How to Support Your Students’ Self-Care

How to Support Your Students’ Self-Care (Unsplash / Taisiia Stupak)

You can find self-care tips practically everywhere you look these days: on t-shirts, cute Instagram graphics, even embroidered wall art. These resources are great as long as the tips are helpful and don’t make people who are struggling feel like it’s their fault — as if a hot bath with fragrant salts should evaporate their troubles like steam.

And yet, despite all the self-care content out there, many of us are, to put it mildly, not thriving. As the pandemic surges on, many of our students are supporting and grieving loved ones, watching their learning environments turn upside down and missing important milestones.

Collectively, we are facing tremendous uncertainty and stress.

This structured classroom activity takes inspiration from a story one of our teen contributors wrote in the first weeks of shelter-in-place. It sets students up for sustained wellness practices and helps them sort through the content they see about what self-care can be.

PART 1: Determine your short term and long term self-care practices 

Is self-care eating a bunch of pleasure food on your bed in a pair of sweatpants while binge-watching a series you’ve already seen three times? Sometimes! But Valencia White, who was a high school senior when the pandemic hit, noticed that sitting around all day after her campus closed wasn’t great for her mental health.

Have students listen to How To Stay Positive Even Under Lockdown by Valencia White

DISCUSSION: Valencia recorded this essay last March, in the pandemic’s first weeks. Ask your students:

  • Now that over a year has passed since the lockdown started, what do you notice about Valencia’s point of view?
  • Valencia found that the pandemic was forcing her to “focus on self-care.” In what ways can you relate to that sentiment? In what ways can you not relate?
  • Reflecting on your own process with the pandemic, how have your self-care needs changed over time?  

One problem with the frame of “self-care” is that it can lead us to look only within ourselves to feel better. That can be lonely. In her book Pleasure Activism, adrienne maree brown highlights the collective dimensions of self-care. She says ultimately, the idea is to generate “from within and from between us, an abundance from which we can all have enough.” The routine Valencia and her mom set up is an example of finding a kind of abundance “between” herself and a loved-one. brown encourages us to link our own wellbeing to others, so we can “all have enough.” Read on for more on how care can connect us to others.

ACTIVITY: Invite students to make 2 lists:

  • things that feel good in the short term (a day or less)
  • things that feel good in the long term (a day or more)

Make sure that there is no judgement about what you put in either column. Just because something feels good in the long term doesn’t mean it is automatically better than a short term feeling. The intention for this exercise is to create a shame-free way to consider and maximize what your students can get from their restorative practices. Here, we’re borrowing from Audre Lorde’s perspective and examining “what we do and how we feel in the doing.” Share these lists in whatever form makes sense for your class (select people to share to the class, small groups, or pair-share). 

You can drop these questions in the chat for students to discuss. You may want to give students a few minutes to reflect on these questions before putting them in groups or asking for their responses.

  • What did you notice about things you put in the short term column and things you put in the long term column? Is there a theme? Are they random?
  • Do you think you tend to do more short term care actions or long term care actions? Why do you think that is?
  • When you look at both lists, notice if there is a mix of practices you do by yourself and those that give you a sense of belonging. And remember — you can connect in lots of ways, like sharing a self-care playlist that lifts your mood.

PART 2: Exploring different kinds of self-care practices

DISCUSSION: What are themes that you notice in your own and your classmates’ self-care actions? Can you identify any broad categories that self-care practices fit into?

If possible, share your screen while you type out the categories students came up with. 

Then, ask students if they can identify activities that fall under these categories. They can draw from their short term/long term lists. Record their answers under the appropriate categories in the document you are working on. Notice when certain activities can fall under multiple categories.

  • Expressing gratitude — writing letters or sending texts to loved ones to say thank you, keeping a gratitude journal
  • Cultivating a mindfulness practice — meditating, yoga, breathing exercises, mantras
  • Creative practices — listening to music, creating art, attending a virtual or safe in-person art experience
  • Exercise and physicality — going for a walk, learning a TikTok dance challenge, attending a Zoom fitness class (or just watching a fitness video)
  • Connection — chatting on the phone with a loved one, organizing an online gathering
  • Valuing and Respecting Your Time –– saying no, recognizing when you need to spend time for yourself, expressing when you don’t want to/have time to do something

PART 3: Make a routine

The pandemic has really messed with our relationships to time and place. Many students are probably “attending” school from the same spot where they eat dinner. For Valencia, a defined routine became really important as a way to break up the day. 

Ask your students:

  • Do you have routines already? 
  • What routines have you kept up throughout the pandemic? 
  • What routines did you used to do and stopped? Would you like to start doing those routines again?
  • Is there a routine that you wish you had? 

ACTIVITY: Give students  5-10 minutes to outline what their ideal day might look like. They can choose any day of the week they want, but they have to be realistic (abiding by coronavirus guidelines and attending school if they have class on the day they selected). Tell them to include a self-care activity.  Share these lists in whatever form makes sense for your class (select people to share to the class, small groups, or pair-share). 

You can drop these questions in the chat for students to discuss about their ideal day:

  • How does it differ from how you usually spend time?
  • Did you include things on there that you don’t normally do? Did you not include things you do normally do? What do you make of those differences?
  • What do you notice about what you would need to do to make sure self-care is part of your day?

PART 4: A note on “accountabili-buddies”

Accountability buddies keep us on track. Ask students to identify someone they are comfortable sharing their new goals with. Have them establish checkpoints with their accountabili-buddy midweek. Every week, give the students time to reflect for 5-10 minutes on how they feel their self-care practice is going in a personal journal or document. 

Optional share out: what is working? 

Give students an opportunity to share how their self-care practices are going. This may look like having a couple of students share a three minute presentation, photo, or artifact at the beginning of the next few classes.  Consider making these share-outs part of your classroom practice and make time each week for students to reflect on how their self-care practices are going.

This learning resource was produced by Nimah Gobir. Thanks to Clifford Lee, Kathleen Arada and Stephanie Stiede for expert feedback.

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