mental health

This is the second in a contributor column by Zoe Lauckner. Check back next issue for the latest in Mental Health issues.

Here we are—it’s the fifth week of the term, papers are due and mid terms are happening. Feeling overwhelmed yet? You’re not alone.

Admittedly, self-care is one of my least developed qualities, and is often the last on my priority list. I have to remind myself that self-care is a journey, a constant learning process, and that the alternative really isn’t so appealing. University is a time of great stress, there’s no avoiding it. What we can do is learn how to reduce that stress and create healthy habits that help to keep us going through the school year. This issue’s column is meant to help guide you (and me!) in the process of increasing self-care awareness and getting us thinking about ways to reduce stress during our studies.

What is self-care? Self-care is all about nurturing yourself. Identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them in healthy, productive ways. Self-care takes dedication and consistent intentional practice.

Practice self-care with intention. It is one thing to recognize self-care-like activities in hindsight, but true self-care is done with intention. Simply taking the dog for a walk because he/she needs it, is not self-care. When you’ve decided what your self-care task is going to be for the day, take a deep breath and remind yourself why you’re doing this–if you want to succeed in your studies, having a clear head and healthy body are two integral components of academic success. You’re worth it.

Mind your self-talk. When we are under stress it’s easy to look at life through a negative lens.  Everyone has different self-talk tendencies, but kicking yourself when you’re down isn’t going to help lift you back up. Start by noticing your self-talk, is it primarily positive or negative? I’d bet that you notice a change toward more positive self-talk, even just by increasing your awareness by intentionally checking in with your self-talk from time to time.

Know the difference between stress management and stress reduction. Let’s say you’re stressed out about finances and a paper that’s due next week. In terms of stress management, you might decide you need some time away from the computer and go out with friends for a few drinks on a Friday night. The problem with this is, your paper still isn’t done and you’ve spent more money, adding to your stress level. Stress reduction on the other hand, is finding ways to reduce or eliminate certain stressors in your life. So maybe you choose to stay in and get your outline done and later enjoy a cup of tea with friends. Weighing the amount of harm vs. the amount of good is an important step in self-care. Be realistic with yourself. Disguising harmful or stress inducing activities as self-care is going to have the opposite effect.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. If the stress becomes too great for you to handle on your own, the good news is that you don’t have to. VIU offers free, short-term, confidential counseling to students—I have used this service in the past and had a very positive experience. You can reach them at 250-740-6416 or in person at building 300 on the third floor.

There are many different types of counseling out there, and it’s important to find the approach that feels right to you and is in-line with your values—next issue’s column will touch on services in the Nanaimo area.

Don’t forget to eat right, sleep lots, practice gratitude, be silly, and smile!

Stay sane(ish), VIU! Until next time.