To celebrate the upcoming end of the term occurring at all levels of academic life lets take a moment to talk about building a self-care bank.
I can’t tell you how many times in both college and grad school that I slammed into the end of the term like a brick wall and then spent days in bed recuperating.
Strength through adversity. The strongest steel is forged by the fires of hell. It is pounded and struck repeatedly before it’s plunged back into the molten fire. The fire gives it power and flexibility, and the blows give it strength. Those two things make the metal pliable and able to withstand every battle it’s called upon to fight. — Sherrilyn Kenyon, Devil May Cry
If this quote resonates with your version of academic life, I’m sorry. Having been driven down this path myself, I want to offer an alternative.
Until this past year, I thought of the term self-care as a way to justify dropping money for a day at the spa or consuming an entire box of Thin Mints, a bottle of appropriately paired wine while binging a show on Netflix. I had wrapped up this whole idea of self-care with the phenomena of “Treat Yo Self” from NBC’s Parks and Recreation (side note: big fan) where Tom and Donna have an annual tradition of essentially allowing themselves anything they want, regardless of what this does to their bank accounts. While I do appreciate the idea of Treat Yo Self, my kids’ college funds still need funding, and my waistline really can’t sustain my idea of a self-care day.
A new relationship with the idea of self-care
This article in Psychology Today moved my idea of self-care from something that I do when I “just can’t even” anymore to a bank account that I deposit into every day. Self-care is not a big extravagant thing to do when you’ve hit your wit’s end, but a little thing (or things) you do every day. Making a small deposit every day means you have a bigger balance to draw from when it’s needed.
Am I saying that you should meditate every day, go to the gym, do yoga, eat three fresh meals a day, sleep eight hours, spend time outside, AND do all the other things that you have to do before the end of the term? Well, yes – but in a choose your own adventure style. Pick the ones that seem achievable and most important. No matter what you choose, there is a trick to making it work and its #12 in the Psychology Today list. I wish they had made it #1 because I feel its that important.
The tricky bit
You have to make space. I have learned that self-care is about making space for yourself. Whatever version of self-care you choose, the tricky bit is to make space in your life to do it. The most effective way to do this is to put an appointment on your calendar and protect it like someone’s life depends on it. Because without a lot of dramatic hyperbole, it does. It’s the simplest idea to have, but the hardest to act on: make time in your life for you and don’t let anyone, especially yourself, take it from you.
That’s all well and good in theory, but what’s it like in practice? For me, it’s waking up a little earlier to go to the gym. It’s also giving myself 30 minutes on a busy Monday morning to clean off my desk so I don’t feel like the world is crowding in on me as I sit down to start the week. Some appointments are daily like the gym or weekly like yoga. Some of them are impulsive like giving myself permission for a 10-minute walk outside while my data is processing.
Don’t wait until after the term to start
There is a little self-reflection involved in this process. You have to figure out what’s most important and what you can actually achieve. Now is not the time to throw out the contents of your fridge and decide you will cook everything you consume from scratch, with ingredients purchased from Whole Foods. However, maybe choose to eat 3 proper meals a day, two of which you can pronounce all the ingredients on the label and the third you know where they get their ingredients. You have to understand how you will talk yourself out of it and try to outsmart yourself before that even happens. I wake up early to go to the gym because if I wait until the end of the day I always give myself a pass.
Every one of these acts is a deposit in my “self-care” account. The rest of this month, I’m going to talk about the ones that work for me and how I trick myself into doing them.