Stress can be defined in many different ways. For the purpose of this article, I will define stress as the body’s response to a real or imagined situation. For our ancestors, a defence mechanism used for survival; for university students, a never ending battle; for those starting yet another year at UTSC, stress is welcomed as an old friend; for others that are just starting university, it’s a whole new ball game. The truth is, stress lurks in every corner of our lives; from relationships to academics, it consumes us all. Sometimes, stress can be a good thing: it can help motivate us to finish studying for that upcoming exam, or finally gather up the courage to ask that cute person sitting next to you in lecture to lunch; however, other times, one’s stress can get out of control, which can be an overall negative and overwhelming experience.

It’s important to remember that stress results from a reaction to a scenario and that, most times, it has more to do with us and the stories we make up about a situation than anything else. Stress can result from virtually every aspect of life, and how we perceive and handle it varies from one person to another. For most, there are biological mechanisms that we can rely on to mediate high levels of stress; however, those suffering from mental health issues like depression or anxiety lack these processes in their bodies to help them control stress. In that situation, it’s best to seek out help from a counsellor or a health professional. Although external help is an option, many have successfully taken it upon themselves to add in certain activities in their daily schedule to keep stress levels at bay.

It all starts with self-care. As I define it, self-care is whatever it is that allows your temporary disengagement from the worries you may be facing in life. For university students, juggling coursework, extracurriculars, and a social life leaves little room to relax. It’s difficult to set aside personal time to wind down. Once stress builds up, some experience burnouts — instances in which they are unable to get back to work for a long time.

“For me, self-care is a way to refresh myself and relieve general anxieties. Stresses add up, and it’s a basic reaction, whether real or imagined. Making time for myself is first and foremost for self-care,” says fifth-year neuroscience and studio student Chantal Nabert.

Unfortunately, the positive effects of self-care can be overshadowed by the problems students face when catering to what they need both physically and mentally. One of the issues is the stigma behind the idea of self-care itself. For university students, there is an expectation to always work towards a bigger and better goal. For some, success may come at the price of stable mental health. Many times, it seems that the notion of setting aside time to wind down gets in the way of accomplishment.

Even though self-care is meant to be designed differently for everyone, just like any good thing out there, it has turned into a franchise. There’s pressure to partake in expensive getaways, manicures, or spa care. Additionally, booking sessions with a therapist or seeking out other health professionals to gain access to that care can be difficult for university students.

“I always strive to do things I love. Whether it’s reading a good book or taking photos. These are a few things I love doing, and taking proper care of myself means doing things that interest me in a whole new level. That is self-care, because I am physically, emotionally and mentally doing things I love,” says third-year health science student Piyal Sarkar.

It’s important to understand that self-care can be as simple as a quick jog around the neighbourhood or even catching up on your favourite shows. Remember, this is time for yourself, so you define how you’d like to spend it.

UTSC has several departments that can provide free services that you can check out the next time you need access to resources for stress-management. The Health and Wellness Centre, located in the Student Centre, offer counselling sessions as well as other medical services. Accessibility and Academic Advising provide information about courses and resources available for those struggling with school work. Finally, the Womyn and Trans* Centre has a decompression space and provides sanitary pads, condoms, and other information surrounding your spiritual, physical, and mental health.  

With the school year starting, the anticipation of coursework and grades can be overwhelming. Taking time for yourself to breath and relax before pushing yourself to meet deadlines is more than okay. The idea of self-care should be designed based on what gives you that temporary relief. So, when you’re listing materials to get come fall semester, make sure you pencil in a little time to sit back, relax, and practice self-care. Your body will thank you for it.