Social Work student Nadeen reflects on her self-care journey.
Being at University is an amazing experience, and an opportunity that is not had by everyone. As we begin our learning as Social Work students, we are experiencing new things, building confidence, creating an identity and making lifelong memories.
'Its life changing!'
This may be how the journey begins, but after a few weeks’ things can change. As a student you can face a lot of pressure coming from the reality of juggling your course, social life and extracurricular activities as well as career prospects. This can be hard hitting and at times can feel somewhat impossible to manage.
As life begins to get overwhelming, patterns of behaviour and unhealthy coping mechanisms sneak into your life and before you know it you have limited structure or routine; poor habits, feeling as though you are burned out and spreading yourself too thin.
Ironically this can then result in you wishing away your time at university.
As a Social Work student becoming aware, and learning more about the profession, it is possible to feel confronted by the reality of the varied challenges people face in society daily. Furthermore, as a Social Worker, we have a responsibility to impact positively, protect and contribute to a better life for individuals and families. This can be an intense realisation for some of us, leaving you as the Social Worker with many thoughts, questions and emotions.
From my personal experience as a student for a combined 6 years, I believe it is so easy not to address these feelings, or just suppress them, and hope that by the time you finish your education journey, and through resilience, you will be “better”.
Or maybe you justify not addressing your feelings and experiences, as you believe they are “nothing compared” to those people you are working with, and somewhat “trivial” and that every student is in the same boat. This could be the case for so many students, but as a student Social Worker I think it is good to step back, and make sure you are looking after yourself physically, mentally, psychologically and spiritually.
I believe making a conscious effort to prioritise your well-being is so important and can only have beneficial outcomes. That’s why I have developed these 5 self-care top tips as a Social Work student. They have enabled me to be the best I can be, for myself, and those around me.
1. Make sure you get some Zzz’s – Sleep, Stillness and Time Management!
Sleep is so important and as students we are using so much brain power. Giving your body time to rest and recharge is vital. For me 8 hours of good quality sleep is needed to get the best out of me physically, mentally and emotionally. I like to switch off from my phone 30 minutes before I get into bed, this means no electronics, no laptop and keeping TV watching to a minimum. I replace these habits with a sleep playlist or some mindfulness which allows me to disconnect and unwind. This usually results in a peaceful and restorative sleep.
I also find that a good quality sleep recharges me, which helps to create a good structure and routine throughout the week. This has done wonders to ensure I am meeting deadlines, prioritizing, and being effective and efficient with time.
2. Move your body - Movement
Exercise may be one of the first things that comes to mind when you hear about self-care, I can only agree with this. Whether its walking, running, going to the gym, playing tennis, a swim a bike ride or climbing, the list is endless. Exercising enables me to maintain a great mindset. Dedicating a specific time throughout the week to focus on something other than the “craziness” that comes with student life. Exercise is so important for me and in my self-care routine!
3. Know your limits - Set Boundaries
Don’t be afraid to say ‘No’. Sometimes saying ‘Yes’ feels like the only option and before you know it you’ve agreed to one too many things and are feeling snowed under.
As a student I quickly became aware of this, especially while on placement. Yet you soon realise that those things you are saying yes to, or the extra hours you are putting in to help someone else, are not always benefiting you or them. This is why I was adamant that I was only going to be completing work that was going to be an advantage to my learning as a student. I also started and finished my day at the times agreed, unless I was happy to do otherwise.
Put yourself first when you need to and know that this can really help prevent you feeling overwhelmed.
4. Praise yourself - Tracking Progress and Recording Goals and Celebrate!
Giving yourself positive feedback, recording and identifying your achievements no matter how big or small has been a real confidence booster for me. I have a journal where I also write down what I hope to gain from my University experience, such as areas to improve and goals. This has really helped me feel confident that I will acquire what I need from the environment I am in, but to also source the correct support and information.
5. Self-care is not selfish - Acceptance, No Judgement and Flexibility
These are three words that come to mind for me when practicing self-care, especially as a student. Being able to accept that being a student requires a lot from an individual, that it is normal to feel overwhelmed, and apprehensive at times, this is OK.
Do not judge your abilities to be successful or reach your goals. For me I have become content with the fact that having self-care strategies and stress reduction activities is essential for my well-being. There is no strict rule book that tells you how to practice self-care so be flexible. You cannot fail practicing self-care; it took me a while to figure out what was best for me. There is a lot of trial and error and feelings of frustration surrounding the process is common. However, refocus and start over. Any effort to improve your well-being is always positive and going to be beneficial.
Being a student can both be challenging and rewarding at the best of times. The current circumstances surrounding COVID – 19 can definitely exacerbate this as we are all having to adapt and learn in a unique situation.
Taking care of yourself is particularly important now and hopefully my 5 tips can assist your self-care journey too.
About the author
Nadeen is studying Social Work at the University of Sheffield and is passionate about self-care as a Social Work student. She took part in the Social Work student connect webinar on self-care and you can find her on twitter here @nbrown_6.