Steph is a team leader for WorldSkills UK, where she works with young people to develop the psychological skills to reach their potential at International competitions. Steph is currently lecturing on the MSC Sport and Exercise Psychology.
When life gets busy and workloads begin to feel overwhelming, many of us find that we start to ignore our physical and mental wellbeing just to try to get through the workload. Even when we are far from productive we continue in vain to try to complete the tasks in front of us. Unfortunately, when we are feeling overwhelmed and unable to manage stress we tend to lose the ability to think clearly and logically and struggle with forgetfulness, fatigue, and irritability. None of these responses help us to complete workloads effectively, but researchers have demonstrated that some simple self-care strategies may enable us manage some of the symptoms of stress and even prevent us from reaching this stage.
What is self-care?
Put simply, self-care is anything we do to take of ourselves so we stay physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy. There are many self-care strategies to help manage stress and maintain wellbeing, but just as we are all different, self-care is inherently unique and individual to each of us. Think about the activities that bring you enjoyment or relaxation and consider how you could integrate these techniques into everyday life because self-care should be an everyday activity and not just for times when you are feeling overwhelmed.
Exercise, diet, and sleep are core to a healthy lifestyle and it is useful to note what unhelpful coping strategies creep into your daily routine during times of stress, such as overeating or not exercising. These strategies may provide short-term comfort but could contribute to stress over a longer period.
Taking a brisk walk can provide the ‘time out’ that you need to gain perspective or clarity whilst providing a whole host of cardiovascular benefits. A 10-minute walk can contribute to your recommended 150-minutes of weekly exercise.
Ensuring that you maintain your sleep routine can lead to enhanced feelings of wellbeing. Sleep routines can include avoiding screens for at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Following the same sleep pattern each night will also help to enable the brain to recognise the cues for sleep.
There are many breathing techniques that encourage you to stop, slow down, and switch off. Having the ability to switch off, even briefly, is an effective self-care strategy that can be effective at any time, day or night. A popular choice is diaphragmatic breathing, which researchers suggest enhances attention, reduces heart rate and negative emotions.
Revisiting enjoyable activities
One way to restore yourself is to engage in activities that you like to do such as sports, hobbies or engaging with others. When we feel studies piling up often we think there is not enough time to participate in enjoyable activities, but note how much time you spend online scrolling through social media and replace that time with activities that take you out of the study environment.
One of the hallmarks of stress is the negative self-talk that goes on inside our heads we can be overly critical and say things to ourselves that we would never say to anyone else. It is useful to recognise these thoughts and the feelings the negative self-talk creates. Noticing your negative self-talk is an important first step towards self-compassion and try to think about how you would respond to a friend instead and use these words to talk to yourself instead.
Remember that looking after yourself is not a luxury but an essential part of everyday life to keep you feeling healthy and well.