story | Brea Baker, Guest Contributor
photo | Serena Quay
It can be hard in a moment of great stress to prioritize self-care because competitive environments can make us feel almost irresponsible for taking time for ourselves. You’re coloring instead of applying for internships?? But there is literally nothing more important than your well-being. And in fact, top firms know that employees who take time for themselves are happier, and happier employees means a more innovative, higher quality of work.
Take, for example, Google. Their global offices often have awesome policies. No one is more than 100 feet away from food or cool in-house features like slides, fireman’s poles, and even aquariums! When my girlfriend, who works in consulting, was assigned a challenging project, the partner of their firm gave everyone in the office money to treat their families to a meal, the justification being that long hours take a toll on family life which takes a toll on work life.
It can be daunting to take the leap of self-care but your mind and body will thank you for it —as will everyone around you who wants you to be, first and foremost, happy and healthy! Here are some steps for getting started:
Step 1: Make note of what you can’t do without!
The first step is knowing yourself and under what conditions you start to become unhappy. This varies from person to person. For instance, I LOVE being busy so having a jammed schedule isn’t a sign for me—but being tired is. I absolutely cannot function with little sleep and I become very easily irritable. This has helped me to note what times of day I need to be more aware of my mood and energy levels. For example, all nighters are a no-go for me and I get more done during the afternoon. For others, this can be whether you’re hungry or thirsty, whether you haven’t gotten fresh air, whether you haven’t had time to yourself, whether you’re feeling too isolated, whether you haven’t worked out, etc.
Step 2: Know when to step away
Foresight and perspective are two skills that are incredibly hard to build but invaluable in the long run. Acknowledging when you’ve maxed out of mental, social, physical capacity is key to knowing when to take time for yourself! Building this skill starts with knowing your signs of exhaustion because this truly does look different for everyone. For me personally, this is when I feel myself going through the motions. I’m a very passionate, “all-in” type of person so when I feel myself moving through the day without thinking or excitement, I know I need to take a few steps back.
Step 3: Tell a friend
It’s easy to go off the grid without warning, especially if your “step back” is urgent. But this can be very worrying for those around you who care so deeply for you and your well-being. And chances are, they’ve noticed how stressed you’ve been lately too. So make sure that you let those around you know that you’ve been overwhelmed but that you’re taking time for yourself. This saves them a lot of worrying and you a lot of explaining. It also gives you more support for when you do decide to take a step back. Case in point, if my suite mate knows that I need some time for me they can let visitors know I’m looking to be alone. Or if your VR knows that you’ve been overwhelmed, they can help you work this out with professors.
Step 4: Be unapologetic
We often feel the need to apologize for or excuse moments of stepping back. But self-care is self-preservation and there’s nothing more important than that. If you need to step back from anything, whether it be an extracurricular or hanging out, don’t apologize. Try saying thank you instead. For example, instead of saying, “sorry I couldn’t make it the past few weeks”; say “thank you for being understanding, I’m glad to be back!” It’s a small thing, but when you start changing the way you speak about self-care, you’ll change the way you prioritize yourself.
Step 5: Take the step back
In the spirit of being cyclical, this step also comes from knowing yourself. Knowing what you can’t do without can help you identify the nature of your step back. If you can’t go without exercise and an overwhelming schedule has you feeling stressed, a nice hike or run can be just what you need. If sleep is what you can’t do without, cutting back on your extracurricular involvement to get more sleep in might do the trick! Or maybe you’re like me and have been going through the motions. Regular adult coloring and meditation could help you work clear the full inbox in your mind and get back to normal. Whatever it is that recharges your battery, do it and prioritize it!
Look at self-care as an investment in yourself. You can overload physically, socially, emotionally for the sake of whatever it is you deem more important in the moment, but you’ll be doing this at the expense of the quality of this thing and your own sanity. The balance scales are in your favor. Take time for yourself!