8 Self-Care Practices for College Students

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When Katie was 11 years old she was diagnosed with depression. At that time she had her family, close friends, and a therapist who supported her. When she went to college, she wasn’t prepared to face it on her own. She wanted to continue to grow the new connections she was making but while trying to hide her struggles she seemed cold and distant. She also missed classes because she couldn’t get out of bed.

Once Katie developed some self-care practices, she began to see improvement in her studies and her relationships. Days were still hard but knowing what self-care practices worked for her helped in the stressful environment that is college. 

What is Self Care?

Self-care is neither self-indulgent nor selfish. Marni Amsellem, Ph.D. and licensed psychologist, notes that “self-care is anything that you do for yourself that feels nourishing. That can be something that’s relaxing or calming, or it can be something that is intellectual or spiritual or physical or practical or something you need to get done.” This requires checking in with where you are at and asking yourself what you need to best tend to your mental and physical needs. 

This will look different for everybody.  Let’s go over some self-care practices that you could incorporate into your life. We know you are busy, so we want to make these easy and accessible for any college student. 

Download a meditation app and set some reminders

Meditation has so many benefits, we can’t even list them all out, but here’s an important one for college students: 

Meditation regulates stress levels! (1)

There are many different meditation apps available today. Most popular are Calm and Headspace. These apps include thousands of tutorials in audio and video format that help you through meditation practice. However, the difficult task for most people, and especially students, is finding time to engage in the practice.

Set reminders on your phone to take a few minutes and engage in a quick meditation or mindfulness practice. These notifications can be set in the application itself or via your phone’s clock. If you know there is a specific break in your schedule that you could take some undistracted minutes to yourself, set your reminder for then. If you know you have a few minutes to yourself in the morning or night, set your reminder for when you wake up or plan to sleep. Meditation is especially helpful for sleep

It’s time to #BeReal with your meditation practice. 

Taking breaks from studying and homework

Have you ever finally looked up from your textbook, only to realize you haven’t left your spot in a few hours? This amount of studying can fry your brain and make it more difficult to absorb information. It’s best to study in 1 - 2 hour sessions, taking a 5-minute break every half an hour or a 10-minute break every hour. 

In terms of self-care, taking a break provides you with a nourishing and usually needed moment. When everything is about school, it is nice to remember that your mental health comes first. Try to use this time to take a walk, call a family member, or grab a snack or water. 

Use in between classes to mindfully get to the next one (5, 4, 3, 2, 1 grounding exercise)

An easy yet effective way to practice self-care is to use the 5,4,3,2,1 method in between classes. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Acknowledge 5 things you can see in your head. It could be anything.
  2. Acknowledge 4 things you can touch. You don’t need to touch them, just acknowledge them.
  3. Acknowledge 3 things you can hear. Focus on things you can hear outside of your body. 
  4. Acknowledge 2 things you can smell. Can you smell the grass? Or maybe the moisturizer you put on?
  5. Acknowledge 1 thing you can taste. What was the last thing you ate, can you taste that?

This is especially effective for those who experience anxiety. It helps get you out of your head and into your environment. This one is great because it uses an activity you already participate in (walking from class to class) and implements self-care during the activity. It doesn’t take more time or energy, just simply an awareness of your surroundings. 

Want to take it a step further?

Focus on your breathing, deep breaths in and out. Center yourself in your awareness and watch your body relax in this easy self-care tactic.

Connect with an on-campus counselor to learn more about campus resources

Not sure where to start? Look into how you can connect with an on-campus counselor. Counselors can point you in the right direction for on-campus resources. They can also help you talk through some self-care practices that relate directly to you!

Drink Water

This may seem like a simple one but it can be so easy to forget to drink water when you are so busy. Drinking water helps your entire body and lowers your risk for anxiety and depression. A study in 2018 showed that individuals who drank a sufficient amount of water per day were healthier and happier. Compared to others who did not drink enough water had a higher risk for depression and anxiety. 

Do you have an on-campus store? If you do, check to see if they sell water bottles. If not, find a general store near you to buy a refillable water bottle. Having water near you is an easy and effective way to practice self-care. Remember, the definition of self-care is “anything that feels nourishing”. So if drinking more water makes you feel more nourished to take on your day then this self-care practice is just for you!

Join a club or organization

Joining a club or organization on campus can feel time-consuming if you spend all of your time in class or studying. However, when used as a method of self-care rather than a resume builder you help alleviate depression, stress, and anxiety. This is because you have quality face-to-face time with others who share your interests. Even if it’s for just an hour a week - taking time to do something you enjoy helps immensely. 

Start by asking a counselor or finding your student body association to help you find all the different clubs and organizations on your campus. 

Consider using an online mental health professional

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) 3 in 4 people notice the benefits of talk therapy in their lives. College can feel lonely sometimes, even surrounded by thousands of students your age. It may even be difficult to find a mental health professional to talk to on campus or off campus. 

With the power of technology, it is easier than ever to find someone you can talk to. At SohoMD, we have hundreds of providers who will listen and help you work through struggles you may be experiencing. We can go beyond what your on-campus counselor may be able to provide when it comes to serious mental health challenges as well. 

Quick tip if you plan on using an online mental health professional:

In terms of self-care, being able to talk about your week can help bring what’s important into perspective. So throughout the week write down the highs and lows so you can talk those through with your therapist. 

Incorporate a new self-care activity into your morning or night routine

While “self-care” has been taken by almost every company in their marketing efforts, for some people using products can be a form of self-care. This could mean that on Sunday nights you use your favorite mask and sit down to mindfully watch a movie. Or taking a shower while using a calming essential oil. 

This could also be in the form of action, going for a walk in the morning, or preparing your breakfast the night before. Find a way to incorporate a new self-care activity into your morning or nighttime routine. The best part is when it becomes stressful instead of relaxing you can remove it from your routine. Since everybody’s self-care activity will look different it’s important to try new forms of self-care for yourself!

Self-care is so important for all people and especially those who lead busy lives. College students are tasked with studying, socializing, working, building resumes, and more. So taking some time to incorporate a self-care activity into your routine can be the difference between a healthy lifestyle and an unhealthy one. 

Self-care that is nourishing is a preventative measure to keep both a physical and mental balance. If you feel that is too far gone consider using therapy to readjust. If you are interested in learning more about a therapist, look through our easy-to-use directory of therapists in your area. 


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