Self-Care for the Average Black College Students
Mid-Term season is just ending and Finals are right around the corner. Even though Spring Break is over, we can still find time to prioritize our well-beings.
What is Self-Care?
Maybe you’ve heard the term before but if you haven’t, self-care isn’t a complicated topic. Self-care is simply valuing oneself wholistically. The act of self-care is done with goal of tending to your mental, physical, social, emotional, spiritual and intellectual well-being. This often is done by taking a break from the chaos around us and focusing on taking time to care for the more neglected aspects of our being.
While the meaning and theory behind self-care may be simple enough, it’s often the implementation of it that catches people up. Understandably, it can be difficult for college students to find that time to take care of themselves. Between classes, attending club meetings, studying, doing homework and keeping up with events on campus, there is hardly enough time to eat and sleep.
There are also those who believe that self-care if either selfish, a waste of time, or both. To these people, I want to simply remind you that, like a car, you won’t get far in life if you don’t make sure to take time to replenish yourself when you are running on empty.
Taking care of oneself looks different from individual to individual. For some, self-care includes going out on the weekends to be with their people, but for others this kind of constant social interaction can seem like just another task to check off in the weekly run-through.
How/Why is Self-Care for Black Students different?
Along with the normal academic stress that all students deal with, students of color (especially at PWIs) can be forced to endure constant microaggressions as well as blatant racism from peers and staff. For myself, fully immersing into the culture here at UIUC often feels like putting part of myself on mute. Constantly code-switching and playing the game of respectability politics with white staff and students is mad tiring.
This isn’t even factoring in the constant barrage of nationwide bullshit affecting Black people everywhere on a daily basis. The unjust killing of Black people has become regularly scheduled programming in the U.S. and let’s not even talk about the political dystopia we’re living in. Self-care is more than just taking a break after spending all week studying for a huge exam. It’s a time where we can recover from the racial stress of the week, months and years.
Growing up in a different culture can may also cultivate specific needs and desires when it comes to self-care than those who grew up outside of the culture. Think about how important religion and spirituality is in your family and community. Whether you grew up going to church Monday through Sunday, or only attended on Christmas and Easter, you learned what religion meant to not only others, but yourself. If you find that spirituality to be lacking in your life, with a desire to change that, incorporating it into your personal self-care could be a good idea.
4 Self-Care Ideas for Black Students
Long gone are the days of shutter shades and awkward gymnasium dances. Where our main problem was having the same lunch period as our friends. There are times when I miss my mom playing Anita Baker on the stereo on a Saturday morning as our cue to wake up and start cleaning.
Sometimes all we need to go back to those good times is a well-crafted playlist or a season of All That. Traveling down memory lane can especially be helpful if you are the kind of person who finds it hard to break the ‘work’ mindset and truly relax. Try dedicating some time on the weekend to watching some old movies/shows or listening to music you used to (and still do) enjoy as a way to unwind and let yourself be un-bothered by everything going on in your life for a while.
Spotify has some great throwback playlists for almost any decade and genre, and almost any streaming service you have has at least one classic movie or show. Personally, my favorite is Hulu, because I’m a sucker for Living Single and The Powerpuff Girls.
I especially love listening to old songs with my friends and talking to each other about the specific memories they remind us of. It can be fun to be reminded of past times and ask yourself: “Who the hell was letting me listen to these foul lyrics?”
Listen to a Podcast
Can someone explain to me why pop-culture has relegated the unabashed enjoyment of Podcasts to middle-aged white dudes? Look, if you didn’t already know, podcasts are amazing. They are (usually) hour-long segments, where people talk about different topics and offer their unique view: a perfect way to disconnect and listen to some amazing content.
One of the best things about podcasts is the ability they leave you to multitask. Try listening to one while you clean or walk in between classes in replacement of music. It’s self-care you can manage, especially if you find yourself never having the time to take a break.
The number of Black podcasts seems to be steadily growing with so many different genres and topics to choose from. If you have an interest, there’s probably a podcast about it.
Here are some amazing Podcasts featuring equally amazing Black people:
Going to Church/Meditating
As I mentioned before and as we all know, spirituality is a central pillar in the Black community. Even as someone who only attended services during major holidays (yeah, I was calling myself out earlier) and doesn't believe in the model of Christianity I’ve encountered at most Black churches, I still find myself being pulled towards something spiritual.
Maybe there is something in me and other Black folks that pulls us innately towards spirituality and the desire to meditate. Meditation can serve as a time to silence our minds and tune out of the going-ons around us. Tuning out of the outside world also lets us focus all of our attention internally and really see what going on with ourselves. All that being said, meditation is a tricky thing to get a hold of. It can be hard to stop your mind from wandering and daunting to focus in on yourself, especially when you’ve been doing anything but for a long time. Luckily there are plenty of apps focused on helping beginners, so give it a try!
For some, there is a need for that feeling of belongingness and and unbreakable community that only a Black church can inspire. Attendance at church can also be a direct way to feel closer to God and your community if that something you have been missing in life. While we learn about academic concepts on campus, church services are a way to learn about life and our place in the world. Congregations, regardless of location tend to be very accepting of new members and generally love bringing on young people who have a fresh point of view. If you are a student on a bigger campus, there could also be a Black student congregation near you if that’s more of what you’re looking for. With church being at the same time every week, it provides a concrete time for one to dedicate time to self-care.
Seeking out professional help
It’s not secret that mental health and the Black community have an interesting history, and with topics like the importance of therapy for everyone and anyone coming to the forefront of our society, these much needed conversations are beginning to happen amongst Black college students.
While, as a psychology major, I believe in the usefulness and integrity of therapy and seeking out help, I’m not writing this article to talk on mental health disparities in the Black community as a whole. I’m also not here to demand that you reading this must to go to therapy. There are many, understandable concerns when it comes to seeking professional help as a Black person. Some of which I personally still struggle with.
My only wish here is to let you know that it’s a viable and valuable option. While we as a community often rely on our own internal resilience to carry us through tough times, in the same way that it’s okay to lean on family members and friends, it’s okay to lean on professionals. In some cases I would argue even better, as therapists are not only neutral 3rd parties, but are also paid to listen to you, and legally bound to keep confidentiality.
While the number of Black therapists isn’t even close to where it should be, I still encourage you to look around your area for therapists of color, as they are out there. I would also encourage you to get involved in campus-wide discussion on Black mental health to challenge and encourage yourself and others.
This list isn’t the end-all-be-all of self-care lists for Black students or otherwise. Maybe meditating is something you’ve been trying to get into for a while and something you seriously want to dedicate time to. Or maybe listening to a podcast sounds like the biggest waste of time you’ve ever heard of.
Whether you love these ideas or hate them, the core message remains the same; we as Black students need to make sure we’re taking time to maintain and uplift ourselves emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually and otherwise. More often than not, the systems that exist around us are not designed with our well-beings in mind. Until we see that shift, we have to be extra diligent to make sure that we and our community around us are good.
Regardless of if you want to get that degree to make a better future for yourself and those who love you or you are looking to create change on campus and in the world; your own well-being is central to your mission in life.