We’ve all been there. Yep, the mid-semester slump. That time of the year when your balanced diet, workout goals, and pursuit of healthy living are thrown out of the window and replaced with junk food, long hours sitting in front of the computer, and a desire just to survive midterm exams and papers. You may find that your energy levels are low, you’re easily distracted, not sleeping enough or sleeping too much, and overall, just not feeling like yourself. If this describes you, it just might be time to engage in some self-care, or what I like to call, inner TLC.
Inner TLC, or tender loving care, is the practice of taking care of yourself when you need it the most. It’s taking the time you need to assess your needs, seek out helpful resources, and recover. Occasionally we all feel overwhelmed with a lot on our plates. Whether it’s registering for an additional course, working extra hours at our jobs, or spending more quality time with friends, taking on too much without making time to take care of yourself can have a number of negative consequences on your physical health. According to the Mayo Clinic, feelings of stress and being overwhelmed can affect your body in the following ways:
- Headaches and migraines
- Muscle tension and pain
- Chest pain
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Upset stomach
- Sleep problems
- Change of diet
Now just think: how are you going to complete the paper due in your additional course if you have a headache or migraine? How will you get through your shift at work if you are feeling tired? How can you enjoy quality time with your friends if you’re experiencing pain? Experiencing the physiological effects of overwork and stress can truly make it difficult to get through these tasks, demonstrating why it is so important to engage in some inner TLC.
Assess your Needs
Before taking steps to reduce your stress and feelings of overwhelm, you must first identify your current level of stress, potential causes, and strategies you are using to cope with these stressors. Taking a Stress Test is one quick and easy way to assess your current levels of stress and overwhelm, and to recognize ways—both healthy and unhealthy—you are trying to manage your stress. Once you have the results of your stress test, you can then make a list of all potential causes of your stress such as over-commitment to campus activities, heavy course workloads, and demanding family and friend obligations. You can also use this list to identify ways you are dealing with these stressors and brainstorm alternative coping strategies that can promote your physical health.
Seek out Helpful Resources
There are numerous resources available both on an off campus to jumpstart your inner TLC. On campus, you can find supports for managing stress and reducing its effects on your physical health at Campus Recreation or in Campus Health’s Counseling and Psychological Services. There are also various resources in Chapel Hill and surrounding areas such as yoga and hot yoga studios, dance studios, and group workout classes along with walking trails, pools, and parks. By engaging in these kinds of physical activities your stress levels will decrease, and you will find that your headaches, stomachaches, sleep, and diet will improve giving you the energy you need to get through your mid-semester slump.
To get the most out of inner TLC, you not only have to assess and address your needs, but you also have to give yourself permission and time to recover. Recovery requires you to briefly step back from some of your activities to reap the maximum benefits of resources. For example, taking a walk on a trail while sending emails on your cell phone may not be as beneficial to your physical and emotional health as taking a break from your phone entirely, and increasing the pace of your walk.
Engaging in inner TLC may at first seem like a selfish practice, but if you aren’t physically well, how can you take care of anyone else? View inner TLC as a smart investment with pay-offs for both you and those around you.
Charity Watkins is a Program Assistant in Health Equity and Advocacy in Student Wellness. In her position at Student Wellness, Charity co-facilitates Sister Talk Circle and advises the student peer group, DICE. In addition to her work in Student Wellness, Charity is a 3rd-year PhD student at the School of Social Work with a research focus on academic resiliency.