By Dr. Kimberlee Ratliff
Program Director, M.Ed. School Counseling, American Public University
Stress is a normal part of life and as a student, it is important for you to build in moments of self-care for your mental health. A typical excuse for neglecting self-care is lack of time, but there are short, relaxing activities that you can do daily.
This week is Stress Less Week. To celebrate it, here is a list of 5-10 minute activities you can build into your day:
- Practice deep breathing exercises.
- Perform the movements of yoga or tai chi.
- Take a walk.
- Use a mindfulness app on your phone or tablet.
- Listen to music or access a guided imagery app.
- Eat a healthy snack or have a cup of tea.
- Post positive affirmations or inspirational quotes in a place you will see often. Throughout the day, these affirmations and quotes will promote thoughts of resilience and confidence.
- Drink water.
- Read a few jokes from a joke book or exchange jokes with a colleague.
- Stretch your upper and lower body muscles.
Creating a Self-Care Lifestyle
Brief self-care moments can help you during a stressful day, but it is important to practice a self-care lifestyle daily. Developing healthy habits for reducing stress on a regular basis can improve your overall health and long-term wellness. Here are 15 ideas for building in self-care strategies into your lifestyle on a regular basis.
- After work, take the time to separate yourself from work stress. Listen to music on your drive home or take a walk around your neighborhood or at a local track to clear your mind once you’re home. Conversely, you can also use your commute to work to relax, which will allow you to leave home stress at home.
- Use a gratitude journal and keep track of what you are thankful for, even on stressful days. Focus on positive happenings rather than the stress around you.
- Use art as a way to relax. Art can also be a group activity with friends or colleagues, at places such as “create your own pottery” studios or canvas painting studios.
- Develop a regular exercise routine.
- Join a support group or talk with a friend.
- Participate in activities for your spiritual wellness, such as church groups, prayer or reading your Bible.
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Practice meditation or mindfulness on a regular basis. If sleeping is a problem for you, perform these activities prior to bedtime.
- Take a bubble bath.
- Laugh often. Watch a funny movie, do silly dances or watch a comedy show if this is a challenge for you.
- Get enough sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, it might be time to evaluate how you use your time before bed and eliminate or rearrange other obligations. If you like a particular show that comes on late at night, record it and watch it at an earlier time on the following day. If you are engaged in too many activities during the week, re-evaluate what you wouldn’t mind giving up to get more sleep. If you struggle with insomnia, try meditation or mindfulness activities prior to bedtime.
- Volunteer or help someone else; there is a positive psychological benefit to helping other people. Volunteer work can be something simple like taking cookies to an overwhelmed friend, writing a thank-you note or helping at a soup kitchen. Be sure to select an activity that relieves your stress rather than adding another item to your “to do” list.
- Keep a “sunshine file” of stories of hope, success stories, thank-you notes and happy memories.
- Spend time doing a hobby you enjoy – gardening, reading, watching a movie, crafts, cooking or baking.
- Plan mini-vacations or mini-staycations throughout the year. These trips don’t have to be expensive or far away; they could include camping at a nearby park, doing a day trip or going to a spa for the day.
About the Author
Dr. Ratliff holds an Ed.D. in Counseling Psychology, M.Ed. in School Counseling, and B.S. in Psychology. She has been with APUS since September 2010 and is an Associate Professor and Program Director of School Counseling. She is a National Certified Counselor (NCC), National Certified School Counselor (NCSC), K-12 Certified School Counselor (VA), and a Trauma and Loss School Specialist with 12 years of experience as an elementary and middle school counselor.