With the uncertainty in future university practices brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is certain: Helping students develop the skills to tend to their emotional health and well-being matters. It is important to model in our courses the importance of having a self-care and rest practice. Through our support, we can help students be intentional about creating a daily practice to help them navigate these extraordinary times. This will be important to how they show up for themselves and others, so they can face life’s challenges more positively. Students’ emotional health and well-being needs to be a top priority during these unprecedented times. A skillset of being intentional about self-care and rest requires practice.
Here are some ways to support students in creating a daily practice of self-care:
Begin a discussion with students and introduce self-care and rest to them.
Self-care is treating yourself with kindness, compassion, and caring for your needs by making yourself a priority each day. Rest means giving our minds a break and doing less. Nataly Kogan points out “there is increasing scientific evidence that supports the benefits of rest, particularly the ways in which doing less can help us become more creative and productive.” Through class discussions and writing prompts, we can facilitate the process of having students explore their interests and becoming aware of which interests allow them to pause, reconnect, energize, and promote inner joy. Some questions to consider using for a writing prompt include:
- What is missing in my life that I used to enjoy?
- What values are most important during this time?
- What self-care practices can be a priority for myself?
- What are my needs and wants?
- What brings me joy?
- Who do I have meaningful relationships with in my life?
Be intentional about a self-care practice.
After students spend time on these writing prompts, facilitate a discussion using breakout rooms and chat about their responses. Ask students if they would be willing to select a thought, feeling, or action they want to be intentional about in beginning a self-care practice. Once they decide on their intention, ask them to post their intention in a visible place and plan a specific day to begin their practice. Students can begin with as little as five to ten minutes a day.
While students are practicing on their selected day, encourage them to check-in internally throughout the day and get curious about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and write down or make a note of their thoughts on their phone or notebook. No judgements, just observations and expanded awareness. Schedule class time to have students discuss how their experience went in breakout rooms or by using a discussion board. It is a great way to facilitate community and support in your course. It is important to model self-care practices for our students by sharing our own daily practices and how it is non-negotiable for us!
Reflection and assessment
Arrange for students to complete a writing prompt on their experience: How did the thought, feeling, or action you chose to be intentional about in practicing self-care impact your day and connections with others? What are you willing to practice again?
Once students complete this writing prompt, it is helpful for them to make a daily plan and put “self-care practice” into their daily schedule, similar to other commitments. Support reflection and assessment in your course by encouraging students to be mindful of what is working and not working for them, so they can make any adjustments in their plan to practice self-care on a consistent basis. Students will be more motivated to repeat a particular practice again if they are seeing positive results in their lives. It is important to schedule a few minutes in your weekly class schedule to check in with students to see how their self-care practice is going for them. This support will not only be appreciated by students, but it conveys to them that we truly care about their emotional health and well-being.
Students tending to their emotional health by cultivating a daily practice of self-care will not only help them manage stress and challenges more positively, but it can lead to them developing a kind, compassionate relationship with themselves during these unprecedented times. It is through our support and community in our courses that students will feel they matter and are being seen. Encouraging our students to cultivate a self-care practice helps give them a tool to develop positive coping skills and permission to work through stressful situations in their lives. It will bring more calmness into their day and truly be the best gift they can give to themselves and their loved ones. This will lead to more presence and connection in their lives.
It would be helpful to have students reflect on their self-care practices at the end of the semester and examine the ways in which it is benefiting their lives. It may also be helpful to instructors to reflect on their experience of supporting self-care in their course. A self-assessment can provide instructors with valuable information about what worked well in the course to support students’ emotional health and well-being. It also can provide instructors great insight about whether changes are needed for the next semester.
It is important, more than ever, to help students develop a self-care and rest practice. As we support their practice in our courses, we are sending a valuable message to our students that their emotional health and well-being matters. Students feeling supported and feeling a sense of community in our courses will give them inner strength and perseverance to manage these extraordinary times. It will provide a sense of certainty for them.
Stacy Roth has been teaching in academia for 17 years. Her professional background is in counseling psychology and clinical psychology. Roth has provided counseling in clinical and school settings, and published articles in a professional clinical magazine and peer-reviewed journal.
Kogan, N. (2018). Happier Now. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.