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What Happens When You Prioritize Yourself

Philipp Guelland / Stringer

As athletes we are prone to going at ‘100 miles an hour’ in every aspect of our lives: competition in our sport and in the classroom, eating ‘what is there’ instead of planning a meal, and rushing off to bed with a racing mind.  We are dog tired from doing our 200lb max squat, 4 x 2000 meter row, wind sprints, hours of school and studying, and trying to figure out how to fuel ourselves

Sorry to break it to you, but you are going to have to add something to your list: self-care.  No, it’s not meditation and all that voodoo stuff you see on TV, but it can be.  By my definition, “self-care” for a student-athlete is any human function that helps an individual nurture themselves in a way so that they are able to cope with stress and achieve a greater sense of feeling rested internally after a hard practice.  Some examples of such “self-care” are sleeping, eating well, grooming, dressing in what makes you happy, taking “me time”, and attending to any medical conditions one needs to recover from or manage.  

Taking time for self-care is not something that comes naturally to student-athletes who have Type A personalities and a brain that moves ten times the speed of their body.  You know who you are, you always need to be doing something and cannot slow down easily.  A person who is over scheduled and engaged every waking hour may be subconsciously denying the existence or therapeutic benefit of self-care.   

You know who you are, you always need to be doing something and cannot slow down

In the summer of 2016, I moved into an apartment with three seniors on our rowing team.  They are kind, caring and extremely knowledgeable friends.  I learned so much from them about various topics such as: cooking, post-college, study tips, books of the bible, politics, and most importantly, self-care.  I have one roommate that has a very distinct routine every morning.  Her self-care routine consists of making her coffee, putting together breakfast and then watching a little something while she eats.  She claims that this gets her ready for the day.  I love this, and for the longest time I never thought this was something I could do. 

My other roommate performs self-care by saying “okay guys, I’m going to go sit in my dark cave now”.  This joke alludes to the fact that her room is the only one that doesn’t have a window.  But what she is really insinuating is not only is she going to bed, but she is using self-care to prepare for bed. 

My third and last roommate, Sarah Lueken, senior on the University of Wisconsin – Madison Women’s Open-Weight Rowing team was really the pivotal person in my new practice of self-care.  She says that “self-care means being conscious of my stress level and saying no to things that are outside of my capacity.  My self-care of choice is something I call “resting”.  I make a decision to pause from the responsibilities of my day and focus on resting my body and mind by lying down, reading a book, talking with roommates, or reading my Bible.  Ultimately, these are all ways to disconnect from “work mode”.

We as athletes need this.  We need to love ourselves enough to take time to rest and rejuvenate.  If you had a nice gash in your leg, would you let it bleed and not do anything?  No!  Or at least, I hope not.  We as athletes need to not only take care of our bodies, but also our minds.  Our days are often long, stressful and filled with pressures coming in from all angles.  I came to self-care kicking and screaming, because it took time and it took mindfulness.  I am now a happy convert, and want to share some of my self-care “secrets” that I have learned and put into practice, in hopes that one of more of them will help you start your own self-care regime, or at least get you started on that path.  I hope you will take some of these self-care techniques to heart.

Self-Care Toolkit 101

  1. Take a nap: I do it in increments of 20 minutes (20, 40, 60, 80) which keeps me from feeling groggy when I wake up.
  2. Start a compliments bucket: every compliment you receive, you write it down and put it in the bucket.  When you are down, reach into your bucket.
  3. Get a massage: most athletes have access to these through the school.

  4. Play around on youtube: I have a weird obsession with mostly Demi Lovato, but also Carly Rose Sonenclar.  I’ll just dink around for 20 minutes watching videos, try it, but don’t get totally sidetracked. You need to set a timer!
  5. Learn some vocabulary words in a different language: I love doing this, but I am also a confirmed nerd. :)
  6. Do a jigsaw puzzle.  Do like a legit puzzle, like with lots of pieces and everything. It’s important to establish that connection between mind and body (eye and hand movements).
  7. Go for a walk and be mindful.  Mindfulness is being more aware, which will end up helping you see and be aware of things you have never seen before. Look around and listen harder.  I walk around the block regularly and spot new things all the time.
  8. Exercise: if you already do this because you are an athlete, do something more soothing for recovery like yoga, stretching, walking or tai chi.
  9. Splurge: eat something you don’t normally eat, buy yourself something small, or do something to express how you value yourself (paint nails, get massage, cut hair).
  10. Color in Adult Coloring Books: I suggest using pen so that your hand doesn’t get as tired.

  11. Start a Journal: your mind is racing during many parts of the day and when you want to go to sleep - writing in a journal is so peaceful and you can write for as long or short a time as you want.  Transferring a thought to paper allows your mind to release it, but still be able to access it.  I like writing what I am thankful for and what I am looking forward to every day.  This shifts my mind and helps me rock the day.  No one will judge you for how much or how well you write.
  12. Write someone a letter: affirm them for who they are and what they do.  Every week I try to write three affirmation letters to people in my network.  We forget that our friends, peers, and family grow from affirmation and it does not happen enough in our society.

    Plan your day each morning so you can organize & prioritize what you want to achieve. 
  13. Make time to plan your day each morning so you can organize and prioritize what you want to achieve that day.  You will be happier with your productivity by day’s end.
  14. Plan for and get some real quality sleep: sleep is empowering, and promotes health and healing.  The absence of deep sleep impairs your mental and physical abilities, and dulls both the senses and the reflexes.

Try any combination of these tips for one month, and you will become happier, more in control of your time, and you will definitely become more “self-care aware”!