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Take Care of Yourself

Maintaining your Mental, Physical & Emotional Health

By: Maggie Veneman

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

- World Health Organization

children walking down the roadQueen’s Health Promotion defines self-care as an essential social work survival skill that refers to activities and practices that we can do to reduce stress and maintain and enhance our short and long term health and well-being. Rather than wait until you are overwhelmed and extremely stressed to focus on your self-care, you should be proactive and practice self-care as a regular part of your day. This makes it easier to do when high-stress times occur and also helps lower stress levels during busier times of year.

Being proactive about your health is one way to achieve balance and satisfaction in all areas of your life, including your academics. Health is not just the absence of disease; health refers to one’s overall well-being. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to prioritize things like family, work, or school over their health. Students do not always understand the connections between personal health and academic progress. The two are actually closely related.

Mental Health

According to the World Health Organization, mental health is a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

Benefits:

  • Improved ability to cope with stressful situations
  • Increased productivity
  • Greater connection to your classmates and professors
  • Stronger self-awareness

See this video from Dr. Mike Condra to learn more.

Physical Health

plate of veggiesMedical News Today defines physical health as good body health, which is healthy because of regular physical activity (exercise), good nutrition, and adequate rest. Physical wellbeing is defined as something a person can achieve by developing all health-related components of his/her lifestyle.

Benefits:

  • Increased energy
  • Better sleep hygiene
  • Greater ability to focus (brain food!)

Emotional Health

In an article on The Huffington Post, counsellor Jenny Florence explains that “emotional health isn’t about being happy all of the time. Our emotional health is defined by our ability to understand and be responsive to our emotional experiences, to be able to feel the full range of our emotions and be at ease with this.”

Benefits:

  • Improved mood
  • Ability to recognize and cope with emotions
  • Improved focus on academics
  • Decreased stress

So, how can you develop a personalized self-care plan, and what should it look like?

A self-care plan is an individualized stress management plan- everyone deals with stress differently so your self-care plan may be very different from everyone else’s and that’s okay! Make sure you address your mental, physical, and emotional health in your plan, and choose activities that feel right to you – yoga may work for your best friend, but you may find it terribly boring. Maybe running works better for you, or reading a book.

Happy planning, and take care of yourself!

Sleep

Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,

The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,

Chief nourisher in life’s feast.

            Macbeth  2.2.37-40

How is sleep connected to academics?

If you’re finding it difficult to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep we need each night, consider the impact sleep can have on your academics. According to the Student Wellness Services website, non-REM sleep regenerates parts of the brain responsible for speech, creative thinking, judgment, impulse control, attention, and visual association while REM sleep is responsible for stimulating the part of our brain used for learning and memory. So sleep actually helps you to process and remember what you’ve learned.

Sleep Hygiene

See these tips from student wellness regarding practicing good sleep habits:

  • Write down things that are on your mind before bed
  • Exercise to promote good sleep
    • Vigorous exercise should be done in the morning or late afternoon (avoid vigorous exercise 3 hours before bed)
    • A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep
  • Establish a pre-sleep routine to signal your body that it’s time to sleep
  • Reserve your bed for sleep
    • You can do this by avoiding the use of your bed for activities such as studying, watching TV or reading
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light during the day as it helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle
  • Keep your alarm clock out of sight
  • Keep your curtains closed at night to help keep your room dark
  • Take a warm bath or shower 90 minutes before bed as opposed to right before bed since we sleep better when our bodies cool down
  • Avoid substances that interfere with sleep near bedtime (i.e.: caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol)

Love Napping? Check out this guide.

How to Make Your Bedroom Sleep-Friendly

sleep friendly bedroom

 

For more information, visit the National Sleep Foundation Website.

Mindfulness

Finding your focus is one of the most difficult parts of being a student. Even when you’ve set aside a time and a place to concentrate on your studies, your other obligations inevitably find their way into your mind, and can hinder your productivity. One way to combat these distractions is to engage in short mind-calming exercises before you begin your work.

Dr. Paul Grogan in the Department of Biology has experimented with these short (2-3 min) exercises in one of his undergraduate classes, and found that the students perceived an improvement in their learning after participating. More research needs to be done in this field, but if you’re having trouble focusing, try one of these exercises:

  • Being consciously aware of one’s breathing, either the temperature change and air flow at the nostrils, the sensation of airflow in the throat, the rising and falling of one’s chest, or alternatively the corresponding rising and falling of the stomach with each inhalation and exhalation
  • Directing one’s breathing so that it is primarily through the left or right nostril and inhaling 3 times on one side, and then the other, and back again, or alternating between nostrils with each inhalation
  • Concentrating attention on one’s feet and their connection to the ground, aware of the sensations in the big toe of one foot, and then the next toe and so on all the way to the little toe, and then switching to the other foot

The majority of students responded well to Dr. Grogan’s technique:

I like this exercise as it allows me to take a moment to breathe deeply and take my mind away from stressors. It helps when slowly moving into an engaging lesson as it almost allows for a "fresh mind”.

With very little free time and a lot of work, university can seem like a non-stop race to catch-up. This exercise helps me calm down, relax, and therefore be more productive and less anxious throughout the day. I have started using it outside of class as well and have found it very effective at helping me keep focused and on task without the feeling of despair that normally accompanies the workload.

Feeling overwhelmed in university is not uncommon, but it’s in your best interests to set aside time for yourself to de-stress and regain your focus.

What does self-care look like?

my self careThese are some examples of self-care activities from Queen’s Health Promotion, but there are many more. Anything you do that you consider to be “you-time” is a form of self-care, because you are putting your well-being first. Consider how to incorporate self-care into every part of your life:

Emotional

Physical

Spiritual

Mental

Social

Work/Professional

Intellectual

To keep the body in good health is a duty... otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.

           – Buddha

Meditation

Queen’s Health Promotion has an excellent template for a quick meditation exercise that you can do at home to help you focus.

Begin with simple breathing meditation (2 min)

  • Sit in a comfortable seated position on the floor
  • Keep the back straight to prevent yourself from becoming sleepy
  • Sit with eyes closed and pay attention to your breathing – don’t try to change it, just focus
  • Find an intention for this meditation (ex: release stress)

Clear your mind (2 min)

  • Focus on a mantra – ex: peace begins with me
  • Repeat the mantra as you continue to relax your body
  • Stay focused on your breathing

meditation Become aware of your body (2-3 min)

  • Start from your toes and focus on each individual body part and consciously relax it
  • Find your radial pulse (at the wrist) (1-2 min)
  • As you keep your focus on your pulse, repeat the mantra and build awareness of your body
  • Feel the energy of your body

Close the meditation (1-2 min)

  • Return all your focus back to your breathing
  • Inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, repeat
  • Finally, open your eyes

 

Self-Care Resources

QueensU Be Well

Be sure to like the QueensU Be Well Facebook page for lots of great tips, videos, and advice from Queen’s Health Promotion.

Stress and Coping Strategies

This tool from SASS will help you determine which areas of your life you are practicing proper self-care, and which areas could use more attention.

Mental health

For advice and resources related to mental health, visit the SWS website.

Guide to back health and posture

Ever wondered how to prevent back and neck pain? Student Wellness Services can help with this intensive guide.

Sleep

The National Sleep Foundation has some excellent resources on everything from napping to sleep disorders, and tips to help you get a good night’s sleep.

Nutrition

It’s no secret that healthy eating will impact your overall well-being. See this guide from SWS for tips on how to make healthier choices that increase your energy.

Stress

What is stress? How do we fight stress in our day to day lives? Check out this link.

Queen’s Student Health 101

Student Health 101 is an online health and wellness magazine designed for University students. It offers lots of valuable information about how to get the most out of your time at Queen's.