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How to practice self-care on a student schedule

Let’s be honest. We’ve all neglected a paper or assignment in the name of “self-care.” Though seemingly helpful at the moment, protecting our mental health can quickly spiral into bad grades, more stress and a larger necessity for the cycle of self-care to start again. 

While self-care is important, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to go about it. As tempting as ignoring schoolwork, isolating yourself and eating the pain away is, it can do more harm than good. Deceivingly, these concepts of self-care might appear to be the answer, but they ultimately aren’t going to permanently (or effectively) manage stress in the future, near or far. 

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Instead, I have compiled a list of three small self-care habits that can support you mentally, physically and socially while still leaving time for demanding classes. Whether you’re struggling or not, these strategies can be built into any schedule, used proactively or reactively. 

1. Get enough sleep

Though it seems obvious, sleep is a major component of mental health. A study from Harvard University has found that sleep deprivation can increase the risk for mental illness, as well as lead to impaired thinking and poor emotional regulation when a good sleep cycle is disrupted.

girl sleeping
Sleep is one of the most overlooked yet important ways you can take care of yourself. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep to function at your fullest and seize the day! (Photo illustration by Addie Kuettner | The Collegian)

The University Health Center from the University of Georgia has found that students that sleep less tend to have a lower GPA, more reported physical illnesses and higher stress. That being said, they recommend at least seven to eight hours of solid sleep every night.

To better encourage this, set a strict sleep schedule; go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Only use your bed for sleeping and sexual activity, rather than reading or doing homework. In time, your brain will begin to associate the bedroom with sleep, making it easier to fall asleep faster.

Lastly, doing aerobic exercise at some point in the day will help to tire out your body, making feelings of sleepiness arise sooner and helping with more restful sleep. 

2. Integrate the things you enjoy throughout your day and maintain a schedule

While it’s important to get work done, it’s also important to give yourself time to decompress within your day — not just at the end of it. A great way to do this is by scheduling. For each assignment, plan out how long it’ll take in 30 minute intervals, overestimating the time mildly.

student studying
Woman studies for an exam. (Photo Illustration by Matt Tackett | The Collegian)

For example, a history paper could take three hours and a math assignment only 30 minutes. Set a timer for yourself, and only work in those chunks. If you finish the assignment early and still have time left on your timer, congratulations! Use the remaining time to do as you like — scroll social media, call home or go to lunch.

Alternatively, you can “save” that time as a reward for later and spend it all at once for a night out. If scheduling isn’t for you and this feels too regimented, there are other options too. Make it a habit to plan something you look forward to each day. Make time for something “fun” or not school related in your daily life. 

3. Eat healthy

This is another tip that’s often overstated — however, its significance cannot be denied. A recent study in the Journal of Cellular Physiology has found that many of the brain’s neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine, are partially synthesized in the gut.

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Man grabbing apple from produce section.
Man grabs an apple from the grocery store fresh produce section. (Photo illustration by Addie Kuettner | The Collegian)

It’s easy to overeat or eat unhealthy things, as they trigger the body’s natural joy responses. However, the average adult should aim for about 2,000-2,500 calories per day, all spread out throughout the day. This is intended to keep individuals within a healthy weight range, improving physical health, body image and long-term mental health. Despite being difficult short term, remember that your body will thank you for it later. 

At the end of the day, self-care should be just as valued as your life responsibilities. When we begin taking care of ourselves internally, there are enormous positive external outcomes. Don’t wait to be kind to yourself, but also make sure to maintain a beneficial balance. You know yourself best.

Autumn Sorrentino can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @ItsNotTarantino. 

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