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7 ways to practice self-care and balance the effects of different stressors

Woman holding a soccer ball and smiling standing in a neighborhood.

Self-care is not treating yourself to a double espresso on Friday mornings. It’s also not splurging on 500-thread-count sheets or rewarding yourself with a day at the spa. Sure, pampering yourself isn’t a bad thing (as long as you can afford it), but it’s not true self-care.

Licensed psychologist Christine Meinecke, PhD, defines self-care as “choosing behaviors that balance the effects of emotional and physical stressors.” Self-care is a key aspect of overall stress-reduction and wellness — and it requires discipline and perseverance. Fortunately, self-care is something we can practice and learn.

So what does self-care look like? Dr. Meinecke encourages people to actively combat the stress in their lives by engaging in the following activities:

1. Exercise

Start slow; be consistent; set reasonable goals; use the buddy system to stay motivated; and, above all, don’t be too hard on yourself.

2. Eat healthy foods

Stay away from processed foods that are high in sugar (they actually tap your energy); “eat a rainbow” of fruits and vegetables every day; and stay hydrated.

3. Get enough (good quality) sleep

Set and stick to a consistent bedtime and routine; avoid screen time in bed (it actually disrupts your ability to get quality sleep); and aim to get between seven and eight hours of quality sleep each night.

4. Practice relaxation techniques (think yoga or meditation)

Practice steady breathing; stretch before bed; keep a notebook by your bed to jot down any nagging tasks that pop into your mind; keep your phone in another room.

5. Abstain from substance abuse

Be mindful of everything you put in your body; keep tabs on bad habits that may be forming, especially if you’re under increased stress; and find alternatives (like tea instead of coffee or taking a walk instead of having a beer to wind down at the end of the day).

6. Pursue creative outlets

Try adult coloring; sign up for a one-day cooking class with friends; or just journal for a few minutes each day for that valuable creative release.

7. Engage in therapy

Treat your mind and body by trying massage or aromatherapy therapy, or by scheduling a session to talk with a psychotherapist. Intentionally setting aside time for reflection is always a positive thing.

Being a busy working student is demanding. By making self-care a priority, you’re not only combating the stressors that creep into your life, you’re also making yourself a healthier human being — and that may be the smartest thing you can do as you pursue your professional goals and personal dreams.

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