Here’s a little dash of irony for you: I am attempting to write this with raging flu. It all started four days ago when I unwisely decided to ignore that feeling that comes after having more than a dozen hours of sleep, followed by inexplicable levels of exhaustion and aches. I went attempted to attend my placement anyway, failed miserably, and then journeyed halfway across Wales just to stay at my mother’s place and indulge in some self-care.
Yep, and I am 29 too.
As a student who freelances, I often find it hard to draw the line when it comes to work and self-care. As a medic in the making, I should know that failing to engage in self-care means you ultimately end up feeling worse, you do less, and as a result, all of your projects suffer.
I can assure you that, right now, I am on the mend. Therefore, it’s okay for me to start writing this post. The aim of this blog article is to encourage YOU to engage in self-care so that you don’t splutter like a car with an engine that hasn’t been serviced for weeks and arrive at a grinding halt like I did.
What is self-care anyway?
Self-care involves taking time for yourself. It includes indulging in your hobbies, having the occasional lie in, meditating, exercising, eating the right things, and tending to your emotional needs.
As student freelancers, we’re more prone to ignoring self-care than others. We have projects that pull us in a million directions. When we fail to take care of ourselves, we end up being unable to fulfill our self-imposed project deadlines, studying becomes impossible, and we piss off our clients.
While you’re trying to balance the fine art of spinning coursework, project, and study plates, it’s easy to fall into the trap that is feeling as though dedicating time to self-care will result in less getting done. One literature review has found that there’s a link between self-care and becoming more productive. As such, holding back on doing the things you love isn’t conducive to getting more done.
Instead, you’re more likely to get in a tizz, fret about projects, spend extra time ruminating over plans than executing them, and you feel an inside spiral of peril in which your dream of sailing through college on a freelancer’s wage sinks. Not good, is it?
What type of self-care activities can I try?
Here’s a novel thought; seeing as we fall into a unique category of human beings that already has a lot of ‘activities’ scheduled, let’s not plonk self-care into the ‘activity’ box. Similarly, we won’t look at it as a treat either. Instead, remove any word that could associate it with being an obligation or something you could possibly feel guilty about, then delve into it.
See self-care as a habit. It’s not something you’re obligated to do, nor is it something you only reward yourself with when you feel as though you’ve worked hard enough. Doing the former makes it feel like a task, and the latter means you’re at risk of denying yourself the joys of self-care when you get sod all done.
Now, for those self-care habit suggestions:
- Try going for regular walks. Exercising releases serotonin, which I’m sure you’re more than aware of. At the same time, there’s evidence suggesting that allowing vitamin D to flood through your body reduces the risk of depression, so spending time outside is no bad thing.
- Take indulgent baths. Whether it’s by candlelight with a glass of wine in your hand or for ten minutes before bedtime to wind down, there’s something soothing about immersing yourself in water. Contrary to popular belief, baths don’t help you relax because they’re warming your body; it’s because your body expends energy cooling down, which means you could tackle some of those stress hormones head-on by giving them somewhere to go and burn.
- Think of something you’ve been dying to do or try, then go for it. Is there an experience that makes your heart flutter, but you’re always telling yourself you don’t have enough time for it? Or, maybe there’s a hobby you kind of want to start, but you’re worrying about whether you’ll really enjoy it? These types of feelings are your fear-based ego making you believe that you can’t step outside of your comfort zone and go for something new. Countless studies show us that we release more dopamine when we try new things, so quiet that voice and give your new experience a chance.
- Don’t ignore meditation and/or yoga. Even if you’re the type of person who usually shouts, screams, or punches pillows to release their rage, meditation and yoga are great self-care measures. I won’t go ahead and knock your usual angry responses to the things that tick you off, because God knows I am capable of them myself. Yoga and meditation, though, are like prophylactic measures, whereas kicking and screaming are reactive. Don’t knock them until you’ve tried them.
- Eat and sleep like a normal person. I feel like a hypocrite for writing this. Right now I am finishing my dairylea Dunkers breakfast on a train, with a cup of coffee after five hours of sleep because me and my partner spent hours watching fish tank maintenance videos last night (in other words it’s taking me longer than usual to write this post, hence the change in circumstance) However, once I do start to notice my sense of self go down the pan, I start looking at self-care benefits. Sleeping is for physical healing and eating a balanced diet helps your body build all the blocks it needs for a healthy you. Don’t use student life as an excuse to ignore your responsibility to yourself.
Now that I’ve lectured you a little, it’s time to move onto the evidence for self-care. Just in case you need convincing.
What are the benefits of self-care?
In addition to boosting your self-esteem – which then makes you a more confident worker- you can keep diseases at bay. From your mental health to your physical, there are lots of benefits to self-care that many people wouldn’t consider.
Spending time outdoors enhances your vitality
One study published by the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that people who spend time outdoors have a self-reported sense of vitality. In simple terms, this meant that they reported feeling more strong and active. If you’re feeling more active, you’ll naturally become more productive in every area of your life.
You lower your cortisol levels
While cortisol levels play a positive role in your body to a degree, when they’re too high and you don’t have any way to burn them off, they have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. One study has found that engaging in brief periods of meditation results in lower cortisol levels, which means you respond in a calmer way to the world around you.
Spending more time with your friends increases your life expectancy
There’s plenty of evidence to support the idea that socializing more increases your life expectancy. This suggests that it also enhances your overall sense of well-being, which ultimately means you’re a more productive freelancer. In short, spending time with your mates means you’ll weirdly get more done. Hello Happiness, how we’ve missed you.
When you sleep more your memory improves
Sure, you can survive on five hours sleep per night without seeing a significant decline in your energy levels. But, for a relatively small area of your body, your brain needs a lot of soothing and rejuvenation to get into gear. Also, it burns a lot of calories when you’re using it all the time. Lots of studies show that sleeping more means you retain more of what happens during the day. Plus, if you’re living the high flying student life, you’ll soon find that going without sleep isn’t conducive to scoring great grades. So, aim for more sleep to improve your freelancing game, as well as your academic results.
Trying new things increases your dopamine levels
A lot of the self-care recommendations I’ve made involve trying new things. Whenever you try something new, you encourage your brain to produce more dopamine. As a neurotransmitter that plays an essential role in helping you focus, it’s a friend you need to help you fight your freelancing and academic battles. From anesthetists through to pilots, plenty of professionals engage in activities that enhance their concentration while trying or learning something new. Take crosswords, for example; they’re imparting fresh information to your brain while encouraging you to think. However, if you don’t fancy a crossword, you can always try listening to a new song or trying an activity you don’t usually enjoy.
If you’re struggling to think of ways to incorporate self-care into your daily routine, try slotting it in alongside your other everyday necessities. For example, you can take five minutes to practice deep breathing after brushing your teeth. With a consistent approach, self-care will become an effortless part of your life, allowing you to thrive as a student and a freelancer.