What Does Self-Care Look Like at University?

Nearly five minutes into every discussion I’ve had with an adult about my post-secondary plans has contained the two following phrases: “University is the best time of your life!” and “University is the hardest time of your life.” The fact is, they’re both right. University life is definitely distinct in how it is a time of newfound independence, freedoms, hardships, and distractions. For many, the post-secondary period is a combination of new commitments, a lower disposable income, as well as more sources of stress; this combination may only be sustainable through the practice of self-care.

Conversations about self-care have moved into the mainstream, with the implementation of resources into public institutions. Use of self-care toolkits and mental health initiatives to create awareness regarding the benefits of self-care, as well as the potential dangers of a life without it, has become more common. Typically, the specific discussion regarding self-care for university students is one that involves the core practices of self-care: sleep, eat, exercise, and the always-vague “de-stress”. While this narrative has perfectly proper ways to self-care, it does not target the specific stressors of post-secondary student living.

The shift into university is one that requires a shift in what one’s self-care might look like. For some, a university is the first place where implementing such practices is necessary. Other students may be tasked with adjusting previous routines that fit into their pre-university lifestyles.

While I cannot give a list of universally-helpful self-care routines, I can share what factors have affected my own routine. From my personal experiences as a student, I found two issues to be the reasons why my previous self-care routine didn’t work for my university lifestyle: how proactive the routine was, and how sustainable it was. Let’s break this down.

Proactive

The main issue with my previous self-caring was that it was reactive rather than proactive. A year of university, all in all, is eight months of the year where individuals participate in academics, extracurriculars, social gatherings, and work. This doesn’t leave much room to do last-minute damage controlling in the face of inevitable stress.

Here are some pieces of advice to lead a more proactive self-care routine:

  1. Set up a support network earlier rather than later – hurdles occur when you least expect them, so don’t wait until the last second
  2. Try to figure out your triggers, which difficulties impact you hardest, and what your reactions are so to tailor resources to you
  3. Familiarize yourself with various institutional resources, their hours, how long they take to assist folks, and their associated costs (ex: McGill Mental Health, OSD, McGill Gym, etc.)

Sustainable:

Another issue I found with my previous self-care routine was that it was extremely rigorous. Meditating for an hour followed by an hour and a half at the gym every day became impossible when my schedule began to fill up with conferences, study groups, and volunteering commitments. Not only did my schedule solely consist of university-related events, but so did my social media and my time with friends.

Some ways to make your routine more sustainable are:

  1. Look at your schedule and do two things: cut out what you can (and what you want to!), and think about how to realistically fit your self-care in
  2. Take a breather from student and university politics
  3. Participate in activities that are not university-related, and are not on-campus – get out of that McGill Bubble!

I hope that incorporating these strategies makes your self-care routine fit into your university life – happy self-caring!

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