It’s often referred to as the best years of your life, and for many this is true. However, what’s also true is that navigating college can be confusing, uncertain, and challenging. For emerging adults, college can feel like walking through an unfamiliar, foggy maze. As time progresses, the ever-looming fog can occasionally seem too much to bear. During these times, someone might tell you that while it’s important to make it out of the maze, it’s equally as crucial to pause along the way to engage in self-care. But what exactly is self-care? How are we supposed to engage in it when taking a break could create an obstacle in another part of the journey? What does it look like for students who are the first people they know in their family or community to enter the maze and therefore, have to spend much more time determining methods to successfully move from the start to the end?
This is the dilemma faced by many first-generation higher education students. Being a first-gen college student is something to celebrate. However, beyond the romanticized view of this achievement is the reality that many first-gen students carry the pressure of being the family success story, defying stereotypes, and feeling worthy of a space in academic settings. The sentiment of wanting to make loved ones proud is shared across many college students, however, for those who are first-gen, this is even more so the case, as many of these students come from lower-income ethnic-minority families who worked hard to get them to this point. The weight of all of these factors often results in these students focusing only on their family obligations and studies while believing they have to earn self-care activities. But just like with imposter syndrome, that belief is not true. You simply being in the maze makes you deserving.
You might be thinking, this is easier said than done, and you would be right. So to help with starting to adopt this mindset, I want to propose five self-care tips for first-generation college students.
- Start Small: It is easy to hear “self-care” and think the activities have to be extravagant and pricey, however, the basic definition of the term is the act of caring for oneself. This is anything that caters to the portion of you in need, just for its own sake.
- Doing Nothing Counts: Similar to the above misconception, you might believe self-care to mean actively engaging in a task. However, for college students frequently on the move, taking the time to simply sit and do nothing or an activity requiring minimal effort can be just as therapeutic.
- Catch Up on Old Hobbies: Again, the confusing, uncertain, and challenging nature of college can lead many students to set aside their favorite hobbies to accommodate academic demands. But an effective way to engage in self-care is to turn to an activity you already know works for you. An added bonus is that you might even find yourself recalling fond memories while tending to this hobby.
- Seek Nature: One of the defining characteristics of emerging adulthood is identity exploration which can manifest as spending a lot of time in one’s own head. Although this contemplation can help you in improving your sense of self, hopes, and dreams, it can also result in dwelling on events. This is a hard habit to break since college students spend a lot of their time inside whether it be in class, studying, or spending time with friends. They are constantly inside. However, just being outside can have a therapeutic effect. You may find that breathing in the fresh air, watching the plants, and playing with animals helps to improve your mood and mental health.
- Spend Time with Loved Ones: Although much of your stress may come from wanting to satisfy loved ones, the fact that you consider them loved ones means you hold them in high regard and wish them happiness. You might find it helpful to confide in them or simply seek their presence when experiencing difficult feelings such as questioning if you belong or deserve to be in an academic space.
With anything, all of these tips may not work for everyone, but I hope you find some use in them and are inspired to pause and treat yourself for all of the hard work you have and continue to put in. Being a first-generation college student is not easy, but hopefully, you will come to allow time to care for yourself.