Given the pile of classes, extracurriculars, and work that students face, it’s not shocking that more and more organizations on campus encourage students to practice “self-care” to avoid burnout. Since coming to MSU, I’ve heard students, administrators and staff speak about the importance of self-care. Defined simply as the purposeful commitment to taking care of one’s physical, mental and emotional needs, self care is vital for students trying to balance academic, social and personal responsibilities. However, there is not enough institutional support for students trying to practice self-care.
Despite understanding all of the reasons to practice self-care, I’m still pretty terrible at it. I’ve found figuring out what works best for me and committing to it to be surprisingly difficult. Practicing self-care sometimes means “unlearning” unhealthy behaviors. For example, when talking about self-care, we often mention the importance of getting enough sleep. However, for me, sleep is one of the first things to go when I’m short on time. Trying to develop healthy sleeping habits while simultaneously staying on top of my academic and social commitments is a struggle.
Although practicing self-care is a worthwhile investment, figuring out how to effectively incorporate it into one’s routine can be difficult.
Some students start at MSU with a strong understanding of what tactics work best for them, while others have never purposefully practiced it before. We talk extensively about the virtues of self-care, but we often gloss over how hard it can be to actually practice it effectively. How do we determine which tactics work best for us? How do we “unlearn” unhealthy behaviors? How do we make time for ourselves but still stay on top of our responsibilities? How do we ensure that we’re not overshooting and moving from self-care into self-comfort or even self-indulgence? These questions can often be overwhelming, leading people to forestall starting their self-care journey or abandoning it. Some people need more help learning how to incorporate healthy practices, sometimes ones even as foundational as getting enough sleep or stress management, into their routines.
In recent years, universities have stepped up programming and services available to students to help. MSU Office of Health Advancement (MSU OHA) offers several programs to help students effectively manage stress, develop healthier sleeping habits and figure out what mindfulness really means. The wellness program by MSU OHA helps to navigate hectic and frenzy student life by balancing well-being in a meaningful way. There is a blog launched by OHA to focus on student wellness and self care (https://oha.health.blog/). More faculty and departments within the university have brought conversations about self-care and effective time-management into the classroom to help students throughout the semester. Several student groups host events that bring self-care opportunities directly to students, which can be particularly helpful during this COVID-19 outbreak. The Graduate School of MSU has organized several past workshops to enhance self-care of its students.
However, this is not enough. The response to student self-care should not be scattered and disorganized throughout the university system, but rather a complete policy that addresses all student concerns. Every department should include information on self-care for its students, and OHA should more aggressively promote self-care. Perhaps a self-care module could even be added to AlcoholEdu, the responsible drinking course that all students must take prior to entering MSU, so that students would have a basic knowledge of self-care before entering college.
Each year, more and more students express a need for institutional support when it comes to tackling problems of physical and mental health and well-being. While self-care is not going to fix every problem, it can be a particularly useful tool for facing global issues and preventing them. Our institutional mission of “educat[ing]” the next generation of global citizens” should be holistic, and that means investing resources in helping students develop healthy habits, such as practicing self-care.