Campus Life 101: Let’s Talk about Self Care

While “self-care” has a reputation for indulgence, the practice is actually about simple activities that nurture overall health.

December 2, 2019

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(William Atkins/GW Today)

By Briahnna Brown

Self-care is much more than candles and bubble baths.

While these things can be helpful for some, it is not something that will help everyone meet their needs, which is why it is important for everyone to develop their own personalized self-care routine.

While George Washington University students balance a myriad of responsibilities, and as the semester wraps up and finals commence, it is critical to incorporate self-care into their schedules.

In the spirit of self-care, the Residential Education team this week will be helping students focus on their own self-care by providing access to tools and information for students to use to build their own personalized self-care kit. Area Coordinators will be distributing information in the coming days through activities customized to each hall.

To help students understand more about why self-care is important and how GW students can get started on their self-care journey, Chris Davis, assistant director of clinical services at the Colonial Health Center, offers some helpful tools and tips:

What is self-care?

The social, emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual aspects of our lives, Mr. Davis said.

It is also a necessity because everyone is responsible for their own well-being, he said, and self-care can be empowering by purposefully taking control over this personal responsibility. Everyone benefits from practicing self-care, because individual wellness positively impacts friends, family, community and anyone else around us, Mr. Davis said.

Intentionally practicing self-care can also help with mitigating the risk of physical or emotional adversity. He compared it to routine maintenance for a car.

“Your car needs fuel, oil, fluids, air in the tires, etc.,” Mr. Davis said. “Neglecting the routine needs of your car will eventually result in the car breaking down, and this is more problematic, inconvenient and time consuming than if you had attended to routine maintenance.”

How can everyone practice self-care?

Self-care will look different from person to person because everyone has different ways of meeting their own needs, but it does not need to be an expensive over-indulgence.

It starts with taking care of basic needs, such as personal hygiene and grooming as well as eating food and drinking water regularly. Nutrition, exercise and rest are other great starting points for physical self-care, Mr. Davis said, and being on GW’s campus provides numerous opportunities for students to start engaging in self-care. It’s also critical that students find self-care activities that are sustainable for their lifestyle.

Trial and error is OK here, Mr. Davis said, because it is much more important to find what activities work best for you rather than following a prescriptive guide to self-care that you might not relate to, he said. It is also necessary to take care of all the aspects of ourselves, not just some.

For social and emotional self-care, for example, students can talk through a problem with a friend or take a moment away from studying to connect with their peers. Intellectual self-care can be exploring whatever interests students may have, such as going to a museum to learn something new, and spiritual self-care can be through religious practices or general mindfulness and moments of reflection.

With a busy schedule, some aspects of self-care may come more easily than others, but it needs to be an intentional part of everyone’s routine, Mr. Davis said. Over-extending yourself is not virtuous or a badge of honor, he said. Being tired and burned out from taking on too many outside responsibilities can lead to students neglecting self-care when it should be a part of their daily routine.

“Interpreting self-care as selfish or indulgent may result in self-care not being prioritized,” Mr. Davis said. “However, understanding self-care through the lens of personal responsibility may allow for more prioritization.”

What other ways can the GW community take care of their mental health?

For many people, an intentional self-care routine is enough to maintain good mental health, Mr. Davis said, but this may not be the case for everyone. A good proxy measurement for mental health is daily functioning, he said, since mental health disorders by definition impact an individual’s daily functioning and quality of life. Any deviations in that functioning can often indicate a need to pay attention to what area of well-being may be neglected.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at GW’s health centers offer a number of services for students who need help in developing and maintaining good mental health habits. Therapy, while a helpful tool for many, is not always a necessity. CAPS offers workshops throughout the year on self-care topics such as improving sleep hygiene and learning mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Students can also look at the Self Help Library as another resource for support.