What College Taught Me About Self Care

Undergrad was busy for me. I was consumed by classes, spending time with friends, and working. I threw myself fully into each thing on my calendar, started my day with a full to-do list and wasn’t satisfied until I’d crossed off as many items as I possibly could.

Did self care ever make it onto that to-do list?

Not really.

But I knew it was something I was supposed to be doing. So naturally, I looked it up on Pinterest.

But doing the things that Pinterest told me was “self care” didn’t make me feel better. It made me feel worse.

I Had To Re-Learn What Self Care Actually Meant

If you actually search “self care ideas” on Pinterest, it’ll show you everything from “watch a movie” to “eat a snack” to “take a nap” and everything in between.

Sure there are suggestions for activities in every category under the sun, but since I didn’t understand what self care meant, or what it was for, I chose the options I liked best.

So, diligently, I would sleep in, watch my Netflix, and enjoy my potato chips as my “self care.”

But I didn’t feel good. I felt terrible. I was getting further and further behind in my school work. I was tired all the time.

My “self care” wasn’t working for me because I wasn’t choosing Netflix and snack and sleeping as self care.

I was choosing them as a distraction, trying to pretend I was fine when in reality, I was struggling with a lot of depression and anxiety.

After I hit rock bottom (a story all on its own), I started to REALLY think about how to take care of myself. I threw everything I thought I knew about self care out the window and started from scratch.

Self Care Is An ACTIVE Choice

The definition of self care that I like to center myself around is: The ACTIVE choice to care for all aspects of your health and well-being.

The ACTIVE choice. Not the passive choice. Not the default choice.

Self care has to be intentionally chosen. By defaulting to sleeping in and Netflixing my way through my semester, I wasn’t caring for myself because I wasn’t tuning into what my body and mind actually needed.

Self Care Means Caring for ALL Aspects of Your Wellness

Did you know there are seven different types of wellness?

Well, according to Dr. Bill Hettler, there are!

They are:

  • Physical Wellness
  • Emotional Wellness
  • Social Wellness
  • Spiritual Wellness
  • Intellectual Wellness
  • Environmental Wellness
  • Occupational Wellness

Sounds like a lot? This website breaks it down pretty clearly. Each dimension of wellness is a different part of the way you interact with yourself and the people and world around you.

As a college student, I also like to add an addendum to Intellectual and Occupational Wellness: Academic Wellness–caring for your academic health and growth as a student.

By choosing to care for aspects of myself revolving around my potential to be a successful and confident student, I am caring for my Academic Wellness.

Hence, how I realized that homework is self care.

If you’re new to Feed That Nation, you might not know that I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). I struggle with organizational functioning, and school work is sometimes a struggle because of how my brain processes and stores information and makes decisions.

I work hard and I have systems in place that help me function, but before I took the time to understand how I function as a student and what I need to be successful, I was constantly comparing myself to others and there was no shortage of negative self talk.

I blamed and berated myself for every missed deadline, every forgotten meeting. Homework in particular was a huge source of guilt and shame for me.

So naturally, I never wanted to do my homework.

But learning more about self care made me realize that sometimes, doing my homework is part of caring for myself.

It also made me realize that sometimes, an activity can be self care, while other times, the same activity can be used as distraction without being self care at all.

Let me give you an example.

When I was depressed and avoiding my homework, Netflix became my default. In that moment, true self care would have been making the choice to finish an assignment or study for a test, even though I didn’t want to, because it would have been a positive choice for my academic health.

But, because I didn’t want to make that intentional choice, (and I’ll admit, there are times when I still don’t!) I would instead default to my distraction: Netflix. Good old, mind-numbing, binge-watchable, Netflix.

Now, is Netflix always going to be a negative distraction?

No! After a long week, on a Friday night, wanting to wind down and enjoy myself? Netflix is GREAT self care!

But the choice has to be intentional. I need to know WHY I am choosing a particular self care activity, and what that self care is going to do for my wellness.

Other Things I Didn’t Used To Know Were Self Care

  • Taking a shower and doing my laundry, both activities that I struggled with while deeply depressed, are acts of self care.
  • Staying hydrated, moving my body, eating nourishing food, and eating enough food to feel satisfied, is self care.
  • Journaling and Yoga, two tools that I use to help me be more mindful, are self care.
  • Going to therapy regularly, and taking the time in therapy to dive into personal growth and healing, even when its challenging, is self care.
  • Taking time to socialize with friends, to watch an episode of Netflix, to treat myself to a manicure or a new shirt, is self care.

Watch this episode of Feed That Nation, where I dive even further into my self care journey and talking about self care for college students!

Natalie Nation

Hello! Welcome to Feed That Nation!

My name is Natalie Nation. I’m a graduate student, a future registered dietitian, health educator, content creator, and I LOVE mac and cheese!

Feed That Nation is a space to talk about all things college and health. I want to help college students to be more successful, more confident, and more healthy in their student experience.

Follow me on Instagram, check out my YouTube channel, and go listen to my podcast!

Minnesota-based grad student, future RD, educator, content creator, and mac and cheese expert! Natalie is currently a Masters of Public Health student and dietetic intern at the University of Minnesota, and is on-track to becoming a registered dietitian-nutritionist. She earned her bachelor's degree in Dietetics in 2019 from St. Catherine University.

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