I made a commitment to myself at the start of 2019 to rediscover self-care. I use the word "rediscover" because I determined that the first step was acknowledging that self-care will mean different things to me at different points in my life. My needs as a first-year college student coping with the transition to college were very different than my needs now as a second-semester sophomore; I carry new leadership roles and a different set of responsibilities. I realized that finding the best methods of practicing self-care was not a linear journey with a clear endpoint, but rather a life-long process of adjusting your strategies to allow your perception of self-care to evolve.

The most basic definition of self-care is “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.” This idea of taking action can sound a bit intimidating in the fast-paced society we live in. As college students juggling a heavy workload, jobs, extracurricular activities, social lives, etc., we are inclined to feel guilty for setting aside this time to practice self-care. However, despite what we are lead to believe, the reality is that self-care is not just for people with hours of spare time or money to spend on a leisurely activity. 

When I first started to consciously reflect earlier this year on the ways I practiced self-care, I asked many of my friends what they did to practice self-care for themselves. Some of the responses I got included recommendations for exfoliating face scrubs to try, new drinks to treat myself at Starbucks to and an invitation to join my friend at a yoga class. While I enjoyed learning about what kinds of products or activities worked for others, I found that none of these things satisfied me. It wasn’t until a friend encouraged me to start a “bullet journal” that I began to truly embark on my journey of rediscovering what self-care really meant for me. 

I didn’t realize it until after about a week of using my bullet journal that my practice of self-care had naturally changed. I was using my bullet journal to track tasks I needed to complete for each day, organized my school, work and other commitments, as well as track the time I would need to spend on them. On one page I also created a sleep log where I could visually track the hours of sleep I was getting each night for that particular week. I also designated pages to goals organized by category: personal, school, career-related, etc. At the end of my first week regularly using my bullet journal, I rediscovered what was at the heart of my self-care philosophy: accountability. Tracking my tasks, goals and hours of sleep forced me to hold myself accountable not only to my commitments but to physically taking care of my body. I was paying closer attention to how I spent my time, and what hour of the night I went to bed. Because of this, I was motivated to improve my lifestyle to reflect my self-care needs. I was surprised when I realized that I was less stressed as a result of my self-reflection— when I hadn’t taken any extra time to indulge in any of the “typical” self-care activities or products. 

While I enjoy face masks, getting manicures, relaxing activities and buying myself sweets, I realized that they sometimes only serve as a temporary relief. If I have an exam the next day and I’m feeling stressed, then it can help relax me to set aside time to read something I enjoy before bed or to put on a face mask, but solely buying a self-care product or doing an activity is only going to leave me disappointed when I find that my long-term struggle with anxiety and stress is still there. So in addition to the things I can buy and activities I can do to take care of myself, I have committed to doing the difficult self-work that requires constant reflection and accountability.

For those of you who may still sometimes find yourselves feeling guilty for spending time and energy on self-care, I will quote the wise words of Audre Lorde, “I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent, caring for myself is an act of survival.” Know that as an act of survival, you deserve to allow yourself the means to thrive both physically and mentally. Be patient with yourself as it may take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you in practicing self-care. It will also take some not-so-easy introspection to develop a self-care mindset that is appropriate for you. Whether it be learning how to say “no,” delegating tasks, tracking your sleep or disconnecting from social media, each person should strive to hone their own personal self-care toolkit that can be used to shape their mindset. 

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