It’s January, which means for most of us, that it’s time to take down the holiday decorations and get back to the grind.

For me—and I’m sure for a lot of you, too—it feels like I never had a break from the grind. With work, classes, and the holidays all placing demands on my time and attention, I’ve felt a little overwhelmed, like I’ve been trying to keep afloat in a sea of final papers and wrapping paper.

Regardless, a new year is here, and I’ve resolved to make 2016 the year of self-care, even when—or especially when—I feel like I don’t have time for it.

But that leads me to a seemingly simple question—one that Jsulli214 posed in the comments of my first post—that gave me pause: what exactly is self-care? How am I defining that?

Is it self-care when I carve time out of my busy schedule to read something other than a textbook?

Is it self-care when I treat myself to a latte from my favorite coffee shop?

Even if the caffeine is to help me stay up late studying?

Is it self-care when I force myself to stay awake for ten more minutes at the end of a long night of studying to wash the makeup off my face before completely collapsing onto my bed?

I think there’s just as much validity in including the tedious, humdrum parts of making time for ourselves and our needs—like finally tackling Laundry Mountain at the end of exams or simply drinking enough water—as self-care as there is in including the fun, restorative activities that brighten our days in that definition.

For now, I’m favoring a broad definition of self-care, and I’m looking forward to experimenting with both big and small ways to take care of myself and to start the new year off strong in the midst of the controlled chaos that is grad school life.

Do any of you have self-care in your resolutions for 2016? What are your goals or themes for the new year? Tell us all about them in the comments!



  1. Jeff Sullivan

    To me, an important part of managing self-care is managing stress. While that is a big category, with a lot of possibilities, a few things stand out for me. Two related things that tend to reduce stress are, within some bounds, having a sense of being in control of my life, and also a sense of predictability.

    Toward that first goal, an important aspect is to actively manage how I am using my time. At the smallest end of the scale is keeping an up-to-date to-do list. Knowing what is required is the smallest piece of having a sense of both control and predictability. I not only make the best use of time, though, in addition to feeling in control, is actively using that to-do list to schedule my time. I don’t always follow that schedule exactly, but my life works better when I make the effort. I found Microsoft Outlook – the local version much more so than the web version – to be a great tool. Apple’s Calendar works, but is a distant second for ease of use. A big plus in its favor is syncing seamlessly across all my devices.

    Another related activity promoting both control and predictability, and which can also be tied to the self-care of meditation, is visualizing future outcomes. That is not as simple as “visualizing success”, which can actually be counterproductive. That gets to be it’s own topic. But short form is this. First, visualize everything you expect might happen, even the problems, and handle them. But apparently HOW you visualize is important. Some people argue simply visualizing success tricks your brain into thinking you’ve already succeeded, and lowers motivation. Others argue that is the result of visualizing from an “associated” point of view, meaning visualizing seeing as you see thorough your own eyes. The alternative is visualizing “disassociated”, or actually seeing yourself in the internal image, in the process of succeeding.

    Here’s a couple of articles on these topics:

    Visualize Success if You Want to Fail:
    Try Positive Action, Not Positive Thinking:

    But the upshot is this: planning helps with self-care by reducing stress through the mechanism of improving a sense of control and predictability.

    As far as Laundry Mountain? Things like that get to be visual metaphors for feeling out of control. Even shrinking it helps reduce stress, and also gives a methodical activity that can be coupled with mindful reflection.

  2. Jeff Sullivan

    Fiddlesticks. Can I edit this? The line “I not only make the best use of time, though, in addition to feeling in control, is actively using that to-do list to schedule my time.” should be “To make the best use of my time, in addition to increasing both control and predictability, I’ll actively use that to-do list to schedule my time.”

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