Practicing Self-Care (Even When It’s Hard)


by Nikita Thadani

Hey y’all,

So self-care has become a bit of a buzzword recently. But what does self-care actually mean? What does self-care look like for you?

According to Psych Central¹, “Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.”

Self-care isn’t the same as just treating yourself, as a lot of people in the media may promote. Self-care isn’t always doing what’s easy or being indulgent. For me, practicing self-care means instead of lying in bed and scrolling through Twitter (easy), getting up and going on a run (sometimes hard). It means packing a healthy lunch for the next day instead of eating a bag of microwave popcorn for a meal. Self-care means taking time out of my day to draw or paint because it’s good for my emotional health, even though it feels less productive than doing homework. And sometimes, self-care means getting an extra hour of sleep instead of finishing my last reading assignment (sh… don’t tell my professors!). 

Mason students petting emotional support dogs on campus with autumn leaves in the background.

These self-care practices are actions that will benefit my mental and physical well-being in the long run, even if it might be challenging in the moment to have to get myself out of bed. Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of times when I don’t get up and exercise instead of lying in bed–and that’s okay too! Self-care is about intentionally doing what we can to take care of ourselves and prevent burnout, which is all too common for graduate students. In fact, research has shown² that graduate students face more stress and mental health issues than they will at any other point in their career, especially given that most graduate students are juggling multiple life commitments and responsibilities.

What are some other things you can do to practice self-care in graduate school? While there’s no exhaustive list, here are some ideas³:

  • Setting limits and boundaries for yourself4 – for example, not attending that social function you know you really won’t enjoy
  • Getting enough sleep (can’t get 8 hours at night? Check out our previous blog post on napping5 for some ideas)
  • Eating enough nutritious food
  • Getting exercise and staying active
  • Cutting out stressful components of your environment
  • Creating a healthy work space6 (especially in these COVID times)
  • Practicing mindfulness7 and/or meditation
  • Taking time for things you enjoy (reading, drawing, going on a walk, seeing your friends)
  • Communing with nature
  • Expressing gratitude for the things and people in your life
  • Expressing gratitude for your awesome self
  • Journaling8
  • Getting your medical, dental, vision, etc. check-ups
  • Creating boundaries between work life and home life (which is especially challenging as many of us are currently working from home)
  • Seeking counseling9 (not that I’m biased or anything, as a counseling student)
  • Practicing positive self-talk
  • Visiting Mason Arlington Campus’s MindSpa, a resource specifically designed to enhance student well-being and mindfulness

As you can see, there is an incredible array of things you can do to practice self-care. Some good practices for ensuring you’re doing self-care is actually planning it out or scheduling it. (For example, I’ll pencil in a workout into my calendar so that I can hold myself accountable for actually doing it.) Incorporating these practices in your daily life and figuring out what works for you to de-stress is essential to surviving this crazy thing called graduate school we’ve decided to put ourselves through. 


Your newest Mason Grad Insider blogger, Nikita

1 “What Self-Care Is – and What It Isn’t,” Psych Central, accessed September 1, 2020

2“Mental Health Crisis for Grad Students,” Inside Higher Ed, accessed September 1, 2020

3 “Self Care 101,” Psychology Today, accessed September 1, 2020

4 “Why Setting Boundaries is the Ultimate Self-Care,” Balance Through Simplicity, accessed September 1, 2020,emotional%2C%20psychological%20and%20physical%20needs.

5 “Grads, Give Yourself Permission to Nap,” Mason Grad Insider Blog, accessed September 1, 2020

6 “How to Create an Ergonomic Workspace at Home During COVID-19,” Scripps, accessed September 1, 2020

7 “How Mindfulness can Help You Take Control in Grad School,” ASCB, accessed September 1, 2020,more%20than%20you%20may%20think.

8 “Journal Writing for Graduate Students,” Inside Higher Ed, accessed September 1, 2020

9 “Counseling and Psychological Services,” George Mason University, accessed September 1, 2020

This post has been edited to reflected updated information and web addresses.

Edited by Nikita Thadani, 1/26/2022