be with loved ones
It's cliché, but there are few people or things that can make me feel as good, as quickly, as the people I love. Whether they be friends, family, or your significant other, spend some time with the people you care about. They may help you feel a little better and forget your worries for a little while. If they don't, try to branch out and find people who do make you feel good. You deserve to be surrounded by people who make you happy.
Spend some time by yourself
Everyone is different, and I personally need both time with people and time alone in order to feel balanced. Spending time alone – reading a book, taking a long shower, or doing the things that make you feel like yourself – is a great way to practice self-care, too. Sometimes we need to shut out the world in order to regain some balance in our own lives. That's not selfish – that's an investment in yourself.
Community is a major part of my life. Family, friends, and my college gang are probably the major way I find happiness and laughter in my day-to-day. Online communities have also totally changed my world and the way I interact with others. The support and true friendship you can find online is amazing!
These are just some of the ways that I practice self-care during the college year.