Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
Having a student nod off in class or show up to class with a large and very distracting fast food meal can seem disrespectful, but it’s entirely possible that both scenarios can be attributed to a lack of self-care skills. College students are notorious for being sleep deprived, stressed out, and too busy or too broke (or both) to eat well.
Take a SIP of This: Helping Students Practice Self-Care
A study that came out earlier this year found a connection between irregular sleep patterns in college students’ and poor grades. Another study found that 85% of college students experience stress on a daily basis. These studies and others point to the need for college students to practice self-care—making sure they get enough sleep, learning stress management strategies, exercising regularly, and eating a nutritionally-sound diet. As faculty, we often see the effects of our students’ lack of self-care: poor academic performance, lack of engagement in class, anxiety, and the like.
There are some things you can do to help students improve their self-care:
- Model good self-care. Get enough sleep, eat well, stay hydrated, exercise, and take other steps to keep yourself performing at your best. If you habitually shortchange yourself on sleep or exercise, you are not functioning as well as you could. Research shows, for example, that sleep deprivation leads to decreased productivity and irritability, makes us more vulnerable to illness and disease, and causes errors at work and on the road, leading to car accidents. Take your own self-care seriously and talk to students about why you value self-care for yourself and for them.
- Talk explicitly about self-care with students. Students probably know they should get more sleep, but learning how to prioritize sleep and manage time effectively to allow enough time for sleep is not intuitive. Share with students the tricks you use to get enough ZZZs, for example. Or if you, too, find yourself in need of a few strategies to achieve a better life balance, check out these tips from Lifehacker and The Muse and share what you learn with students.
- Create assignments and course schedules with student self-care in mind. For example, after a big assignment is turned in, you could give students a class period or so before giving another big assignment. You could schedule heavy reading assignments over a weekend so students don’t have to sacrifice sleep to show up to class prepared.
- Resist academia’s culture of sleep deprivation one-upping. Many of us wear our sleep deprivation like a badge of honor, as if it demonstrates how dedicated we are to our work. But given that research shows that sleep deprivation takes a heavy toll on our cognitive abilities, it would make more sense to see a commitment to getting enough sleep as a demonstration of our dedication to work.
- Normalize asking for help for stress, anxiety, and mental health issues. If a student mentions stress to you, tell them about the Counseling Center‘s stress management workshops, for instance. If you have benefited from counseling and are comfortable sharing that with students, do. Rather than chalking up immense stress to just being “part of the college experience,” steer students toward resources that can help them manage that stress.
- Recognize that some students, through no fault of their own, will bear a greater self-care burden. The constant stress of dealing with institutionalized racism, for example, makes students of color very vulnerable to depression and anxiety. DACA students may be pre-occupied with concerns about the legislative environment. Students who are veterans may struggle with PTSD. Familiarize yourself with appropriate campus resources that you can tell students about and stock brochures for these offices to give students during office hours or other appropriate moments.
- Tell students where they can get nutritious snacks and other food. For example, First Year Success will have snacks available during Finals Week. The University has a food bank. The Writing Center‘s King Center location offers free breakfast snacks and coffee on Wednesday and Thursday mornings.
- If you are concerned about the well-being of a student, file a CARE report. Someone from the CARE Team will reach out to the student as soon as possible to help.
Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Helping Students Practice Self-Care
- Stanford University blog entry for college students providing practical tips on self-care: https://collegepuzzle.stanford.edu/the-importance-of-self-care-for-college-students/
- Video focusing on the special self-care needs of activist students of color: http://scholarship.claremont.edu/scripps_theses/783/ (note: the video contains some profanity).
- Arianna Huffington’s TEDTalk on sleep: https://www.ted.com/talks/arianna_huffington_how_to_succeed_get_more_sleep/transcript?quote=702
- Article on self-care by the musician Kesha, who many students will recognize as a super-cool role model: http://time.com/5041017/kesha-self-care-holidays/.