Working at a university carries many stressors: feeling overworked, dealing with high expectations, isolation, and pressure to perform. In addition, faculty and staff have stressors related to their personal lives to balance as well. All this stress can lead to serious mental health problems including anxiety, depression, and burnout. Some even turn to harmful coping strategies like abusing alcohol, overeating, or isolation and avoidance.
Developing your own self-care plan can provide you with strategies to keep your stress level manageable. Self-care refers to a wide range of tools and activities that you engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress, and maintain and enhance health and wellbeing. Sometimes self-care involves taking a break from work. There are a wide range of tools that can help you feel better and have been shown to reduce mental health symptoms. Here’s a brief list of ideas:
- Exercise elicits the release of endorphins in the brain, boosting your mood. It can also help you build your social support network outside of work. Exercise has been linked to reducing depression, stress, and anxiety. If exercise is new to you, start slow and choose activities that you enjoy. Too much, too fast can lead to feelings of frustration and exercise burnout.
- Religion and spirituality can help reduce stress by increasing your sense of purpose, your connection to the world, and expanding your social network. Religion and spirituality have also been linked to reductions in anxiety and depression. Take time in your schedule to incorporate a religious or spiritual practice, like prayer, meditation, or attending a church service.
- Sleep management helps boost mood and improves memory. Make a plan to regularly get enough sleep (7-8 hours) by scheduling it based on what works for you. Night owls may consider avoiding early morning commitments, while early birds may consider avoiding late night commitments.
- Healthy eating is an important way to maintain physical health, but it also improves energy, mood, and brain health. Eating a balanced diet has been linked to decreasing depression, anxiety, and ADHD symptoms. Regular consumption of food throughout the day can also prevent dips in mood. Scheduling meals and snack can help you get consistent nutrition throughout your day and can prevent overeating.
- Hobbies, like crafting, cooking, music, or other interests, can help take your mind of the stresses of work. Participating regularly in a hobby has been shown to decrease risk for depression and dementia. Hobbies can be a great way to connect with others or take time for yourself. Find something you love to do.
These self-care strategies are just a suggested list of activities that may or may not work for you. Choose what works best for you and try to fit it into your schedule on a regular basis. This will help you maintain a balance – your life is more than your work. Neglecting your self-care can impair optimal functioning, so taking care of yourself will have a rippling effect in improving your work, too. Take time this summer to develop your own self-care plan! Tools and tips for developing your plan can be found at: