Fostering a healthy headspace is an important part of staying well—especially as we move into the busy winter months.
As upper-year, full-time students who also work part time, we—Kana and Shawn—find ourselves spread a tad too thin on occasion (like right now). Although being busy is normal for many uni students, it shouldn’t deter any of us from getting the mental breaks we deserve—and need—to be at our best.
November is Thrive Month at UBC, and we’re reminded of just how important it is to give ourselves the time to recharge, and to make self-care a priority—not just an option.
What is Thrive Month exactly?
Thrive is a time when the UBC community comes together to discuss and delve into how we can take care of our mental health.
What do we mean when we say mental health? Put simply, it’s our “feelings, emotions, thoughts, and mood.” Everyone has mental health, and it looks and feels different for each person.
Here’s a 2-minute clip that expands on these ideas:
UBC is here to support our mental health. During Thrive, you’re invited to check out a variety of resources and to participate in online events that can help you learn about, talk about, and explore your path to mental health!
Staying well with the Thrive 5+
One way to foster a healthy headspace is to incorporate the “Thrive 5+” in your life, a phrase you might hear lots this month. What does it refer to?
The “5” part of “Thrive 5+” is a list of simple and easy techniques for staying mentally well—as backed by research! The 5 techniques are:
- Moving More (like doing a few quick exercises between your studies)
- Sleeping Soundly (like going to bed at the same time and for 7 to 9 hours every day)
- Eating Well (like throwing extra veggies into your meals or ordering takeout—healthily)
- Giving Back (like helping out a classmate on a class forum, e.g. Piazza)
- Saying Hi (like playing an online game with your friends)
Although these “5” are great ways to achieve balance and promote a healthy mind, they’re not the only ways. That’s what the “+” signifies—the many other things you can do (from exploring nature to making art) that can support your wellbeing!
Does the Thrive 5+ actually work IRL though?
Just like you, we pondered this question.
And maybe just like you, we were both a little skeptical: How, we wondered, could we practice the Thrive 5+ when we’re so busy?!
To answer this question (and to write this post), we embarked on an experiment. We wanted to see what benefits we could reap by actually scheduling in time for self-care as we might a class assignment. We started small, with just one technique.
And, as we found, practicing self-care this way doesn’t have to take huge chunks of time—and it can go far in helping one de-stress during this busy season!
The Thrive 5+ in action: What we tried—and learned
We tested the Thrive 5+ for a full week, and recorded our daily mental wellness level. Here’s what we each found:
Kana’s experiment and experience
Why I wanted to try the Thrive 5+
I usually prioritize seeing my friends over the summer, but I find it difficult to keep up with it during the school year.
Lately, my schedule has been feeling monotonous and watching Netflix at the end of the day just hasn’t been hitting the spot anymore. Moreover, as an extrovert, I find that too much time alone can make me feel lethargic.
So for this experiment, I aimed to reconnect with friends—practicing the “Saying Hi” part of the Thrive 5+—to stay well. My primary goal was to see how speaking with my friends regularly would affect my mood. I also wanted to pinpoint my social ‘sweet spot’: How much socializing was just enough—and how much was too much?
What the plan was
I allocated at least 30 minutes every day to chat with my close friends. I scheduled these video calls at 10:00 pm to have something to look forward to at the end of the day. I figured that these evening chats would allow me to clear my head after a long day of studying and to de-stress before bedtime.
What I discovered and took away
Bonding with my friends helped to ease the stress of school—even if it was only for a short period of time. I found myself focusing on sharing with and listening to my friends during the scheduled calls. Turning my attention toward others allowed me to take a break from my own thoughts, which was really refreshing.
Throughout the week, I did notice that I would often lose track of time. The half-hour chats often turned into 2-hour calls, revealing just how easy it was to talk longer than I actually had time for! Although the longer calls felt good in the moment, the aftermath of “lost” time reminded me to maintain boundaries and balance when it comes to schoolwork and socializing.
Another thing I noticed was a shift in my study schedule. In a regular week, I would scramble to complete my schoolwork in the evenings. Setting aside time for social connection each night forced me to either finish work before 10:00 pm, or move some of it to the next day. Initially, this change in schedule felt unnatural. However, as the week progressed, this shift allowed me to create space for relaxation in the evenings and prioritize my wellbeing. And I learned two key things:
- Making time for friends allows me to recharge my social battery—even if I don’t manage to finish all of my tasks for a particular day
- Coming back to my projects the next day with a clear head is better than rushing through my to-do list in the evening
Overall, I really enjoyed being able to reconnect with my friends in an intentional way. I discovered that my social sweet spot means chatting with a friend at least a few times a week. At the same time, I recognize that connecting with my friends every day isn’t feasible right now. Moving forward, I’ll still be having regular chats with my friends—just on a weekly basis to better fit my schedule!
Shawn’s experiment and experience
Why I wanted to try the Thrive 5+
Even though my courses (like Forensic Biology and Business Management) fascinate me, I occasionally do get a little worn out because of how many courses (and jobs) I'm balancing. Often, I can get so bogged down in this quicksand of assignments and test prep that I have little time to really contemplate my mental health.
However, I’ve learned through the past 2 academic years that I do need some off time to recharge. (Otherwise, my ability to retain information predictably wanes like the coy moon.) Something I’ve always found beneficial to my mental health—and agreeable with my introversion—is doing some creative writing. So, to get the mental breaks I need, I decided to focus on penning creative pieces—the “+” part of the Thrive 5+!
What the plan was
I set aside time in the evening to produce a metrical poem or two (at least 8 lines each) and submit them to publishers. I anticipated that the complete process would take no more than 1 hour per day.
What I discovered and took away
I started off fantastically—the first few evenings saw the birth of some new poems and I responded to several submission calls. Even though I spent a little more time than I’d budgeted, I felt rapturous, released—and readier to tackle new tasks the next day!
Mid-week though, I noticed the writing process conflicting with some other to-dos I had (I validate your existence, my dear paper and lab report). So, I moved my creative writing time to later in the evening—after I’d finished however much of the coursework I’d assigned myself for that day. This meant turning to creative writing around midnight… Although the euphoria was still there, I also felt more of a time crunch as I had to wake up early the next day.
After a week of this exercise, I can confirm that making space for creative writing does help me feel more energized... It’s just that keeping it up daily can be a little overwhelming. So, going forward, I’ve resolved to block off time on the weekend to write creative pieces (so the frequency is more moderate but I’d still benefit from the boost that writing poetry consistently offers)!
What will you try?
Although it can be a challenge to make self-care a consistent part of your schedule when papers and finals are imminent, spending just a little time can make all the difference!
And remember: You don’t have to force yourself to practice self-care at a frequency that’s unsustainable, or view it as yet “another thing” to add to your plate. After all, the Thrive 5+ is here to help you take care of you—it shouldn’t be a new source of burden or stress!
So this winter—especially during COVID—reflect on and make space for what supports your mental health. The most effective self-care strategy is the one that works best for you!
This post was originally published in November 2020.