By Leolene Carrington, Ph.D.
Self-care was the buzzword for the month of April in the STEM Diversity twitter feed. Finally, it is being given the merit it deserves, as we all need to practice emotional and physical first aid in order to remain healthy individuals. But while some of us are on a quest to find the holy grail of balance between productivity and quality of life, the rest of us have never even thought about the meaning of the word. Whether we are aware of it or not, we have all practiced self-care. Ever found yourself sleeping for hours on end from mental exhaustion or binge watching your favorite show? We all refuel our body, but most of us only when forced. This is where self-care comes into the picture. It can be defined as being any intentional action(s) you take towards caring for your physical, mental and emotional health. Self-care takes many shapes or forms, but the end result is the same — improvement in your well-being.
Good self-care is a challenge for many people, regardless of their fields of interest. But practicing effective self-care can be especially challenging for minority STEM students for many reasons. One such stressor in our lives as minority STEM students is impostor syndrome. What is impostor syndrome, you ask? It is the small voice that tries to convince you that you do not belong in your respective graduate program (or wherever you find yourself) and that at any moment, you will be “found out.” Studies have shown that minority STEM students suffer greatly from impostor syndrome. This is not to say other students do not, but it comes to bear when you are giving a seminar, sitting in a meeting, or presenting a poster at a conference where you can count on one hand anyone who looks like or has a similar background to you. But, be not dismayed, next time impostor syndrome sneaks its head around, how about responding to these self-critical thoughts with self-compassion? Simply remember why you entered the program and this field, and if an admissions committee thought you were good enough to be here, to be at this conference, to give this seminar, why don’t YOU! And if they didn’t, time to step-up and show your worth!
In addition, because of the academic background that some of us might come from, we tend to define ourselves by our perceived academic success. Thinking that spending more time at the lab or every professional decision you make will define you as a person. But the good news is that perceived success does not equate to identity and self-worth. Take some time to recall that in whatever field you are in, you are a unique individual with specialized skills and ideas. If that doesn’t do the trick, take some “self-care” time to spend with family and friends in different careers and fields. I once heard a career coach say, sometimes we spend so much time around other academics like ourselves, we forget how unique we are. Leave the university bubble and inspire some young minds and other minorities to take on the challenges in STEM. It is well known that in helping others, you indeed help yourself!
With that being said, graduate school requires a lot of juggling, so prioritizing is key and perfectionism is a downfall. Realistically, there is not enough time to create flawless work and you will run yourself ragged. The key is to always put your best work forward, and to set realistic expectations within the deadline given. You can’t be involved in everything. Develop a sense of your interests and discuss opportunities with a mentor on how to achieve your goals. Always remind yourself of your long term goal. Graduate school is a marathon, not a race, so focus on perseverance. Scientific findings have shown that those who possess “grit”, i.e. work persistently through challenges, failures and adversity to achieve their goals, are usually the ones to successfully complete said marathon. Self-care is paramount to developing perseverance and resilience in grad school, so make time for it. Sometimes it seems cliché, but schedule that time in your calendar, whether it’s with family or friends or simply yourself. That way, when other things arise, self-care doesn’t keep being pushed aside.
Some might say that self-care is a bit too self-centered and can come-off as selfish. If you by any chance get that guilty thought or someone whispers that to you, remind yourself that the relationship you foster with yourself is the base for all other relationships people have with you. How we perceive ourselves can influence how we respond, and how we allow others to treat us. By practicing self-care, you will foster a relationship with yourself that’s more loving, kind, confident and caring. And subsequently, you will treat others with the same touch.
For better self-care, a few key suggestions:
- Set time out for simple pleasures (i.e. a beautiful sunset/sunrise) and quality time with loved ones. You would be amazed how an hour in the park away from lab can be so refreshing.
- Treat yourself with respect and compassion.
- Aim for consistent sleep and exercise. Healthy body = healthy mind.
For better self-care, be wary of:
- Friends or family who only reach out when they need something.
- Individuals who always leave you feeling tired or depressed after encounters.
- Friends who never make the time to listen to you.
Practice #Selfcare: that is the answer!
Copyright © 2016 by Jedidah Isler
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