College Self-Care: A Realistic Guide to Taking Care of Yourself When You Want to Scream into the Void 

Gabrielle Bossart, Reporter

College is a great place to expand your horizons, meet new people, and learn to live independently. It can be incredibly fun and many look back on their college days as some of their best. However, college can also be some of the most intense and demanding days of your life. Stressful weeks filled with procrastination, constant studying, and an overwhelming sense of dread are not uncommon. By the time midterms or finals roll around, life can feel crazy busy. College moves fast, and it can often feel like classes went from zero to sixty with no warning. Suddenly, weeks are booked with tests, papers, and assignments, and everything seems to be happening all at once. Panic sets in as due dates creep up, and there does not seem to be enough time in the day to get everything done. Academic stress and anxiety are very real and can be soul crushing if left to their own devices. Do not let higher education get the better of you and fight back by taking care of yourself.   

Many people have read the self-help articles that repeat the same benefits over and over again with the same reasonings and the same science, citing eat, sleep, and exercise as the big three of self-care. They may be right, but I personally often find myself thinking, “I know I should do this stuff, but it seems incredibly overwhelming right now as I am just trying to make it through the day.” Well, the solution I came up with is to do all the things, even if you do them terribly. In my experience, doing something, anything really, to help yourself, is almost always better than doing nothing at all. With that in mind, here is a guide to taking care of yourself that includes realistic and practical methods for busy college students.   

A simple, although seemingly impossible, way to reduce stress and care for your health is to just sleep more. Now I know you have heard this one. You probably sighed after reading that because, of course, that is the obvious answer. However, when you are in the trenches of your schoolwork, sleep can sometimes slip down the list of priorities, and it is not unusual to see it disappear altogether. It is easy enough to push rest to the side when due dates are looming like a black shadow of death, but seriously, it is never worth it to skip it. There comes a point when the brain and body are so tired that your capacity for producing worthwhile work pretty much evaporates. Do not fall into the trap of trying to just “push through” and get it done because you do not want to do it later. Have you ever gotten to that point where you are so tired that everything seems hopeless and hilarious at the same time, and you feel like you might start crying and then suddenly you are, and then words stop looking like words and more like meaningless scribbles? Yeah, go to bed. Everything will look much less horrible in the morning, and you will curiously find that half your crises no longer exist. If you truly cannot get those precious eight hours, opt for as much as you can, even if it is just a cat nap. Sleep in your car between classes or hole up in a study room for a quick nap. Taking time to rest is crucial for you to stay on your A-game and smash those classes.   

Another fun way to stay on top of your self-care is to eat regularly. Your body needs fuel to keep working hard for you. Imagine for a moment that your body is an employee of your brain. If you were an employee and your boss told you to work for no pay, you would not be thrilled, would you? You probably would not try super hard to produce quality work. You might even give up and start taking an unauthorized nap. You would probably quit. Well, your body is the same way. Give it favorable working conditions and you will not be disappointed. Even if all you can manage is a stale granola bar and a banana, something is better than nothing. The other day I bought frozen grilled cheese sandwiches at Costco that you can just thro win the toaster. Did that feel like giving up in some ways? Absolutely yes, but it is also incredibly practical, fast, and delicious. Anything you can do to make your life easier while eating regular meals is great. While you are at it, do not forget to drink water. The easiest way that I have found to stay hydrated is to just have water around. If it is in front of me, I will likely just drink it out of habit. If you are bad at it, try setting a reminder that goes off every couple of hours or so (or more frequently if needed) to check in and remind you that hydration is power.  

Now that you have slept and you are eating and hydrating, it is time to get that exercise in. I will bet you rolled your eyes at this one, and I will bet the “I do not have the time or the energy” excuse materialized in your thoughts out of thin air. I get it. Amid the nightmare of navigating classes and homework, the gym can seem about as appealing as eating grass. We have all been there. Unfortunately, science is right on this one. Exercise can produce endorphins, those happy brain chemicals that make you feel good, and can reduce pain. You know this already but finding time to hit the gym can still feel like an impossible task, one that is easy to cast off. The good news is that all movement counts as exercise in my book. You do not have to do scary gym things if that is not your vibe. The key to fitting in regular exercise is to find something that you do not hate doing. If that is walking outside in this lovely autumn weather, go for it. If it is playing ‘Just Dance’ on the Wii, good for you. Maybe you like to do yoga or Pilates. Perhaps riding a bike is more your style. The brave may favor the stair steppers. The strong will remember the Wii balance board. Whatever works for you that gets you moving around and out of the customary hunched-over-a-computer position is just fine.   

My next suggestion is to schedule in time for low-effort activities that you enjoy. The key here is to intentionally set aside time. At the beginning of your week or even your day, think to yourself, when can I take a few moments to attempt relaxation? Even if you only have fifteen minutes here or there, something is better than nothing at all. Take the time to write it in your agenda or set up an event in your calendar and stick to it. Having it scheduled in when you know it will not conflict with anything else will help to alleviate some of the guilt you may or may not feel over taking a break.   

The next crucial element is to keep it low effort. It is hard enough to stay motivated to do your necessary tasks during busy weeks, do not make it harder on yourself by trying to fit in a ton of high energy activities. Take it easy and slow down with something simple like listening to your favorite music intentionally for a few minutes or watching an episode of a long loved tv show. Let go of any expectations you may have of feeling relaxed. Trying to force yourself to relax can often lead to more anxiety about not being able to do so. Instead of thinking that you must feel relaxed or calm during this set aside time, shift your expectation to just existing. If you are there, and you are not actively doing anything, then hey, you are existing. That is all that really matters. Letting go of expectations can help you to relax and get that crucial rest in.   

During stressful times in college, it is important to remember that you know yourself and your body better than anyone else. What you need may be different from what other people need and that is okay. Do not be afraid to do weird things to maintain your sanity. Want to watch your favorite movie but do not have time? Just skip to your favorite parts. Who is going to stop you? Need to go out in public but want to feel comfortable? Just wear your classiest pajamas. Who cares, this is not Europe, it is North Dakota, and it is cold. Have to eat but do not have the time or energy to make a healthy dinner? Spice up some ramen by adding an egg and calling it a day. No one will arrest you. You are allowed to do things that bring you joy, and whatever you have to do to take care of yourself is quite frankly no one else’s business. That guy that gives you a weird look on the street as you prance around in your jammies does not know you or what you need. Own your vibe, get out there, and do what you have to do. Remember that one day you will graduate, and you will never have to take another midterm or write another essay. Hold onto that precious thought as you go forth to ace your classes! 


Gabrielle Bossart is a Dakota Student General Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected]