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One Student's Self-care Story & Strategy

February 12, 2019

 

 

The thing is, everyone has something that they are struggling with to some extent. I’d like to share with you mine.

 

I’m in my final year of university, and the thought of leaving something that I am comfortable in has been such a daunting idea to me. It’s funny, when I think back to everything that brought me here. I struggle with a knot in my stomach that makes me feel like I have not done enough. I have the tendency to want to do so many things at one time, but even after all of it, sometimes I feel like I lose my purpose in why I am doing these things in the first place.

 

At the start of September, I was taking on a full five course load, working two contract positions, and had zero days off. I thought I could handle it at the beginning, by organizing and planning my time strategically. I quickly found out that not having a full day off to myself took a huge toll not only physically, but mentally as well. I did not have time to unwind and process the events of the week. I felt myself burning out, but I couldn't stop. I’d fall behind and the repercussions of that overwhelmed me more than knowing in my head that taking on so much could not be sustainable.

 

There were days where I would be so tired that I would forget how I got to standing at the bus stop. I would listen to podcasts on my transit ride, but everything would sound like noise, so I would turn it off. I was so focused on studying that I skipped meals and forgot to eat. I dreaded going to work, because I still was not comfortable with all of the processes and structure when I felt like I should be by now. I missed my friends, and would reschedule with them because of how overwhelmed I felt. I was disappointed in myself and knew I needed a change.

 

After trying (and failing) to change my availability for one of my positions, I pondered the idea of quitting. I was only month into the position, and the weight of having to go through the process of being a new employee coupled with the piling up of projects, assignments and exams pushed me to the edge. I did not have one day to take care of myself. I had constructed to-do lists, put myself on a tight schedule, scheduled quick study breaks and times to meal prep for my week. What I had not factored in was my own health. Of course, this resulted in being sick for a week. Everything I was afraid of happening happened. To top it all off, my sister was going through health issues and it was difficult to juggle all of this at once. During my one week of of being sick, I took time to recharge and rest. I read a book. I put up my Christmas tree because the Christmas lights made me feel happy (yes, I am one of those people).

 

Finally I did it.

 

Although I knew there were so many things in my schedule that I could not change, I told myself it’s okay to ask for help. I talked to my Team Lead at my job and requested that we talk about my schedule. After explaining my side of the story, he was very empathetic and offered to help me start a conversation with the scheduling team at the company.

 

I had thought that making time for myself was difficult, but I realized that there were some aspects of my life I could not simply ignore. For starters, I found that seeing my friends, even if it was only for a little while, made all the difference. Laughing and talking about nothing and everything helped put me at ease, and I didn’t think about all the work I had to do. I wanted to practice mindfulness, so I downloaded a meditation app to help me go to sleep at night. During transit rides in the morning, I turned my music and podcasts off so I could have some time to myself during my walk to the train station--I’d have time to listen to them on my transit ride home. During my breaks from studying, I would take a walk to the park near my house and swing on the swings. For me, I find it important to pause and ask myself, “Am I okay?”

Give Yourself a Break

 

Finding pockets of time in a busy schedule is difficult, but if your day is already structured, allot time for yourself. Especially during the exam season (it seems to always be exam season), remember to take short breaks. This could look like a 15 minute walk outside, an hour at the gym, a 20 minute nap, or a quick smoothie fix in the kitchen. Scheduling breaks in my studying to re-energize myself has made all the difference. I find that taking a quick break away from all the content or problems I truck into my brain helps me focus more when I come back to it with a new perspective to answer the question or solve the problem.

Practice Mindfulness

 

In a world where everything is moving so quickly, it’s easy to get caught up in it all. For me, taking the time to turn everything off and to just be present has helped me focus on where I am in the here and now and to not worry about situations at work and school that have not even happened yet. The dictionary defines mindfulness as, “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

 

Listen to what your body is telling you. A practice that I learned from a yoga teacher is to do a scan of your body at the end of the day. Start from the crown of your head, and notice the thoughts you are having. Imagine them swirling all the way down, through your body, to the tip of your big toe. Acknowledge them, and then let them go.

 

These tips have helped me during my busy schedule. Of course, there are many other resources, but I encourage you to try to filter out the noise when you find a moment alone and ask yourself how you are doing. You may be surprised at how much your body needs you to listen to it.