Are you a college student feeling overwhelmed and stressed? It can be tough balancing classes, homework, and social life, all while juggling a lot of responsibilities and stressors.
That’s why it’s crucial to make time for self-care; giving yourself time to relax and recharge can also help you focus on your studies.
According to experts, here are self-care tips and activities to help you take better care of yourself.
Ashley Grier, MA, LCPC
Clinician, Speaker, and Consultant
Recognize your need to make adjustments to your way of life
Self-care is one of the most widely discussed issues in the sphere of health and wellness.
If you scroll through popular social media apps such as TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube, you will likely come across thousands of videos showcasing the self-care routines of various individuals.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions related to self-care.
Self-care involves more than just allowing yourself to relax and treating yourself nicely. Many college students, sadly, fail to commit themselves to self-care fully. This may be due to a lack of awareness, financial concerns, or time constraints.
All too often, college students put the needs of others or their educational endeavors ahead of their own physical and mental well-being.
As a result, most college students only do the bare minimum to take care of themselves, and this lack of self-care can quickly take a toll on their overall health.
To feel your best, it’s crucial that you prioritize self-care at every phase and stage of life. This includes the challenging but adventurous season of life that many college students may currently find themselves in.
It is important for college students to take time to recognize their need to adjust to their way of life to increase their capacity for joy and fulfillment by cultivating a regular practice of self-care.
It is impossible to reach or maintain a state of optimal health without first taking time to care for oneself.
Taking positive steps toward bettering one’s health and well-being is best accomplished in small, achievable steps.
There are six essential components of a holistic approach to self-care. These components include:
In order to take care of yourself, you need to find a balance that allows you to focus on each component of your health. It’s important to keep in mind that some areas may require more attention to self-care than others.
Here are several suggested self-care tips and activities for college students according to the six dimensions mentioned above.
Our bodies were designed for movement and function best when given the proper nourishment through a healthy diet and exercise regimen. Engaging in mindful eating is a simple physical self-care activity.
Mindful eating includes limiting the consumption of processed foods and incorporating more whole foods for a balanced diet. Going for walks in nature or taking a bike ride around campus is a great way to incorporate movement into a daily routine.
Most of us take better care of our things than we do our bodies. But ignoring your health needs can damage your happiness and well-being by making you less productive and much less able to deal with stress.
Taking care of your body means meeting all of its needs, like:
- Eating well
- Working out regularly
- Taking breaks
- Getting enough sleep
Good mental health includes healthy ways of feeling, thinking, and behaving.
It has an impact on your ability to process information, draw conclusions, communicate effectively, and form bonds with others. Taking care of one’s mental health is an important part of self-care because maintaining mental wellness is crucial to one’s quality of life.
Everyone has different mental health needs. So, caring for your mental health looks different for each person.
Some things you can do to take care of your mind include:
- Engaging in mindfulness.
- Taking a break from electronic devices.
- Practicing positive self-talk.
The things you do and see every day cause you to feel a wide range of emotions and feelings. You can’t always feel good things like happiness, excitement, or delight.
Your life has highs and lows, and the key to being happy is to be in touch with your emotions. This is where taking care of your emotions comes in.
Negative emotions, such as sadness and anger, are inevitable, but learning to cope with them effectively is critical. Regularly addressing your emotions is an important part of emotional self-care.
This involves developing the capacity to assess and manage your emotions.
Practicing emotional self-care helps you learn to control your actions and find positive ways to move past negative experiences.
People are, by nature, social species. How well people get along with other people can affect many aspects of life and overall happiness.
When college students have good interactions with other people, they can feel like their thoughts, ideas, and opinions are valuable. When you have meaningful relationships, you feel happy, safe, and loved.
Understanding and meeting your social needs are part of social self-care.
With good social self-care, you can:
- Strengthen your social skills.
- Become more organic in your daily interactions.
- Treat others with kindness and gratitude.
- Set more realistic expectations for others.
- Set or fortify boundaries.
- Talk to others effectively.
It’s just as important to take care of your spiritual needs as it is to meet your other needs. Your spiritual life rounds out your physical and mental wellness and makes you feel more whole. We all have different ways of practicing spirituality.
You can practice spiritual self-care in many different ways, depending on what you need.
Maybe it’s the religion you follow or the traditions you learned as a child. You might be going back to a spiritual path you already know or make a new connection to one.
You might be looking for a new way to take care of your spirit.
Ultimately, attending to your spiritual needs can help you feel like your life has meaning and can help you feel as if you are part of something bigger than yourself.
Occupational or educational and financial self-care
Taking care of your future profession, educational endeavors, and finances is another important part of taking care of yourself as a whole.
Setting professional and educational goals can help you:
- Stay motivated.
- Do better in your coursework.
- Be successful.
In the same way, if you know how to take care of your personal finances and build good habits, you can make sure that you can afford the life you desire in the future.
So, taking care of your professional life and financial affairs can help you feel ready for the future and improve your chances of success while also making you feel better in general.
Hopefully, these tips and strategies can help you to prioritize self-care so you can live your best life in your college years and beyond.
Johnathan M. Sumpter, MBA, MA, LPC-S
CEO and Founder, The Mental Well, PLLC
Unplug and reconnect
Bar none, this is the single most important point anyone can make — unplug from virtual connections and make in-person connections as much as possible. True and full healing comes through a healthy community.
For students who are online only or just don’t jive with the community around them, find a community to connect with.
Especially after COVID, for most of us, our base needs for human-to-human connection are grossly malnourished.
Reconnecting in person, as safe as possible, is one giant leap toward maintaining mental wellness. Getting a break from the toxic echo chamber of social media can also help to lower stress.
With constant messages to be hyperaware of all possible negative factors in the world around you, it is harder to sit with yourself in your actual life situations and find ways through.
Our biology is set up to drive us to social connections in times of distress (reference research on oxytocin — the stress hormone that seeks satiation in connection with trusted people).
When we substitute our base need for social connection with virtual images, a kind of hyper-saturated sense of unreal connections, we get a momentary buzz but are ultimately left wanting.
In my practice, I often have individuals do a mini-digi-detox, just decreasing their screen usage and substituting that with an actual personal connection.
The effects are quick, noticeable, and life-giving.
Make time to balance, not to accomplish one goal
Start the semester by making time to balance, not to accomplish one goal. If you want to get all your homework out of the way or wait to do it later to make the parties, you’ll be behind on your work and burn out.
If you want to get all your work done with no respite, you’ll burn out before you get going. If you want to do everything so you have a good resume for grad school but don’t tend to yourself, you’ll burn out.
Balance your week with what is needed:
Eat, sleep, move, and study
Do the fundamentals to set up the important things.
In High School, I was always annoyed that we started each practice or that each practice consisted of so many fundamentals. I already knew how to dribble the ball. I already knew, more or less, how to get the ball in the basket. Still, every day we focused on fundamentals.
As an adult not doing basketball anymore, I now see why we had to do so much work on the fundamentals.
Without the fundamentals, we cannot move forward.
If you aren’t eating well (or as well as you can in the caf), sleeping well, moving enough (exercise or just staying physically active), you are setting your human system up not to function well.
With poor sleep and eating comes no energy to burn, causes cognition to decline, and sets the mood on a path towards despair.
You may not have it all set perfectly, but do the best you can.
Be curious on what drives your emotions
That is one of my favorite phrases. Just be curious about whatever this means. You’re angry, frustrated, or sad? Be curious about what your anger, frustration, or sadness is telling you.
Discover the meaning behind the emotions, the needs, the desires, the valid concerns.
Once you have a name for what drives your emotions, you can better steer the bus rather than feeling like you’ve been hit by an emotional bus.
Efthemia “Mia” Zambarano, LCSW
Mental Health Therapist and Performance & Lifestyle Consultant, LE Vie Consulting and Psychotherapy, LLC
College students’ most common and detrimental mistakes are not attending to the basics. While I would love to say bubble baths and binge-watching your favorite shows will do the trick, that’s more than often not exactly what your mind or body needs.
College is a huge transition period. Each year brings about more responsibility and pressure. To perform at a higher rate, you have to take care of yourself at a higher level.
Think about a performance or luxury cars—you would never put regular gas in it and expect it to run correctly.
With college students, they often forget to refuel at all.
Some of the best things you could do for yourself are:
- Create a functional sleep schedule.
- Improve sleep hygiene.
- Morning routine.
- Schedule an intentional downtime.
- Attend to nutrition.
- Know when to say yes or no.
Create a functional sleep schedule
While I can appreciate the demands of academics at the collegiate level, all-nighters just won’t do you any good. I feel like this is some kind of mythical rite of passage. If you are not giving your body one of its essential needs, it’s not going to prioritize anything else.
Your brain will be more focused on getting its needs met than focusing on or remembering whatever you studied all night.
Do yourself a favor and make sure you’re getting at least 7 hours of sleep. Along those lines, don’t just plop into bed at the end of a long day and expect your mind to unwind and fall asleep suddenly.
Improve sleep hygiene
Create a routine that signals to your brain that it’s time to wind down and get to sleep; wash your face, brush your teeth, maybe read or listen to a podcast, do some breathing exercises, maybe journal, and call it a night.
Whatever you choose to do, try not to have it be stimulating. This includes anything with blue light.
- Turn off or down the blue light on your phone.
- Try to stop scrolling social media 30 minutes before bedtime
- Swap the TV for a book or audio of some sort.
- Get some Zs.
Have a morning routine
How you start your day is a huge aspect of self-care.
Instead of rolling out of bed into sweats, and stumbling into the classroom, create a ritual you find somewhat enjoyable. Try to wake up with enough time that you aren’t rushing and can include an activity you enjoy before you jump into your day.
Related: How to Get Motivated in the Morning
Listen to music while you get ready, put on clothes that make you feel good, write down some intentions or a to-do list for the day and be on your way.
Bonus points for making time for any type of exercise, movement, or stretching.
Schedule an intentional downtime
While I can understand and appreciate that it may not feel like you have time for downtime, you need to schedule this for yourself as you would attending a class. There is no reason you can’t fit in at least 30 minutes per day of intentional downtime or self-care time. This can be used in so many ways.
The most important thing about this time is that it is intentional.
Be present with what you’re doing and focus on only that. Know why you are doing it and how it is helping you. It could be:
- Setting time aside to call a friend
- Meet up with someone for lunch
- Read a book
- Go for a walk
- Do other forms of exercise
- Do a creative project
What you don’t want to do is mindlessly scroll through social media or half-watch TV, then realize your time is up.
Attend to nutrition
I know college food is not exactly the best or most nutritious. Ideally, see if there are certain healthier foods you can grab from a grocery store and keep in your room.
If that’s not within your budget and you’re working off whatever they have in the cafeteria, try to make sure you’re not skipping meals and eating foods that work for you rather than against you.
Not sure what this means? Start keeping tabs on how you feel on certain days and what you eat. On days you feel more clear-headed, less anxious, and more energized, jot down what you had. Same thing for the days you feel sluggish, bloated, lacking focus, or anxious.
Oh yeah, and stay hydrated.
Know when to say yes or no
Last but not least, know when to say yes or no. This takes into account your needs as well as boundaries.
This is the foundation of self-care in terms of actually “taking care of yourself.”
If something is going to benefit you, try to say yes or make time for it.
If something is going to be counterproductive, even if you want to do it, learn to say no.
I know it’s easier said than done, but this is a skill that you will take with you for the rest of your life. If you practice these foundational skills for improving self-care, I promise you’ll see a difference.
Stephani Jahn, PhD
Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Nationally Certified Counselor | Owner and Therapist, A Pathway to You – Online Counseling in Florida
Get oriented to campus resources before you need them
Key players are the following:
- Dean of Students Office
- Disability services
- Health center
- Counseling centers (especially their crisis support options)
- Career services
These are the top offices that students need help from when in distress, but waiting until you are in distress is going to make it much harder to get what you need.
Imagine being overwhelmed by school while having a mental health crisis and having to figure out where to get help… take one of those off of your future self’s plate by taking care of it now.
Bookmark the websites for these campus services and look at the main information on each to get a sense of who does what. Maybe plan to visit some of the places you might be most likely to use—carer services are a good one to “visit early, visit often.”
The campus office that my clients most underestimate needing is the disability services office.
It’s not well-known that mental health concerns like anxiety and depression can receive academic accommodations through this office, but you might need to establish a connection with them before trouble arises to get the best help.
Identify what makes you feel most like you, and don’t sacrifice it
Identify what makes you feel most like you, and don’t let those things get squeezed out of your schedule.
You may have an exciting schedule of courses, extra-curricular, and socializing ahead of you—but remember how it feels when you’re overloaded and can’t enjoy any of that?
You need downtime and opportunities to do things that aren’t about productivity or your future goals; you need to have time just to be present and have fun.
If you can’t remember the last time you didn’t feel overwhelmed or did something fun that didn’t double as a resume-builder, I’m looking at you: for the love of you, get off that burnout train.
Self-care and success are not mutually exclusive, and slowing down has lots of benefits now and later.
Even small moments of pause to mindfully breathe for a minute or two a couple of times a day can make a surprising difference over time.
Beginning with this generic self-care technique can help you begin to cultivate the awareness that can support you in developing a more personalized self-care routine.
Ideally, as you raise your awareness through practicing mindful pauses in your day, you’ll begin to notice what makes your heart sing and keeps it singing. Then, you can intentionally incorporate these things that bring you peace and joy into your routine, even in small bits.
This is a highly personal process, but some starter ideas from students I’ve worked with include things like:
- Listening to music
- Skating through campus
- Pick up basketball games
Many self-care practices can be integrated into your day, maybe even as add-ons to necessary tasks, like skating to class or listening to music while doing your laundry.
Other things might be best enjoyed on their own, like planning to draw for 5 minutes before bed or going to the basketball court on a weekly basis.
Don’t underestimate how much value you can get from even a few minutes of a self-caring activity.
Over time, you can notice how doing these things makes a positive difference and might even see how your well-being can drop after skipping them once or a few times.
Identify what stresses you and reduce those things
It seems obvious, but because college inherently presents you with many stressors, students can figure that any and all stress must be accepted and managed under the mandate of “adulting.”
But adulting also includes making choices about what factors you allow in your life.
You might find it empowering to begin to identify opportunities to reduce stressors. This could be as simple as unsubscribing to unnecessary email lists or culling your social media feed to unfollow what raises your anxiety or self-criticism.
You might even experiment with turning off notifications for some apps, just to see if it has been playing a role in introducing unnecessary stress.
Sure, the notification dings can be exciting, too, but even good stress can be a burden on your nervous system, so a little experiment to see the pros and cons of so many notifications might be worthwhile.
Other things to consider are less either-or and more a matter of how much and when, like social media use in general, or playing video games or watching YouTube.
Try using an app or setting to interrupt you periodically during these activities (I use Stay Focused on my phone for this).
When you get interrupted, you can pause to notice whether you feel your activity has been serving you or stressing you. Then, you can make a more informed choice about what to do next, both this time and in the future.
Have your schedule give you some class breaks
One way to take care of yourself is to have some breaks in your class schedule. If all of your classes are on the same days, i.e., MWF, then you are just as overloaded on Tuesday and Thursday to get the work done and to study for those exams.
Splitting your classes up will give you a little easier pace. If possible, try not to take all your hard courses on the same day.
If you know you are not a morning person, then try to schedule your classes in the late morning and early afternoon so that you can pay attention more.
However, realize that if you don’t get up in the morning, you just wasted half your day and will need to finish it all in the evenings after classes. So you might want your more easier courses in the late morning.
The same goes for the opposite; if you are a morning person, take morning classes, so you are able to pay attention more. That leaves you with afternoons and evenings to do the work.
It also helps to be sure you leave time between classes to have lunch every day. Having three meals is important for your energy. Grabbing fast food every day for lunch while walking to the next class is not a great idea nor nutritional.
Also, watch how far you have to walk to a class. In college, I was always late to a class on the other end of campus.
Because it was an educational class and required to be on time, I had to buy roller skates to get there on time.
Get a proper amount of sleep
Getting the proper amount of sleep is a huge self-care item. If you need 8 hours, get it. Plan your bedtime and rising time for the same times every day, if possible.
Sleep in only on the weekends, if you can. If you’re always tired, it will take you more time to do your work.
Personal self-care ideas
Some days you may feel overloaded or overwhelmed. Choose something fun to do that you can do as a break in your room without having to go anywhere.
Ideas could be:
- Reading a fictional book
- Putting on music and just dancing to it
- Just listening to music for 15-30 minutes
- Coloring in a coloring book
- Writing in a journal
- Do a puzzle
- Start or complete a word search
- Play a word game online
Getting back after a break
If you’re in the midst of studying and taking a break, you might want to set a timer, so you stop doing your relaxing time and get back to studying. Sometimes it’s hard to get back to studying after a break.
One piece of advice: Try not to make that break talking to someone else on the floor. It’s even harder to break away and return to studying.
These are in the room breaks, but this also includes a roommate. You may have to learn how to say, “I have to return to studying.”
If you do take a break by taking a walk, set a timer, so you know when it’s time to go back, or your 15 min. breaks might turn into an hour or more. Instead of self-care, a long break can cause you to stress about how you are going to get everything done.
Make plans with friends
Having friends in your residence hall that you can talk to and do fun things together is also helpful, especially for rainy or wintery days when you can’t or don’t want to go out.
Be sure to make plans with friends, especially on the weekend. Plan shopping trips, sports, movies, bowling, or even sightseeing in your town.
You can’t study all the time, but know when it’s time to buckle down and finish that paper or project versus enjoying yourself, even on the weekends.
Having the same group that you eat with most of the time for dinner gives you a chance to talk with others and unwind from the day before you have to study in the evening.
Plan your projects
If you know you have a paper to write, plan when you will do the research, draft, and final paper. Don’t leave it to the last minute when two tests are the next day too.
Try to achieve as much balance as you can. This is the beginning of your adult life, but you are still doing the planning. At a corporate job, you have set hours to be working, usually 9-5 pm with lunch.
Make yourself a set schedule to go to classes and study.
If you happen to have no studying to do, relish your free time. However, don’t let the free time rule your college days, or you will probably flunk out.
Certified Health Coach | Founder, Clarify Wellness with Carlee
Here are my top five self-care tips and activities for College Students as a Health Coach who is always helping individuals find ways to focus on themselves even when they have a busy schedule.
There is always time to make time for you.
Post-it note self-care challenge
Take 30 post-its and stick them to the wall. On each post-it, put a different challenge. For the next 30 days, each morning, pick a challenge and do that challenge by the end of the day.
- Start a new book
- Organize something in your dorm room
- Start a hobby
- Do something nice for someone today
This challenge will motivate you to try something new or do something you haven’t done in a while. I promise you won’t regret it.
Move your body
Physical activity will help the production of endorphins, also known as the brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters, which can reduce anxiety.
- Take a walk
- Run a mile
- Do yoga
- Lift a weight
Any type of movement is good movement.
Positive psychology exercises
It is so important to exercise your brain when you’re so busy studying and going out in college. One of the best positive psychology exercises is journaling. Before bed and when you wake up — give yourself 5 minutes to journal.
Here are three journal prompt ideas:
- Three things you’re grateful for.
- Two things that you are proud of.
- One thing you are looking forward to.
Take a break
Take a break wherever you need. Give yourself a break and take a few deep breaths. Log out of social media for the day. Stay in from a party and have a self-care night instead.
If you’re always studying in the library, try a new environment. You’d be surprised how much an environment can change your mood.
Nourish yourself with whole foods and balanced meals
This is the most important thing you can do for yourself. Nourish yourself with whole foods, and eat balanced meals, including:
These foods will give you energy.
A huge part of nourishment is also hydration. Try to drink a lot of water throughout the day.
Taking care of your body will also take care of your mind.
My number one tip is to be kind to your body and mind. It is very easy to get caught up when in college and forget about taking care of yourself. Take a moment, take a step back and remember that you are human, and you need to respect and take care of yourself.
Outpatient Therapist and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor
Here are a few of my self-care tips for College Students:
Get some sleep
Your friends are around all the time, and there’s always something going on. Whether you don’t want to miss out on the fun or you’re trying to get in some extra study time, it can be tempting to keep busy and miss out on sleep.
Your body and brain need time to rest and rejuvenate.
So, put down that phone, make your area as comfy as possible, crawl into bed, and give yourself the gift of sleep.
Find your flow
College offers lots of opportunities, from taking a class on the folklore of the area to exploring new cultures as you get to know your peers to play ultimate frisbee on the lawn.
Find the people and activities that bring you joy and help you feel alive. Attend the organizational fair (usually held at the beginning of each semester, with a larger one in the fall).
Get information about anything that sounds interesting, and go to their welcoming events.
At a minimum, you’ll likely get some free food and/or swag, or maybe a comical story to tell later. At best, you may meet some lifelong friends and find a passion that helps you through the hard days of life.
Seek out the “adultier” adults
There are older adults around who want to help you navigate college and take care of yourself.
Take advantage of your professor’s office hours to meet them and make a connection — that can go a long way if you have questions or need some support in a class.
Get to know your Resident Advisor — their role is to answer questions and help you be aware of the resources available to you.
Seek out mentors in your major or other activities you enjoy — they can provide insight from their experience and help you find balance in your life.
Utilize on-campus resources
Many campuses have a variety of resources to help you take care of yourself. This may include slowing down to eat meals from the cafeteria that include a variety of foods. You can utilize on-campus recreational facilities to find enjoyable ways to move your body.
The campus health center is there when you aren’t feeling well. Got a scratchy throat or some digestive issues, pay a visit to the medical professionals on campus.
Feeling overwhelmed or struggling with a relationship, utilize the mental health resources that are available to students, which often include options for talking to someone individually or joining a group of other students navigating college as well.
Speaker | Author, “The Effortless Perfection Myth: Debunking The Myth and Revealing the Path to Empowerment for Today’s College Women“
Reframe the way you see your struggles
Most young adults do not go off to college expecting to experience a major decrease in confidence. They expect the best four years of their lives, and they expect those best four years to begin right away.
All too often, they underestimate how difficult the transition is going to be in terms of creating new friend groups and support systems, figuring out their new routine, adapting to hookup and party culture, etc.
This transition is then made even harder due to a phenomenon called “effortless perfection,” which creates the expectation that one should, without visible effort, appear:
Effortless perfection causes college students to hold their cards close to their chests, unwilling to admit they are struggling lest they come across as the one who couldn’t keep up.
As a result, their struggles develop into hardships that are more negative than they might otherwise be if they were to reach out for help.
While interviewing undergrads for my book, I noticed a particularly perplexing trend — numerous students struggling with mental health felt like they “had not earned” the right to a diagnosis or professional help because whatever they were going through was “not bad or extreme enough” for them to be feeling the way they were feeling.
They did not recognize college as a time in their lives that might seriously challenge their sense of self or negatively impact their mental health.
Among other things, Gen-Zers need to start talking openly about the ways effortless perfection and its intense expectations disadvantage them by encouraging secrecy and comparison.
They also need help reframing the way they see struggle so that they may recognize mental health as a larger, community-wide issue as opposed to just a personal issue.
Some tips for undergrads include:
Remember that what you see on social media is not the full truth
Many students struggling in college look at the highlight reels posted by their peers on Instagram and TikTok and wonder why their lives don’t feel the way everyone else’s looks.
Remain cognizant of how your social media intake may impact your mental health, and consider taking a “vacation” from certain platforms if necessary.
Related: 25+ Benefits of a Social Media Detox
Look up the mental health resources available to you on campus
Many colleges offer things like a semester of free counseling or meditation spaces. Take advantage of the resources around you.
Also, consider joining a group and campaigns on campus that work to push back against unhealthy expectations and standards.
- Me Too Monologues and All of the Above are two theater productions at Duke wherein students perform monologues anonymously written by members of the community about their authentic experiences and struggles.
- Students can also participate in the What I Be Project, which allows individuals to address their deepest insecurities while framing them in empowering ways or bringing #HalftheStory to your campus for training on media literacy and healthy social media use.
In college, students need to be sure they make and build in plenty of time for self-care:
Know about the mental health support services on your college campus
Whether you have issues now or ever or not, it is important to learn about your on-campus network and what support is available for you there.
We have all been through a lot with Covid and online schooling, too, so you may be more burnt out or stressed than otherwise with a big move/college transition, so take care of yourself so you can do well.
Be sure you get good sleep and downtime, and have someone trusted to talk to.
For verbal support, use your:
- Resident Advisor (an older student RA in your dorm)
- Resident Fellow (RF adult in your dorm)
Time management and study skills are key
Create a new routine or space(s) where to can study:
- In a library carrel
- Your room
- Any quiet space on campus that you find
Be sure you map out your time with more care and awareness since, in high school, you were committed from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM most days.
In college, you will have fewer class sessions than ever before (it might be the same amount of hours of courses but no longer all day followed by extracurriculars as you had in high school).
But also, in the downtime, you have to factor in possibly larger chunks of:
- Weekly reading
- Long-term assignments
- Problem sets/homework
Those free chunks of time can get away from you if you aren’t also aware of using them wisely, so be sure to build in time for yourself, too.
Joy Coach, Speaker, and Author | Founder, Joy To The World Coaching
Don’t wait for someone to rescue you
Self-care leads to joy, and just like one would expect from the name, it must come from us.
Self-care is recognizing the goodness that comes with meeting our needs and abandoning the idea that other people should rescue us and notice that we need something.
Waiting to be noticed breeds resentment, but self-care contributes to fulfillment and peace… yes, even in college. It feels good to feel good, especially in a world that’s hurting.
Giving ourselves permission to check in and ask, “what do I need right now?” and addressing whatever pops up appropriately brings joy.
Free or low-cost self-care ideas for college students
While there’s nothing wrong with being pampered, somewhere along the way, self-care became synonymous with expensive days at the spa, massages, manicures, and weekend getaways.
Whether you’ve got a free ride to school or work three jobs to pay tuition, self-care doesn’t have to be luxurious or costly.
If you allow honest answers to the “what do I need right now?” question, you may be surprised that self-care can come in the form of:
- 5-minutes of complete silence (the highest floors of the library are usually the quietest).
- Cuddle time with a pet (see if a local vet school has animals to “rent” for walks).
- A rambunctious dorm room dance fest to your favorite song from middle school.
- A phone call with a loved one who will let you share everything without judgment.
- Looking through your pictures on IG and recalling special memories,
- washing your hair, and putting on fun clothes (save PJs for Monday at 8 o’clock).
- Intentional mind dumping into a journal or the notes app on your phone
- Healthy and nourishing food (cafeteria tip: look for things that your grandma used to make).
- A spontaneous recess break (2nd cafeteria tip: trays make great winter sleds).
- A deep belly laugh that makes tears run down your cheeks (who’s your funniest friend?).
- A time of mindfulness, appreciating how awesome the rain feels falling on your face.
- A really, really long nap. We don’t have to sell you that one.
To succeed in school, take care of yourself. Be the best version of yourself by checking in, asking what you need, and responding appropriately. It’s no one else’s job.
Soon, caring for yourself will help you learn a lesson that’s worth more than any 3-credit class: It feels good to feel good.
Self-care is important for everyone, but it is especially crucial for college students. College can be a hectic and stressful time, and it is important to take care of yourself both mentally and physically.
The following are three tools I use to refuel my energy, restore inner serenity, and ensure my creativity is flowing.
Start creative journaling
One great way to take care of yourself is to journal. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be very therapeutic, and it can help you to process and deal with stress.
A journal can take many forms, from free-form writing to a mixed media sketchbook.
The key is to set aside time regularly where you can be still, quiet, and solo as you put pen to paper in your journal. And, to get started, it can be great to try adult coloring.
Adult coloring books are incredibly popular, and for a good reason — they can be calming and relaxing and a fun form of art making.
Connect with nature
If you’re looking for an activity that will get your creative juices flowing, try nature photography. It can be really therapeutic, and it’s a great way to connect with nature.
To give it a try, set aside time to go for walks in the woods or sit in a nearby garden and simply pay attention to the natural world around you.
If you’re using your phone as your camera, turn it to airplane mode so you can be fully present, capturing photographs of whatever strikes you as interesting, beautiful, or worth remembering.
Bake and make music
Another form of creative play that also is part of my self-care toolkit is to put on good music and dance around the kitchen making sweet treats.
Baking can be really calming and is also a fantastic form of art making that activates your imagination and uses your hands-on, creative abilities. Plus, the reward is getting to enjoy a delicious homemade treat.
Mixing in music sets the mood and perhaps can even evolve to making music yourself (shakers are a great place to start!)
These are just a few examples of self-care activities that you can do to recharge and refuel your energy. Whatever activities you choose, make sure that they are things that you enjoy and that make you feel good.
Taking care of yourself is an important part of life, so make sure to make time for yourself every day.
Vice President for Student Services and Dean of Students, Gwynedd Mercy University
Whether entering your first year as a college student or returning to campus, the transition from easy summer living to a full schedule can be overwhelming.
As a professional in higher education and a father of a college student, I have a few self-care tips on how to have a successful journey.
My first and most important tip is to continue being yourself. It’s important to stay true to oneself despite the environmental and life changes you will experience during the school year.
College brings with its newfound freedom. You are no longer under your family’s roof with their rules, which means you are now largely responsible for your actions.
Know the rules
As a Dean of Students, I’d be remiss if I didn’t strongly encourage you to read your school’s Code of Conduct and the Student Handbook.
These documents provide a comprehensive overview of what is expected of you as a member of the community.
Assemble your team
Your school has the people and resources in place to make sure you achieve your personal and professional goals.
Whether it’s your:
- Academic Advisor
- Resident Assistant
- Resident Assistant
- Counseling office
These people will be your guide throughout your entire college career.
Be open to opinions and differences
In the college setting, you’ll be exposed to a broad array of viewpoints and varying opinions.
Be open to the opinions and differences of those around you.
Schedule your free time
In addition to newfound freedom, as a college student, you will enjoy the luxury of increased free time.
Avoid sitting in your residence hall or going back home right after class. Use the time to study, exercise, and take advantage of on-campus resources.
Get involved on campus
Part of scheduling free time involves getting involved on campus. An involved student is a connected student. A connected student is more apt to be successful in college than a non-connected student.
During the first couple weeks of the semester, you will most likely receive endless amounts of information regarding the various clubs and organizations on your campus.
Get involved, even if it’s only one co-curricular activity, and don’t succumb to pressure to over-commit.
Check-in with yourself
It’s important to consider your mental and physical health. Don’t overwork yourself, physically or mentally.
Are you stressed, anxious, depressed, or feeling overwhelmed? If so, know that you have plenty of resources at your disposal to help. Seek them out early and often.
Student Support Advisor, Herzing College
Quality sleep is the key
In order to perform well, your body must have an opportunity to recharge. Functioning on inadequate sleep will not yield positive results. A consistent schedule will allow you to plan accordingly.
While you need to take breaks from your studies, be sure to fit them into your disciplined daily routine.
Remain physically active
You need not run marathons in order to stay healthy. Avoid being sedentary and give your body the exercise that it requires. Physical activity (walking, running, riding a bike, etc.) will also provide psychological fuel as you tackle your responsibilities.
If you do not have a regular workout, try different activities as you determine what works best for you. There is no shortage of people with whom you can consult who will provide suggestions and guidance.
Build a positive support system
More than ever, we all need to recognize that life is often quite challenging and that we all need to lean on our support networks. While this is most often friends, family, and/or significant others, there are additional supports available for post-secondary students.
Knowing this, you are well advised to lean on others as required.
Contrary to dated beliefs, seeking assistance is a sign of strength when you must navigate turbulent waters.
Higher Education Consultant, TEG London
Follow the 45-15 rule
When you’re a college student, you can often find yourself in a never-ending cycle of studying, working on assignments, eating, going to bed, and doing it all over again the next day.
This type of routine is not necessarily that bad, as long as you are ensuring you take a good amount of breaks in between to help recharge your mind and body.
This is why it helps to follow the 45-15 rule, where for every 45 minutes of work, you take at least a 15-minute break right after.
Forcing yourself to take a break helps to recharge your brain and also breaks up the day when you have a lot of work to do. You can use this time to catch up with friends on your phone, go for a walk or make a quick snack for fuel.
It’s important to prioritize your mental and physical health when in a stressful environment like college. That’s why breaks during your day are essential, as they help to give yourself a rest before continuing on.
It also helps when you might be in a creative slump, as you give yourself time to focus on something else, and you have fresher eyes after the break once you return to your assignment.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is self-care?
Self-care refers to the deliberate and proactive practice of taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It is a vital aspect of maintaining good health and preventing burnout.
Self-care can take many forms, including exercise, healthy eating, meditation, mindfulness, and engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation. It also involves setting healthy boundaries, saying no when necessary, and taking time to recharge and rest.
Taking care of yourself is not selfish; it is necessary for living a fulfilling life. It helps you manage stress, increase productivity, and improve your overall quality of life.
However, self-care is not a one-time event or occasional indulgence. It requires consistent and intentional practice. Incorporating self-care into your daily routine can help you build resilience and improve your overall well-being.
Why is self-care important for college students?
Self-care is essential for college students as they navigate the challenges of academic life and transition to adulthood. Here are some reasons why:
• Stress management: College can be a stressful time, with academic pressure, social challenges, and other stressors. Engaging in self-care activities can help reduce stress levels and improve mental health.
• Academic performance: Taking care of your physical and mental health can improve your academic performance. You can better focus and retain information when you are well-rested, well-nourished, and mentally alert.
• Overall well-being: College is a time of personal growth and development, and taking care of yourself is essential. Prioritizing self-care can help you feel more fulfilled, balanced, and content.
• Prevention of burnout: College students are at risk for burnout, which can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, decreased motivation, and decreased academic performance. Incorporating self-care into your routine can help prevent burnout and support long-term success.
How can I fit self-care into my busy college schedule?
It can be challenging to fit self-care into a busy college schedule, but it is possible with some intentional planning and prioritization. Here are some tips for incorporating self-care into your routine:
• Schedule it in: Treat self-care activities like any other important appointment and schedule them into your calendar. This can help ensure you make time for them.
• Make it a daily habit: Incorporate small self-care practices into your daily routine, such as taking a few deep breaths, stretching, or going for a short walk.
• Multi-task: Combine self-care with other activities. For example, listen to a podcast or audiobook while exercising, or take a relaxing bath while catching up on reading for class.
• Set boundaries: Learn to say no to obligations that do not serve you and make time for the things that bring you joy and relaxation.
• Find community: Joining a club or group that aligns with your interests and values can provide social support and help you incorporate self-care into your social life.
How do I create a self-care plan?
Creating a self-care plan is a great way to ensure you are taking care of yourself and prioritizing your well-being. Here are some steps to follow to create your own personalized self-care plan:
• Assess your needs: Take some time to reflect on what self-care activities you enjoy and what areas of your life need more attention.
• Identify your self-care goals: Determine what you want to achieve through self-care, whether it is reducing stress, improving sleep, or increasing physical activity.
• Create a list of self-care activities: Think of activities that align with your goals and needs, such as meditation, exercise, journaling, or spending time with friends and family.
• Schedule self-care activities: Incorporate self-care activities into your daily, weekly, and monthly schedule.
• Make it a priority: Treat self-care activities as important as any other obligation, and do not let them fall by the wayside.
• Be flexible: Remember that self-care is not one-size-fits-all, and what works for someone else may not work for you. Be open to trying new activities and adjusting your self-care plan as needed.
• Track your progress: Keep track of how you feel before and after engaging in self-care activities to see which ones are most beneficial for you.
What self-care activities can help me manage stress?
Stress is a common experience for many college students, but self-care activities can help you manage and reduce stress levels. Here are some self-care activities that can be particularly effective in managing stress:
• Exercise: Physical activity can be a great way to release tension and boost endorphins, improving your mood and reducing stress.
• Meditation and mindfulness: These practices can help calm your mind and promote relaxation, reducing stress levels.
• Deep breathing: Taking slow, deep breaths can help lower heart rate and blood pressure, reducing stress and promoting relaxation.
• Creative outlets: Engaging in creative activities such as painting, drawing, or writing can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
• Spending time in nature: Being in nature can have a calming effect on the mind and body, reducing stress and promoting overall well-being.
• Connecting with others: Spending time with friends or family members who provide social support can effectively manage stress.
How can I maintain good physical health as a college student?
Maintaining good physical health is essential for college students to thrive academically and personally. Here are some tips to help you prioritize your physical health:
• Make time for exercise: Regular exercise can help improve physical health, boost mood, and reduce stress. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate daily exercise, such as walking, running, or cycling.
• Eat a balanced diet: Make sure you get enough nutrients by eating a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
• Get enough sleep: Adequate sleep is critical for physical and mental well-being. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night and establish a consistent sleep schedule.
• Practice safe habits: Avoid risky behaviors like binge drinking, drug use, and unsafe sex. Practice safe sex by using protection and getting regular STI testing.
• Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands regularly, brush and floss your teeth daily, and practice good hygiene to prevent illness and promote overall health.
• Get regular check-ups: Schedule regular check-ups with your healthcare provider to monitor your physical health and address any health concerns.
How can I improve my mental health as a college student?
Improving mental health is just as important as maintaining physical health for college students. Here are some tips to help you prioritize your mental health:
• Practice self-care: Incorporate self-care practices into your daily routine, such as meditation, exercise, or spending time in nature.
• Seek support: Talk to friends, family, or a mental health professional if you feel overwhelmed or struggle with mental health concerns.
• Stay organized: Keep a planner or calendar to stay on top of assignments, deadlines, and other responsibilities. This can help reduce stress and promote better mental health.
• Connect with others: Join a club or group that aligns with your interests and values to meet new people and build social support.
• Manage stress: Engage in stress-reducing activities such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or exercise to manage stress levels.
• Avoid substance use: Avoid using substances such as alcohol and drugs to cope with stress or other mental health concerns. Seek help if you are struggling with addiction.
• Prioritize sleep: Getting enough sleep is critical for mental health and overall well-being. Establish a consistent sleep schedule and prioritize restful sleep.
How can I manage my finances as a college student and avoid financial stress?
Managing finances can be a significant source of stress for college students, but there are steps you can take to avoid financial stress and maintain financial stability. Here are some tips to help you manage your finances as a college student:
• Create a budget: Make a budget that considers all your expenses, including tuition, books, rent, food, and other necessities.
• Track your spending: Keep track of your spending and adjust your budget as needed to stay on track.
• Avoid debt: Use credit cards responsibly and only for necessary expenses. Avoid taking out unnecessary loans.
• Save money: Save whenever possible, even if it’s just a small amount each month. Building a savings account can provide financial security and peace of mind.
• Look for ways to cut costs: Find ways to save money on expenses, such as buying used textbooks or cooking at home instead of eating out.
• Consider part-time work: Look for part-time work on campus or in the local community to earn extra money.
• Seek financial aid: Apply for financial aid through your school or other organizations to help cover the cost of tuition and other expenses.
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