Academic Self Care Isn’t Selfish

Self Care Isn't Selfish | New Faculty

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Summer slipped away in the blink of an eye and I’m currently battling the cognitive battle of “no, don’t you dare go into that office on sunday’s” and “but you have grading to do.”

As the academic year rears it’s glittery, sparkly, and slightly pretty head, all kinds of good and very bad things start to happen.

I begin to neglect. Everything. Including myself.

I stop cooking. Popcorn for dinner anyone?

I spend too much time at the desk.

I spend too little time doing all the things away from my desk that need to get done.

I know these things. I’m not proud. But, I started to employ a new system for myself that began in May. While we can’t go back in time, summer was a great transition time for me to get some things in life in order so when the academic year began, taking good care of myself would be easier, more normalized, and dare I say it, enjoyable?

1. I take care of a lot of appointments during August before classes begin. Dentist, annual physical, car inspection, etc….While it does take time, I still have some time in July/August. It was a few weeks of adult problems everywhere! It’s a rare gift to get your oil changed and have 30 minutes of unrequited time to read things online. I take care of these things so I don’t feel guilty for NOT doing them during the semester. I get any prescriptions filled and buy OTC things in bulk so I don’t run out in October and ask my doctor to do a 3-4 month prescription, if possible, so I don’t have to worry about the Target bot calling me 2048 times to let me know I’ve once again forgot to pick it up. I set up any auto pay accounts and revisit financial matters in the summer. The people usually have a little more time to talk to me and answer my questions. While it’s sometimes not the most optimal time to move my retirement accounts around, it’s necessary.

2. I make moving my body a priority. I stopped fooling myself a few years ago and embraced the fact that I have to move regularly. I have a standing desk, but there’s nothing like dropping 300 meters in the pool a few times a week. Going for a 2-3 mile walk or fitting in a good 75-90 min. yoga class are also excellent for me. Since I’m largely sedentary most of the day, I have to find a way. My old faculty appointment had me working very strange hours, but this new one is more normal and therefore, it’s been easier to get into a good routine. The pool is open for open swim from 5:30-7 p.m. each evening and I can often clear myself of responsibility easily for this, yoga, walks, or whatever else there is.

3. Working on the weekends. I’m on the struggle bus about this one. As deadlines loom for submissions and grad students send things at all hours of the day, I’ll keep plugging away. It’s a few weeks into the semester and I’m still happy to report I’ve not had to go in on the weekends. Home football games have also kept this “bad” habit at bay since the university sells every spot for tailgating and tows you away if you think you’re going to park your car anywhere near campus.

4. I prep food for the week on Sunday’s. Boiling eggs for quick breakfasts, making larger portions for leftovers, portioning out leftovers right away so I can grab one container and get out the door, and reviewing my calendar have all helped me eat better. I will usually spend 1-2 hours on the weekend prepping food. It’s not anything “extra” as I usually try to make a decent meal for myself on the weekends. Cutting up veggies so they’re ready to cook, boiling off a batch of rice and freezing it for quick meals, or defrosting meat to throw in the crock pot are all part of the routine for me now. During the days of weird faculty hours, food prep became essential when I was eating around 9 p.m. at night. The last thing I wanted to do was actually cook.

5. I continue to guard my time like a hawk. Writing group each week moves me off campus. Closing the door without fear leads to quiet time to work, and being strict with others and myself about when I can meet is key. I’ve set all my meetings with students this semester on Tuesday’s. If I have to go to one meeting, I might as well have three. I may not get a lot of work done on that day, but it’s not peppered throughout the week, losing an hour here or there. I schedule my weeks top heavy on M-W and have left Thursday’s open to get MY WORK done. I’ve also accepted that by Friday afternoon, I’m exhausted.

Self care isn’t selfish. There’s nothing wrong with voicing to yourself or those around you that you have to take a little time for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with making your calendar to be done by 5 p.m. so you can manage your personal life. There’s nothing to feel guilty about if you’re not a night owl or a morning person, as long as you get to work once you get to work. Academia is such a self-motivated industry, that you have to figure out what works for you. I have friends who work most of the night due to their own circadian clocks and the fact that that’s the time when the kids are asleep. I have friends who work regular days so they can spend time with their kids once they’re home and get them to school in the mornings. Optimizing what you’ve got to work with is key. Taking good care of yourself is not selfish and even if you want to hole up in a dark room with your apple tv, you shouldn’t feel guilty about doing so.

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