Social Work News

"Self-Care A-Z: Self-Care Is a Big Deal"

Written by Nina Johnson, MSSW
December 6, 2023

Big Deal

Pursuing a doctorate is a big deal! As I continue my journey as a doctoral student in social work, I’ve needed to re-evaluate how I’m practicing self-care. I had a blunt moment of realization recently that I was not practicing as much self-care as I thought.

Student, Teach Thyself

I was continuously feeling burnt out, hopeless, stressed, tired, and irritated. I recognized that I needed to look inward and truly think about my well-being wholistically.  How could I give presentations on self-care to others, if I was not routinely practicing self-care myself?

Since this crucial realization, I intentionally think about these questions: What steps am I taking to care for myself? Am I honoring my boundaries? Am I saying “no” enough? How can I show myself more compassion? How can I practice caring for all parts of myself?

Academia is a rigorous environment, with particular challenges for me as a Black woman. I realized I needed to find moments of grounding, self-love, and gratitude more often. I’m working on finding the balance of validating my “negative” feelings while also holding enough space to find joy in simple things. I could easily list many things I feel annoyed/frustrated/stressed about.

Yet, I found myself feeling much better after writing down a small list of things I’m grateful for. Some of those moments include a phone call with a friend, writing a thank-you letter to a family member, driving to a local bagel shop to indulge in a warm everything bagel, and simply resting. I found comfort in knowing that talking to positive people in my life brings belly laughs. Connecting with a family member through writing matters; it’s also a form of meditation for me. Even chatting with the worker who remembers my face each week is a small moment of connection that reminds me of the power of community. (Fun fact: Her best friend has the same exact full name as mine!) Rest is also a necessary part of self-care, to feel renewed.

Self-Care Is Honoring My Whole Self

Each of these examples reminded me that it’s important to honor my internal cravings and needs in a balanced and wholistic way. There’s always a long to-do list to tackle, but it’s important to integrate ways each day to honor these needs and wants. Will I: Go get a matcha latte to help give me an extra boost for my meeting? Take a walk to get my blood flowing? Sit and watch an episode from a new series on Netflix? Enjoy a longer and more intentional shower? Remember to add an “away” signature to my email while out of town? Some of these questions may seem trivial, but taking a moment to reflect about how I’m honoring my humanity helps me feel more energized, free, and happy.

Honoring myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually daily makes a large difference in how I show up for myself and others in various aspects of my life. By taking care of myself, I’m allowing myself to enjoy moments more deeply, feel less guilty for taking care of myself, and find joy in the future.

What’s Your Big Deal?

I think of taking care of myself as a gentle reminder of self-love. It’s not a regimented schedule but an expanding bucket of tools to access. Standing front row at a concert isn’t always feasible, but I can find songs that make me want to dance around my apartment and sing loudly when I can’t physically be at a live performance. Connecting with friends and family can’t always happen daily, but I can remind myself of beautiful memories we’ve created and look forward to future ones.

So, yes, while getting a doctoral degree is a big deal, self-care is equally a big deal. All of us have times in life that feel particularly like a “big deal.” But, we owe it to ourselves to honor our human nature, which includes navigating life’s highs and lows while taking care of ourselves. It can be challenging to practice self-care, but it’s an essential part of not only survival, but also living life on your own terms.

Self-Care: I hope you’ll make it a big deal, too.

Nina Johnson, MSSW, is a PhD student and adjunct faculty member at the Indiana University School of Social Work and holds a PhD minor in public health. Nina received her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Coe College and her Master of Science of Social Work from Columbia University. Nina’s research interests include understanding the holistic health needs, self-care practices, and coping mechanisms of minoritized and multicultural undergraduate and graduate students.


This article is from the New Social Worker Magazine and was originally published in May, 2023.