When a word is overused, sometimes it can lose its meaning. I think that is what tends to happen when we talk about self-care. Self-care is subjective and it’s about doing what is best for you in order to decrease stressors in our lives.
What is the definition of self-care?
“While many people may view self-care as a form of selfish indulgence, the act of caring for oneself is actually an important part of a person’s overall well-being. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), self-care is “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.”-Very Well Mind | Chris Vincent, MD
Self-care is important in every area, but it’s really good to implement some strategies and a self-care plan when you are in a new season. Recently, I just started my MBA program. I am excited to begin this 21-month journey, let’s just say true doubts, fears and all the imposter syndrome came to the forefront as I started my program. I think it is just a real thing when navigating uncharted territory. There is an importance of self-care and taking care of your mental well-being while you are in school. Here are some tips that are helping me on road to my MBA program and things I have learned from my previous grad school journey to diminish stress. We can achieve academic success while taking care of our daily lives. Let’s get into it!
1. Set Goals
It’s safe to say that any graduate school program will come with so many paths and options to take. And they can overtake/overwhelm you. Without having goals on the path, you may find yourself getting a degree with no direction. People around you may have goals for you. It is important to take insight from others into consideration, but this is your life AND journey.
For those who might have full-time jobs it’s easy to get caught in auto-pilot just to get reading and assignments done. It is important that are intentional about your goals. One of the lessons I learned from my previous graduate school experience is not only value my academic performance, but taking the time to set out my goals and what I wanted to achieve.
Take the time out to set your goals and write out who and what you want to be once you graduate. That will help to set the foundation.
2. Establish a Routine
My MBA program is forcing me to have a daily routine. I thought I was doing okay before, but realized in order to have a sense of sanity and decreased stress levels, establishing a routine is important. When it comes to getting a routine together, it is important to know what your priorities are. Write them out or use your computer to make a to-do list. I currently enjoy using Microsoft To-Do and Notion.
“A daily routine built on good habits and disciplines separates the most successful among us from everyone else.” -Darren Hardy
My current routine is starting the day early. In the evenings it is hard for me to focus and concentrate and getting up early to read and plan my day is helpful. You might be the opposite and being a night owl is your jam. I say do what works for you while getting adequate sleep in.
3. Time Management
I knew cultivating good time management skills was going to be a priority for me. It has always been an area of contention. Especially with balancing work, school and online learning, this was going to be an area to work on. Managing your time can make a huge impact on your overall well-being. A large of self-care is setting yourself up for success to prevent disease that can happen with long periods of stress.
Here is an excerpt of the domino effect of poor time management skills from Mclean Hospital:
“According to research published in the journal Work and Occupations, there’s a direct correlation between an employee’s time management and their engagement at work and other areas in life. Employees that manage their time well are better equipped to handle the stress that comes with the job.
“When you have less time to deal with what’s essential, the stress and anxiety to perform at work can weigh you down,” explained Levendusky. “Those who struggle with time management are more likely to experience stress, sleep issues, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. They may also start to exhibit symptoms of workplace burnout.”
Time management is not only crucial to getting things done on time for your job. After all, you still need to tend to family matters, social engagements, and your health.
Hence, your ability to categorize tasks and manage your time can help mitigate anxiety, depression, and even problems in the quality of sleep you get every night.”
Self-management skills and time management is more than cute planners and cool apps (I love both haha). It helps to understand your free time. And it is helpful with ensuring that you are handling priorities and reducing burnout that can negatively impact your health.
4. Work Backwards
After you write out your to-do list what has been helping me is the concept of working backwards. You can take the syllabus from each class and write on your calendar all the important dates. This can be anywhere from your class projects, assignments and tests. Also, make sure you understand what the objective is from each class. This helps as you read and do projects to keep the focus on what the expectation is.
The objective for my strategy class is to understand the meaning of strategy in our industry. And all the components that make up having a good strategy. Then I opened my calendar and plugged in all the due dates for my class. Then I worked backwards with the different articles and assignments. This helps to not overwhelm yourself with how you read. To work smarter and not harder.
Here are a few links on working backwards if you want to read into it:
5. Regular Physical Activity
I don’t know about you but when I am feeling overwhelmed or busy, my workouts are the first thing to go. And the minute I get back into my routine I question why I stopped. Working out has so many benefits from helping you with focus, stress and concentrating. Let’s not even get started on all the health benefits as well. An article from Rice University, shares several great tips on how to incorporate fitness in graduate school. A few of their recommendations are, “doing what you enjoy, make it social, and stay consistent.”
I believe consistency happens when we do what makes sense for our lives and schedules. An app I love for all things fitness is ClassPass. You are able to find studios close to where you live and can select a tier that makes sense for you. A few other fitness ideas can be going on a long run, or going on a walk. Getting outside and breathing fresh air can do wonders for our physical health and mental well-being. Graduate school and business school is heavy on using your mind for problem solving. Because of that it is important to find healthy ways to destress in order to do our best work.
6. Unplug from social media (as needed)
In times of transition and starting school, it is healthy to take an extended time away from social media. Whether you need much time away or just a mini break from screen time, it is incredibly helpful with focusing. I took about 5 weeks away from my personal social media account to prepare myself for starting graduate school. It was great for my personal goals and mental wellness. An article from Mayo Clinic states that reducing screen time improves your physical health and can boost your mood. It’s amazing how a small thing as unplugging can be a good mental health practice. Even a 5-minute self-care break can do wonders. Yes, this is a form of self-care so try it out!
7. Breath work
My Apple Watch introduced me to breathing when I would get these notifications asking me to breathe on the mindfulness app. I would ignore it. Even though I know the powerful effects of positive psychology, mindfulness and how it reduces stress from previous graduate research, I never took my own advice. And then one day I gave it a shot and it by simply taking a minute to breath deeply, you can feel the calm throughout your body. Deep breathing (diaphragmatic) is known to help with relaxation, stress reduction, focus, lowered heart rate, and stress hormone regulation. Deep breaths can lower your blood pressure? YES IT CAN!
8. Study Smart
Studying can bring about so much anxiety, but I am learning quickly that it isn’t smart to read every single thing. A good study tip is to be intentional about what you read. As you read articles and your books, pick out the most relevant information. I am seeing a huge difference adopting this mindset now versus my previous experience. There is not enough time in the day to read every single thing, but you can break it down and pull out the most useful. And make it practical. And allow the information you are learning support what you are doing now or where you want to be. I am seeing the effects of stress leave my body (LOL) by studying smarter.
9. Get enough sleep
My college experience was full of finding ways to achieve academic success with a lack of sleep. All the former college students know what I mean! Then you get older and life hits you hard and fast. As a whole grown woman, sleep is one of the biggest goals that I have.
I have experienced insomnia before and I learned that it was mostly due to my lack of a night routine. Now I understand and make it my mission to get adequate sleep. Especially with being in school and to my MBA students out there, we need a good night’s sleep to process all we are learning.
Things I do:
Avoid screen time right before bed
Do something that signifies to your body that you are nearing bed time (this could be washing your face, pulling back your covers, turning off the TV, etc)
Use rain music on Spotify (This has helped me SO much)
Remember, we want to get to our goals making sure we are taking care of US. Let’s cross the finish line of our MBA programs healthy in our mind, bodies and spirit! Now tell me, what did I miss? How are you practicing self care in graduate school?