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How—and Why—to Practice Self-Care

College can be incredibly stressful, and Harvard’s culture of everyone pushing themselves to their limits all the time can put students in a mindset of overexertion and exhaustion. We often talk about self-care as specific tasks done after or during stressful situations as ways to recuperate. But it’s also important to make self-care a priority every day, not just when life is particularly stressful. (Because, let’s be honest, daily life at Harvard is usually pretty stressful.) While you’re juggling classes, extracurriculars, work, and everything else, remember to take time to care for yourself.

Decluttering your schedule might be one of the most effective forms of self-care. Make a list of all your commitments, why you’re doing them, and how long they take. Then try to place them all in a calendar, including time for meals, homework, travel, sleep, and leisure. You’ll probably notice that either they don’t all fit or you’re cutting corners somewhere to make them fit. Do yourself a favor next semester and try to cut some commitments to make your schedule more manageable.

But, I know schedule changes can be difficult. So, I’ve compiled some simpler tips for self-care. These are small changes that can be integrated into your daily schedule and will hopefully make your time here at Harvard a little easier. Many of them are obvious, but I’m constantly reminding myself to do them because it’s easy to forget when I’m swamped.

I regularly go to bed past 4 a.m. and have seen the sunrise countless times, but ideally, I’d like to go to bed by midnight and get nine hours a night. Setting a calendar alert on my phone around midnight to remind me to go to bed has helped me renormalize the idea of sleeping at a reasonable time instead of staying up as late as possible. But, if your weekday sleep schedule is ruined beyond repair, at least try to keep your weekends free to catch up on sleep.

Exercising can be a great de-stresser. If you don’t go to the gym, even small tasks like taking a stroll around your house or stretching in your room can help get your blood flowing. If and however you exercise, treat your body well because you love it, not because you feel pressured to look a certain way.

Remember to eat. If you truly can’t fit a meal into your schedule, at least pack snacks that you can take on the go, like muffins or fruit.

If hanging out with friends is relaxing for you, try to make time for that (even if you have to use When2meet!). This semester, I’ve set a goal to block out one hour each week to catch up with a friend I don’t usually see. Prioritize the quality of time spent, too. Even if you see the same people everyday, try to also have more intentional check-ins to find out how everyone’s really doing.

Time alone can also be important. There’s nothing wrong with planning chunks of time for just hanging out by yourself. If I’ve already decided to spend the night in and a friend invites me out, I’m working on being comfortable turning them down because I already have plans.

I like to study in the same few spots: the Law School, the ledge around Widener, and my bed. While Lamont works for some people, too many hopeless nights in the basement have soured the entire building for me, and I can’t study there anymore without feeling stressed out. I’ve talked to a few freshmen who study in Lamont and hate it, but they don’t know where else to go. If you haven’t yet found a study spot that’s productive and comfortable, ask around for recommendations or just wander through different buildings—you’ll probably stumble upon a quiet nook or study space.

When possible, try to leave at least 15 minutes between each scheduled activity in your day to give time for travel, time to recollect, etc. Even if you don’t feel like you need the time, it’s nice to know that you have it in case you want to take a quick break. This might also help you be more present during each part of your day, as you won’t be as worried about leaving each activity on time and rushing to the next thing.

Try to make your dorm as comfortable as possible, as that can be a positive space to come home to every day. Some people put up fairy lights or decorate their room to make it feel more personalized. A calming bedtime routine can help center you after a busy day and wind down your brain for bed. I have a cozy bathrobe that I throw on once I settle in for the evening, and then I watch Buzzfeed Tasty videos right before I sleep. Others might have a cup of tea or read for fun every night. Find something simple that works for you.

Overall, if there’s a small adjustment you can make to your life that will make you a bit happier, do it! And if you’re looking for external support around campus, check out Counseling and Mental Health Services, the Bureau of Study Counsel, and the peer counseling groups: Room 13, ECHO, Response, Contact, and Indigo.

Remember, you are more than your degree, more than your activities, and more than your schedule. First and foremost, you are a person, worthy of respect, care, and comfort, from others and yourself. Setting aside bits of time each day to care for yourself can help you be a more fulfilled, complete person.

Becina J. Ganther ’20, a Crimson editorial editor, is a History of Science concentrator in Leverett House.

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