Ball State Counseling Center staff therapist discusses the Self-Care Challenge and stress coping mechanisms

<p>The Counseling Center Self-Care Challenge includes weekly emails for a month with short activities suggested to help decrease stress among participants. At the end of each week, an email survey asks for feedback so Aubrey Driscoll, staff therapist and co-coordinator of group programming at the Ball State Counseling Center, can improve the program. <strong>Unsplash, Photo Courtesy</strong></p>

The Counseling Center Self-Care Challenge includes weekly emails for a month with short activities suggested to help decrease stress among participants. At the end of each week, an email survey asks for feedback so Aubrey Driscoll, staff therapist and co-coordinator of group programming at the Ball State Counseling Center, can improve the program. Unsplash, Photo Courtesy

Last year, 172 students participated in the Self-Care Challenge, and, as of the end of September 2021, another 45 students participated this fall. The challenge is open to all enrolled students. Everyone is eligible, so students can sign up for the Self-Care Challenge on the Counseling Center’s website at any time.

Editor's Note: This article previously incorrectly stated the Counseling Center does not offer counseling in the summers. It has since been updated.

Tests, essays, projects, work and social activities — the list goes on. College students deal with a number of things that can cause stress every day, and pressures from school are among the top reasons for stress, according to the Jed Foundation. As these responsibilities begin to build up, it can be hard for students to find ways to care for themselves. 

To combat lack of self-care among students, the Ball State Counseling Center began the Self-Care Challenge, a four-week, email-based tool that provides students and faculty with more than 30 different strategies to help develop positive self-care. 

The strategies of the challenge are short, quick and take about 10-15 minutes to participate in and complete. They are all based out of a workbook sent to students once they sign up for the challenge. If students think the activities are beneficial, they can implement these strategies into their lives even after they have completed the Self-Care Challenge.

Staff therapist and co-coordinator of group programming Aubrey Driscoll started the Self-Care Challenge in the fall 2020 semester. Driscoll said she was inspired to start the Self-Care Challenge with “The Resiliency Skills Training Workbook” by Jessica Gifford, a book she received years ago, and wanted a Counseling Center resource that was more accessible to students compared to ones where students have to schedule an appointment or be physically on campus. 

“A lot more students were struggling with managing stress with all the added stressors of [COVID-19],” Driscoll said, “so this program was created and started last year as something to help students.”

Driscoll defines self-care as “doing things in an intentional way to take care of ourselves, meeting our own needs and being responsive to what we need to keep us going, to refuel us [and] to regulate our mood.”

The Self-Care Challenge takes place throughout the entire year, so students can sign up for it if they’re feeling stressed over the summer, too. At the end of every week, students participating in the challenge will receive an email asking for feedback so Driscoll can see what tools are most beneficial for students.  She said the challenge has received positive feedback so far.

“Generally, students have enjoyed being able to have some activities to engage in,” Driscoll said. “A lot felt really connected to the challenge and seemed to have benefited from it.”

The most popular activities used in the challenge were physical exercise, general breathing exercises and social connection exercises, like performing acts of kindness.

The activities in the program are broken down into four categories: self talk, finding meaning and purpose, goal-setting and emotional skills. Different coping skills are reflected in each area. Driscoll said one activity may be better suited for someone struggling with anxiety and another may be helpful for someone with depression, but she said she hopes there is something beneficial for everyone. 

Driscoll participates in these activities herself, and she said she does a lot of mindfulness work and mediation while trying to maintain healthy sleep and hygiene habits.

“I think it’s helpful to have a variety of things,” Driscoll said. “I know sometimes we can get kind of worn out of doing the same thing all the time or might not find the benefit of it, so I think a big benefit to this program is that there are so many options that students can take advantage of or I can take advantage of as well.” 

Driscoll said self-care can be a struggle for students, as it’s not always their priority. While self-care can seem like taking a long bath or detoxing with fancy candles, sophomore graphic design major Lance Sukle said, it doesn’t have to take a long time or be a big thing.

“I think most people think of it like taking a relaxing bath or lighting candles, but it can also be just like making comfort food and giving yourself time to relax after a long week,” Sukle said.  

Sukle said they personally practice self-care by drawing, lighting candles and ignoring everything. Giving themself time not to worry about anything helps Sukle get things done more easily, and they said practicing self-care helps them not to feel overwhelmed by stress, set a plan and stick with it. 

Although Sukle hasn’t participated in the Self-Care Challenge themself, they think it’s a good idea.

“I think especially because a lot of college students, especially when they first start college, they don't really know how to manage their time and everything,” Sukle said. “I think that [the Self-Care Challenge] could help a lot of people.” 

As winter rolls in and seasonal depression increases, according to the Mayo Clinic, Driscoll said she recognizes the importance for students to take time for themselves. Whether it’s doing things they enjoy or making themselves a priority, “the goal of this is to encourage students to carve out that time, even if it’s just maybe 10 minutes a day, to do something that’s just for them and that makes them feel good and that can help them get through difficult times or help them get through a difficult day.” 

Contact Lila Fierek with comments at lkfierek@bsu.edu or on Twitter @fierek_lila.

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