Taking Care of Yourself in Your Busy Academic Life

Self-care has become a buzzword since the pandemic. Psychologists have called for self-care practice particularly for people in occupations that are more susceptible to stress, such as social workers, nurses, clinicians, etc.  However, the graduate student community has also experienced a more stressful life in graduate school than before.  As a graduate student, I feel a bit of self-care here and there could help navigate my school days with greater ease.

Self-care is “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress”, according to Oxford Languages. There are no fixed approaches to self-care practice. It doesn’t have to be a bubble bath, a purchase, or an outing on a sunny day. For me, self-care means doing small things that help me stay healthy and positive.

The simplest, but most often neglected self-care is to stay hydrated. I always forget to or I am just too busy to drink any water. Getting dehydrated does not boost my productivity at all. On the contrary, when we are well-hydrated, we may find ourselves in a better mood with a clearer mind, according to the researchers interviewed in a CNN news article. My little self-care action is to take a sip of fluids whenever I feel I need to, especially when I have to work on something intense.

Taking a rest is also a common self-care practice. There is one thing for sure – humans are not perpetual motion machines. Few people can work in a non-stop manner. Our brain and body need to get recharged. When we feel tired, stuck, or less productive, it might be a sign that we need a break from whatever we are doing. Yet, when the tasks are piling up and deadlines are approaching, there seems to be no question of taking a break from our work. When that happens to me, I just close my eyes and try to feel my breath to allow my brain and eyes to rest for a while. Imagine our cell phone battery drops to zero – charging it for just a while and the phone will be back to life again.

Paying attention to nutrition, when possible, is always a great way towards a self-care routine. Personally, what seems simpler but important is to listen to my body and see what it tells me. If I feel hungry, it’s very likely that my stomach has been empty and it urges me to leave my desk and grab something to eat. If I eat something that makes me initially feel good, but later I feel tired, guilty, or have an upset stomach, for example, my body is likely telling me that I should stay away from the food I just ate.

In the graduate student community, food insecurity exists and has become a pressing concern due to the pandemic. Always seek out various sources of support that are available to you. For food insecurity, there are food programs and food pantries you may reach out to. For example, the UConn Swipes program run by the Dean of Student Office provides eligible students with access to healthy and well-balanced meals in campus dining halls. If you are living off-campus, you may also find local food pantries near you. If you have concerns about your daily diet, consult a Registered Dietitian (free for UConn Storrs students) for nutritional planning. Also, the ChooseYourPlate program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides step-by-step guidance on healthy eating on a budget. In addition to eating, UConn’s  Student Health and Wellness – Mental Health has guides and tips on mental well-being and it hosts a free online guided meditation open to the UConn community.

What I shared are the little things that I feel are important and manageable to commit to; however, as a part of the UConn Nation, we have diverse experiences, preferences and limitations, and meanwhile, we might be facing different challenges in this special time. There is no best approach, but only the one that you feel most comfortable with and feasible to start. If the way you take care of yourself helps you be a better person and grows your sense of wellness, stick to it as that may be the one that fits you most.

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

By Damiao Zoe Xu
Damiao Zoe Xu Graduate Assistant, Graduate Student and Postdoc Career Programs and Services Damiao Zoe Xu