Finding ways to take care of yourself amidst the demands and stress of college is very important to success. Rachel S. knows what this is all about....and she's not afraid to break it down to you in a honest and real way! Check out Part One of Rachel's three part blog series on Self Care After Foster Care!
If you’re anything like me, you have to fight the urge to roll your eyes anytime someone mentions streamlined and overly simplified concepts like “healthy eating”, “mindfulness”, or “time management”. Let’s be real – ya girl is scraping by on 5 hours of sleep, Lunchables®, and one large coffee; double-double with a shot of negative self-talk, please. The last thing I need is somebody in LuLulemons telling me that all of my problems will be solved through intensive yoga and a good chakra alignment.
It all comes from a positive place though, right? I mean, most of these ideas are backed up by solid scientific data and academic research. Take a casual stroll through Google Scholar and you’ll see that there are clear and sustainable benefits to leading a deliberately healthy lifestyle. And yet, if the evidence is undeniable, why am I so hesitant to join the ranks of water-bottle-toting, mindfulness-practicing, positive-relationship-having folk?
The initial resistance, I think, is rooted in my absolute uneasiness in switching gears from ‘survive’ to ‘thrive’ – a predicament not uncommon for my fellow foster care alum and adolescents currently transitioning out of the child welfare system.
When I first entered foster care, my primary focus became how to adjust to my new situation. I had been taken out of the only home I had ever known, and, while grateful to be removed from such a toxic environment, I now had the task of figuring out where I fit into this unfamiliar framework of case managers, social workers, and court officials. And still, though the foundation of my world had been rocked, I was able to exit the child welfare system with minimal additional damage. This isn’t the case for many foster youths. The things that we see and hear and feel while navigating through this experience can cause further emotional and mental trauma, which we are often left to repair.
The essential survival instincts we develop during our experience, coupled with the added weight of past (and sometimes ongoing) impairment to mental and emotional wellbeing, create a struggle in shifting our focus toward building and maintaining productive habits in the wake of foster care.
While complex at times and certainly challenging, it is not impossible to flip the switch on our survival mentality. We are fully capable of constructing stable, secure, and prosperous lives, even if we haven’t been previously given the tools to do so. Along with the supports we gather throughout our lives, we must be our own healers, our own advocates, and our own source of strength.
But how in the world do we get there? There is no one-size-fits-all solution or golden piece of advice, but I can tell you that growth and success in this endeavor starts with self-care.
What is self-care?
Self-care is loosely defined by PsychCentral as an activity (or activities) that we do purposefully to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. I would expand this definition to add that successful self-care requires consistent tending to all of our basic necessities, including those that are psychosocial in nature. Self-care is practiced differently by each person, depending on their needs and experience and abilities; it involves identifying your specific needs and taking the time to address them. Essentially, self-care is about doing things for yourself to make sure you’re ready to take on the things life will inevitably throw at you.
For example, I feel like a whole new human being after I shower for the day. After a visit with my mental health counselor, I feel empowered and in control. After I go to the gym, I feel like I can take on the entire roster of UFC champs (maybe not after leg day). And after a phone call with my best friend, I feel connected and supported.
Generally speaking, self-care is largely about self-compassion. It is easy for us to give love, understanding, and support to others, but oftentimes, it’s not so easy to give those things to ourselves. The key to practicing successful self-care is recognizing that you are deserving of that same love, understanding, and support you give so freely to others, and, without judgement or criticism, beginning to give it to yourself.
We may not always feel that we have the time or energy to dedicate to our self-care, but I promise that it’s worth the effort.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join me on my next blog in exploring what self-care looks like for the individual.
Stay tuned for more installments to come!
About Rachel S....
Rachel S. is an Administrative Assistant at the University of Michigan Center for Value-Based Insurance Design and President of the Youth Advisory Board for Our House – a Washtenaw County based nonprofit dedicated to helping young people transition from foster care to adulthood.
Between the 2014 and 2016, Rachel attempted to establish a successful post-secondary education. It was not until her move to Washtenaw County, and subsequent involvement in the REACH program at Washtenaw Community College, that Rachel was able to link to educational supports specifically geared toward students with a background in foster care. This holistic support program, as well as connecting to trauma-informed mental health care services, allowed Rachel to build a stable foundation for her educational career and begin to bring her academic goals to fruition.
Rachel is currently a transfer candidate at Washtenaw Community College with plans to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work at Wayne State University, and her Master’s degree in Social Work thereafter. Rachel’s interest areas include child welfare policy and advocacy, as well as program development and analysis.
Fostering Success Michigan is a statewide initiative that aims to increase access and success in higher education and post-college careers for youth with experience in foster care. Learn how you can contribute to building a holistic network that insulates (i.e., strengthens protective factors and reduces risks) the education to career "pipeline."Make a Donation