Treat Yo Self

The Donna Meagle-Approved Guide to Self-Care


W.LAB Staff

March 16, 2019 5 minute read


You’ve just gotten home from a ten-hour day of work. You have a whole night of research and writing ahead of you and still need to make dinner, plus set aside a couple of hours for your job so you can cover rent this month. You want to spend the night watching Netflix, but that hasn’t been in the cards since the semester started… the only time you watch or read to relax is when you’re procrastinating, which is really like having no down-time at all.

Depressingly, this is the situation of almost every grad student I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

It’s no secret that we’re over-worked, stressed to the max, and running headlong toward burn out… which is unpleasant, totally unsustainable, and, quite frankly, bonkers. Taking breaks are not only nice, they’re essential to your continued survival.

All of this sounds great on paper, but can be really difficult to implement into our daily lives; we know physical exercise is good for us, but don’t want to make time for a run when we have three papers to write and two projects to work on. This is why, in the height of the semester madness, we’ve taken a page from Parks and Rec’s total legend: Donna Meagle.

We treat ourselves.

Personally, I find it way easier to take a night off or set aside an hour when I’m framing it as a one-time thing, and not an on-going commitment… so here are some great strategies to help keep you healthy, happy, and at the top of your game.

Treat Your Outsides We all know the saying “your body is a temple.” Most of the time, mine is not—it’s a vaguely inoffensive dumpster I ignore and trust to do its job (you know the ones: they look clean, don’t smell too bad, but they’re still dumpsters). Unfortunately, my body is also a living thing that houses me, and dislikes being treated like crap. Honestly, I get it. Running my physical self ragged is not a great way to ensure my continued productivity and general health. So, when I’m knee-deep in research and drowning under the amount of work I have to accomplish, I set aside some time to treat my body. This is always part treat and part apology to being so awful to my physical self, but the end result is the same: I feel refreshed, gorgeous, and ready to crush some skulls.

The easiest way to do this is to take a bath, if you have one, or a long, hot shower. There’s something about coming out of a steaming bathroom totally pink and dewy that makes me feel awesome and refreshed. For those times you really need to feel yourself, try a bath or shower bomb. Buy yourself a nice soap and use it on the daily. Set aside a couple hours to chill in the bathroom with some music and a razor if you need to shave, or give yourself some time after washing to moisturize. Short on time? Even just doing a facemask while completing other tasks will force you to set aside ten minutes for yourself. Deciding to put on makeup or doing your hair is also a really great way to show up for yourself in a small and relatively manageable way. For the next level Meagle-ites, peruse your student health plans… some cover massages if they’ve been prescribed by a doctor, so head on over to a clinic and make the most of your plan!

All of these suggestions can be cherry-picked depending on how much time you have, and your own comfort and interests. I, for example, don’t have a bathtub and think a shower bomb sounds like a disaster, but I’ll treat myself to an extra five minutes when washing and spend some real time moisturizing or, when I’m feeling really worn out, doing a facemask.

No matter what you decide to do, taking the time to treat your outsides is a really great way to re-center and feel yourself. When we’re confident and happy with how our body feels and looks, we tend to be more energized and productive, not to mention confident, which does a lot for how we perceive ourselves and how we present to the world.

Plus, you know, it’s nice to thank your meatsuit for all it does every so often.

For Your Insides Oh man, mental health. Though a lot of the things you do for your outsides help manage stress and anxiety—hot showers, anyone?—here are a few of my tips and tricks for achieving peak self-care on the mental health front.

Exercise. I know, I know… super unoriginal. But exercise really helps with stress and anxiety management. Treating yourself to a wild exercise class you’ve always wanted to take (say, pole dancing) is a really great way to treat yourself and practice self-care all at the same time. Similarly, allow yourself a 20-minute break to go for a walk outside when it’s nice out. Though this tends to be difficult to do when you’re in the thick of the semester—I tend to spend an hour deciding whether or not I can afford the time to go outside, then work myself up to getting dressed and leaving the house for another three, before spending a half hour in the sunlight and coming back ready to work—it’s totally worth it. I tend to come back home ten times more productive than I was when I left; treating myself to some fresh air does wonders for my ability to concentrate.

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Repetitive, meditative activities and tasks are also a really great way to treat yourself. Cooking and baking something special are my go-tos: not only are they super relaxing, but I feel ridiculously accomplished after a half hour of chopping or stirring. Plus, I end up with a fancy cake or kick-ass dinner. The repetitive movements of these tasks is also really meditative, and acts like a reset for when I need to continue grading papers after eating. This works in a way that is very similar to crafting; tearing your eyeballs from your screen for a while to produce something other than schoolwork is a welcome treat after a long day, and keeps me from burning out. My go-to crafting projects tend to be knitting or embroidery, which again, are relaxing in their repetition and provide me with a creative outlet for all my feminist rage.

If cooking or crafting aren’t your thing, actually meditating is another fantastic (and cheap!) way to practice self-care. Taking five minutes after you wake up or before you go to sleep to check in with yourself and do some deep breathing helps to clear your mind and make you feel way more relaxed. Which is, you know, useful when you’re trying to sleep and not think of all the things you have to in five hours, or when you need strength to deal with upcoming interactions with your male. Not a fan of meditation? Stretching in bed can work in the same capacity. And, if you’re a true Meagle-ite… putting limits on the hours you allow yourself to work is the Gold Standard of self-care.

Though not always feasible due to the fluctuating nature of a grad student’s schedule, imposing limits on your working hours can do wonders for your mental health. Full disclosure: I’ve never actually been able to achieve these truly stellar levels of self-care, but I have a friend who stops working at 11 o’clock at night every day, and is in bed by midnight… She’s currently completing a joint Masters/PhD, and is truly living her best life. She sleeps enough, she’s energized, and she hasn’t experienced burnout in two years. We should all aspire to that level of awesomeness.

The Takeaway Take time for yourself.Make time to curl up with a book that has nothing to do with your research. Try and see friends outside of school or work context once a week for a couple hours, or if you’re all people’d out… take yourself out on a date. See a movie. Go to a museum. Go hiking or to a restaurant! Giving yourself some downtime is really, really important in order to reset, stay sane, and continue smashing the patriarchy. So go forth and treat yourself, ladies.

You totally deserve it.

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