Health Corner: Self-Care is not Selfish

October 3, 2021

Prioritizing personal wellness may seem selfish. However, the truth is that self-care is critical to overall health and wellness. Especially for college students, the importance of self-care may be under-emphasized.

According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), college students experience a number of stressors beginning with the admission process itself. For many students, college is their first time away from their home and family.

In addition to being in a new environment, facing academic demands, and dealing with the financial burden of tuition and boarding, college students also face a social change. Social stressors may include making new friends, starting a new job, and managing personal time without supervision.

While schoolwork is part of the challenge of college, surprisingly, academics are not the most pressing issue. The AIS found that most students only spend an average of 2.76 hours per day on school-related activities suggesting that the remaining time is spent on social and leisure activities. A limited focus on schoolwork ultimately creates more stress for students as there is an increased potential for falling behind academically.

The combination of stressors brought on by attending college increases the risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Additionally, dealing with stress can also cause multiple physical and behavioral health issues that overtime can have negative implications on the body.

Although most universities offer free counseling services to students, self-care has become a popular trend used by many students to alleviate stress.

The American Mental Wellness Association defines self-care as an individualistic approach to enhancing wellness, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health. Self-care is individualistic, meaning one specific exercise may not work for everyone, and some individuals may utilize a combination of self-care techniques.

Seven self-care strategies that can help improve overall health and wellness, including:

  • Sensory exercises target the five senses (sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste) and may include activities such as listening to music, getting a massage, or enjoying aromatherapy.
  • Pleasure exercises encompass activities that bring individuals enjoyment, such as gardening, baking, crafting, or watching television.
  • Mental/mastery exercises incorporate exercises that challenge the brain, such as completing a puzzle, trying a new activity, or playing a game.
  • Spiritual practices emphasize holistic nature and can include meditating or praying.
  • Emotional activities promote healthy coping with emotional stress and may include laughing, crying, and journaling daily accomplishments.
  • Physical exercises enhance self-care and help relieve stress, including various activities such as doing yoga, running, biking, and walking.
  • Social interactions allow for connecting with others and building meaningful relationships and may include activities such as volunteering, participating in university clubs, and going out to eat with a friend.

Self-care has become a popular term talked about in the media, on college campuses, and in various careers within the professional workforce. However, barriers to self-care that continue to exist include lack of knowledge on self-care, failure to prioritize self-care, and time available to participate in self-care exercises. Strategies for overcoming barriers to promoting self-care include education about the importance of self-care, seeking social support, and parental contributions to alleviate stress brought on by college.

Psychological health is a critical aspect of overall health. According to the AIS, most mental health issues emerge during young adulthood. College students are exposed to multiple stressors. Therefore, issues of stress management are a critical concern. Increased awareness and promotion of self-care should be a priority among universities to help students achieve healthy, balanced lifestyles.

Students should be encouraged to participate in self-care activities to cope with stress and maintain overall health. Challenge yourself, take 15-30 minutes a day to complete a self-care exercise, do this for a month and then reflect on your mental and physical health. You may be surprised how helpful only taking a small portion of your day to focus on self-care will be for your overall health.

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