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Self Care QUEST

Self-care is about making excuses
I should be able to do it all
I don’t have the time or money to practice self-care
Being the best means making sacrifices
If I take a break, then I may as well give up
Myths about self-care

Myth: Self-care is anything that makes you feel better

Reality: Self-care is about supporting health and wellbeing and so anything that we do to be caring to ourselves shouldn’t hurt us or anyone else.

Myth: Self-care is being selfish

Reality: When we don’t take care of ourselves our mental, physical and emotional ability takes a hit and so looking after our own wellbeing and mental state mean that we are actually looking after others as we are less likely to be frustrated, needy and cranky.

WHAT IS SELF-CARE?

Self-care is the practice of undertaking an activity to nourish our mental, emotional and physical health. However it is sometimes not well understood and sometimes we experience guilt about taking time for ourselves. Sometimes self-care is doing what you need to do with a touch more consideration for you! We all have things to do but sometimes the small things really count.

How do you practice self-care?

These activities should give you a break from uni work, and leave you feeling more refreshed and relaxed. See here for a list of self-care activities. In addition to scheduling fun activities, self-care also involves meeting our basic needs on a regular basis. For example, ensuring that we get enough sleep, and eating a balanced diet. Assess your current self-care strategies here to see if there are any areas you may need to dedicate more time to over the coming semester.

Video: People Share Their Self-Care Routines (3 minutes)

If you want to practice some self-care think about these small steps you could take;

  • How about a coffee in the sun?
  • Or a cool ice tea?
  • A drive to the beach and sitting looking at the rolling ocean?
  • New sheets on your bed?
  • Some hot buttered toast?
  • How about a warm shower?
  • Or a bath, with some essential oils or a book or music?
  • Could you go for a walk? Even if it is wet, don’t be scared, you won’t melt! Just pop on some boots and a raincoat. Find a puddle!
  • Could you try taking a break from social technology?
  • How about you read a book or a magazine?
  • Have you spent time with someone who makes you laugh or inspires you?
  • Could you watch an episode of your favourite TV show

Why practice self-care?

Often, we can get into a thinking trap that spending time on ourselves is a “waste of time”, when we have so many other things on our to-do list. However, while it can seem counterproductive to take breaks from assessments to do something for yourself, these breaks actually increase your productivity and help maintain productivity and well-being through the entirety of your degree. If we don’t make time for regular self-care, then we may begin to experience symptoms of burnout.

When we are stressed and anxious we often feel this in our body and this limits how well we can cope in the situation. Sometimes there may be hours, days or weeks when getting through the day feels hard, this is normal. But what is so very important in those times is knowing how take care of yourself and having some ideas that you can put into practice.

What is self-compassion?

Self-care is different from self-compassion but they are related in that we may have some negative or self-critical thoughts about taking care of ourselves.

At these times it can be helpful to check in with your expectations. Are you expecting too much from yourself given all the things you have happening right now? I encourage you to look at yourself with a gentler eye, let go of any ideas you have about being ‘good enough’ and instead ask what is reasonable?

Often our inner thoughts and may become critical of ourselves and how we are coping. We often set high standards and hold ourselves accountable for not managing better or feeling like we should not be stressed.

Self-compassion is showing compassion to yourself in the same way that you can show compassion towards another person. If you notice that your self-talk is critical it can help to think about what you would say to someone you cared about if they said these things? Or what would you say to someone who said these things to a child?

Sometimes we feel that being hard on ourselves or critical of ourselves is what drives us and keeps us achieving our goals. However harsh self-criticism is often an unhelpful and misguided attempt to improve our performance. It can activate the ‘threat’ pathway in our brains leading to anxiety, low mood and burnout.

Video: Self-Compassion (4 minutes)

How do you practice self-compassion?

There are a few different ways we can work on eliminating the extra stress of self-critical talk and help reduce our chances of burnout. You may want to try working on your own versions of some of these ideas.

  • I have a lot going on right now but I am doing the best I can
  • I may not have done as well as others in the last assessment but I still handed it in and got some useful feedback
  • I am trying something new and it’s OK if I don’t get it right the first time
  • It makes sense that I feel overwhelmed, I have been sick/broken up with my boyfriend/just had a fight with my Dad
  • I have managed these things in the past and am confident that I can get this done with a bit more time

To learn how to hold yourself accountable with kindness, check out the free workbook from Centre for Clinical Interventions on Building Self Compassion.

Why do I find self-care and self-compassion so hard?

Sometimes you might have a negative feeling that comes up even at the thought of self-care or self-compassion. Perhaps you see it as a sign of weakness or selfishness. Or perhaps you have struggled with bullying or self-esteem and believe it may not be worth taking care of you. These statements may or may not contain grains of truth, but if we only focus on their truth we may lose sight of whether they are helpful? If the answer is they are not helpful, then it might be time to think about dropping the struggle.

Video: The Struggle Switch

TAKING CARE OF THE BASICS

Speaking of our function as humans it is important to make sure that when we are taking care of ourselves that we remember to nourish our mental, emotional and physical health. These parts of us are interconnected and that is why that when we consider self-care we also consider sleep, exercise and nutrition.

Sleep

Getting enough sleep is crucial to self-care. It keeps our energy levels up and our ability to cope improves. Sometimes when we have a lot on our plate it can be harder to get to sleep and these tips may help.

Video: How much sleep do you actually need? (3 minutes)

Exercise

Regular activity increases our energy level and improves our mood. It doesn’t have to be major either, remember the little things count. Ride a bike to the shop, get out in the garden, go for a walk on the beach or take the stairs.

Video: TED Talk Got a Meeting? Take a walk (3 minutes)

Nutrition

There is so much that is known about eating well and the impact it has on us short term and long term. When we are stressed or overwhelmed sometimes we see self-care as indulging in our favourite food a little too much. This is OK sometimes but not all the time. Another thing to keep in mind is that even though as a student it can seem expensive to eat well, that there are options at the University of Newcastle such as Free Food Friday and even a sustainable student cookbook.

Final thought

Taking care of yourself is a way of preparing for your future and helping you be strong enough to get through today.

FIND OUT MORE

Workshops:

  • The University's Counselling and Psychological Service runs free webinars and workshops on topics such as Tackling Procrastination, Exam Anxiety, and Overcoming Perfectionism. Check out the website for current options.
  • Coping with Stress – This 4-lesson course is based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques which are clinically proven to reduce anxiety.
  • Mindspot – This resource offers heaps of free programs on topics such as Wellbeing; Mood, OCD, PTSD, Indigenous Wellbeing and Chronic Pain.

Online Resources:

Apps:

  • Smiling Mind – Free guided mindfulness activities that you can do no matter where you are via your phone or device. 3 million downloads can’t be wrong!
  • Calm – Some options for calming yourself to reduce stress, improve sleep and engage in mindful movement are a part of this beautifully designed app.
  • Headspace – This app offers a introduction to mindfulness meditation to allow you to tune into your thoughts more effectively to manage stress.
  • Breathe2Relax – Guided practice to help you slow down your breathing and keep your fight or flight response in check!

More Videos

Video: TED Talk – How to practice emotional first aid (17 minutes)

SUPPORT IS AVAILABLE

UPDATED MAY 2021

Credits:

Created with images by Alisa Anton - "untitled image" • Joel Overbeck - "untitled image" • Antor Paul - "Sad Lunches" • Tim Gouw - "Full focus at a coffee shop" • Dennis Kummer - "Perranporth, England walk" • rawpixel - "untitled image" • Sharon McCutcheon - "Girl with Red Glitter Valentine Heart" • Ayank - "sea pier female" • Anna Sullivan - "untitled image" • Gaelle Marcel - "untitled image" • Drew Coffman - "Woman looking through viewfinder" • rawpixel - "untitled image"