Self-care: A Topic Often Brought up, but Rarely Understood // Annika Johnson


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During the first year of my doctoral program, the topic of self-care was introduced. When it came time for me to share my “self-care strategy” I stated, “ummm binge watch Netflix, and uhh..” The truth was I had no idea what self-care was, but I was imagining it was what I do when I am worn out. It didn’t take long for me to learn that binge watching Netflix after running myself into the ground is not self-care. So back to the drawing board I went. In the last nine months, I’ve begun to think of self-care as preventative medicine; it is intended to prevent burnout, not just manage it once it has occurred.

We often hear reference to self-care after an elaborate shopping trip or a day at the spa, and pampering ourselves is an important element of self-care, it is not the only element. There are four basic steps of self-care that are often easy to overlook. Staying hydrated, eating healthy, exercise, and sleep. We’ve heard this our whole lives, and yet there are a million reasons why we neglect these four things. Beginning with hydration, water is our body’s best friend. The average female needs at least 2 liters of water a day, and males need at least 2.5 liters. And as much as we want them to, coffee and other caffeinated beverages do not count when considering hydration. Then eating, for some of us eating three meals a day is a challenge, so begin there. Better yet, eat three nutritious meals that lack in artificial ingredients. Now exercise, exercise is tough because we often think of self-care as “rest”, and we don’t typically think of exercise when we think of rest. However, to achieve quality rest, we need exercise because exercise is the best way to reduce stress hormones. Finally, sleep, as students there is often this idea that we can “make up” sleep on the weekends, but unfortunately there is no way to regain the sleep we have lost. For healthy functioning the average adult requires 6-8 hours of sleep a night.

I can see why these four things are often overlooked; they seem elementary. These are the four most primal self-care strategies, and yet they are not easy, at least not for me. There have been days where every single one of my “well balanced meals” contained copious amounts of peanut butter. Or days where I have carried my water bottle around all day, and haven’t even had a sip until noon. There was that one time where my “It’s ok to take one day off from exercise” turned into 9 days without exercise. And, there have been many times where I have sat in a classroom feeling guilt and shame about the 8 hours of sleep I achieved the night before. As a society, we do not value self-care, we value hard work and selflessness. There is often an internal battle in my head, if I have time for 8 hours of sleep does that mean I am working hard enough? Along with echoes of “There is not enough time.”

Since I have begun to care for my body in these four basic ways my life has drastically improved. Most notably, my immune system is stronger, resulting in improved attendance. Not only that, but when I do attend I have the strength to remain present, and to engage fully. Additionally, my relationships have improved; I find myself being a better partner, friend, and peer. Self-care and hard work are considered dichotomous in our current Western culture. However, when self-care is practiced, we realize hard work alone does not equal our best work. Our best work cannot be achieved without actual self-care.

Written by: Annika Johnson

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