The new semester is upon us. You’ve chosen your classes, polished your syllabus, picked up the pace of your research, and put committee meetings, office hours, and even time to write on your calendar. But what may have fallen by the wayside is the very thing that can help sustain you in the busy, potentially stressful, months to come. At Ideas on Fire, we talk a lot about how self-care is a crucial part of thriving not only in a hectic career but also in a time of general unrest, fear, and vulnerability. Mapping self-care into your semester can help you find balance, prioritize rest, and cultivate your energy as you juggle community, work, health, and more. Here’s how.
Protect Your Time
One of the best ways to map self-care into your semester is quite literal—put it on your calendar. Whether it’s time blocked off for hanging with friends, enjoying a leisurely evening at home, or just unplugging from your screens, treat whatever your version of self-care with the same diligence and respect with which you approach your work. Be intentional about your time, even (especially) the time you have officially set aside for rest and rejuvenation. Academic life exerts tremendous pressure on students, staff, and faculty to work 24/7. Resist.
Manage Your Commute
In the hustle and bustle of the semester, we can forget the interstices, gloss over the value of the time between where we are and where we’re going. Your commute can easily become a meaningful opportunity for self-care. If you can, walk, bike, or travel outdoors when the weather is pleasant. Take time to find a fantastic podcast or audiobook to get lost in, or put on the songs that let your mind wander to happy places. Be intentional about easing your way into and out of the day.
Reflect on Your Relationship to Social Media
Will it be a part of your school and work? An escape? Should you avoid it altogether or just at certain times? Be honest about how you really use social media and how that engagement makes you feel. Determine whether social media is your source of news or an escape valve, who it is you follow personally and professionally, and how often you check the various platforms you’re on.Taking a social media break, or just being proactive about making meaningful rather than passive use of it, can go far in making you feel more calm and positive. Want to stay involved and engaged with your community and activism? Want to escape into beautiful travel photos or read a few lines of poetry to retreat from the constant barrage of bad news? (Yes, it’s definitely ok to take a break.) Curate who you follow, cultivate different accounts, or try suspending a few or all of your accounts for a while to see how taking a breather from your digital life feels.
Answering the same questions over and over again—from students, colleagues, or even your mentors—can quickly feel daunting and overwhelming. Thinking about digital (and analog) ways to streamline responses can be a vital way to protect your time and energy. For example, your syllabus should clearly lay out the ground rules and expectations for your class, so you can point students to it when necessary. Automated emails signal when you’re away and how long it will take you to respond to requests. A professional website describing your research can be a helpful place to direct first inquiries about your work. Approach office hours with this strategy as well—when students line up to talk to you at exam time for example, offer them the opportunity for a group Q&A so you aren’t forced to answer the same question over and over again in individual sessions.
Know Your Rhythm
What time of the day do you work best? Central to self-care is being in touch with your bodily well-being, energy, and level of focus. Check in with yourself on a regular basis to learn your rhythms. Then match your energy to the type of task at hand, be it long or short, intellectual or administrative. Consider whether you feel better if you work longer during the week but are vigilant about maintaining work free weekends, or if you feel better spreading out your work more thinly across six or seven days of the week to protect free hours each day. With a sense of when you work (and play) best, you can craft a schedule that lets you thrive, particularly during the busy start and end of the semester.
Take Your Time
At IoF, we extol the value of setting healthy boundaries, and encourage our clients to know what those boundaries look and feel like. However, too often we equate setting boundaries with taking an all-or-nothing approach, firmly saying yes or no to requests that come our way. Sometimes, a firm “no” is the way to go, but maintaining healthy and caring boundaries sometimes also involves taking the time you need to gather more info, and settle into a comfortable decision you feel good about. Healthy boundaries are self-care, in that they are a tool for empowerment, not restriction.
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