Earlier this semester, I was thrilled to be invited to participate in an effort coordinated by Ithaca College’s BOLD Scholars to encourage and model the importance of self-care for people of color. I joined other Ithaca College students, staff, and faculty to add my contribution to the Instagram campaign #EMPOCSELFCARE, which is one part of the work that this BOLD cohort is doing through their Engaging Mental Health in People of Color (EMPOC) community project.
Honestly and effectively identifying our mental health needs and finding ways to take good care of ourselves is critical for everyone on our campus, no matter your position or shift, or your work, learning, and living environment.
And for students, the need is especially high. National data from higher ed that looks at student wellbeing identifies increasing rates of anxiety and depression—a trajectory that Ithaca College is also experiencing. At IC, we’ve been focusing intently on our student wellness services, including our Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) programs, which serve around 15 percent of our student population, and programs like THRIVE@IC, which focuses on building resiliency and wellness.
This month, I wanted to open a conversation with three members of our campus community—one faculty member, one administrator, and one student—to dive deeper into this topic and talk about the ways they take care of themselves, what some of their received wisdom is around wellness, and how their commitment to self-care intersects with their identities.
President Shirley M. Collado: Self-care is absolutely critical to our wellbeing, and I know a lot of us have different priorities when we think about ways—and reasons—to keep ourselves healthy. I’m wondering why you think self-care is important?
Hannah Cayem ’20, BOLD Scholar and Music Education and Vocal Performance major: From taking over 18 credits, to holding an on-campus job, to being a BOLD Scholar and everything in between, I would not be able to follow through with these commitments without investing time in myself.
Brad Hougham, associate professor, performance studies: The struggles we face in our minds are reflected in our bodies and vice-versa. If we don't take care of ourselves, we can't offer our full gifts to our communities. As teachers and mentors, it is critical to model self-care for our students, who often haven't yet developed strategies of self-care or self-compassion.
Susan Bassett, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreational Sports: I know myself well enough to know that to do my best professionally, I need to feel my best physically. Being physically fit, well rested, prepared, relaxed and energetic help me to be my most effective professional self. It takes time and includes eating well and sleeping well.
SMC: What are some of your practices?
BH: My own self-care practices include a regular physical workout routine, enough time to practice my singing each week (if not every day), some slow time each morning with coffee, and plenty of alone time. If I'm careful with my time management, I can have everything I need for caring for myself.
I also recently got a puppy, and having him as a source of joy, activity, and structure is also really helpful.
HC: My self-care practices include meditating, journaling, seeing a therapist and spending time with loved ones.
SB: I like to get up early, at 5:15 a.m. and enjoy quiet time reading. By 6:00 or 6:30, I am doing some kind of exercise for 30-60 minutes. I exercise every day; it helps me to feel alert, engaged and prepared. After work, I enjoy preparing dinner then I relax usually at home watching the news, sports, or a movie on TV. I try to go to sleep by 10:30 p.m.
SMC: We all lead such busy lives! I also enjoy time spent being physically active, as well as recharging in the presence of loved ones. Reading, too, is critical to my ability to not only enjoy some quiet time, but to grow and learn as a person by embracing the experiences of other people and really understanding someone else’s life. I’m wondering how each of you sees your commitment to self-care in the context of your personal and professional identities?
HC: For me, self-care specifically intersects with my identity as a woman. In our society, women are taught to spend their energy nurturing and caring for those around them, oftentimes leaving us feeling drained. Because of this expectation, women often feel selfish for taking time to replenish themselves. We are also conditioned to fear asking for a break because, if we do, we are perceived as “weak”— this leads to women being fearful of giving ourselves the care we need.
BH: It is when I am engaged in my self-care routines that I have the opportunity to reflect most deeply on various theaters of my life. Through these times of reflection, I know myself more fully and my own identity is amplified.
SB: I view myself as an athlete and coach. Therefore, it is important to me to maintain physical fitness. For me self-care is about preparation and being at your best. It is part of being professional.
Specifically, in my role here at IC, teaching self-care to our student-athletes is as important as anything else we teach. Our approach stresses diet and exercise, sleep, rest and recovery. All of this takes planning and discipline. We teach our student-athletes that to perform as they wish as elite athletes, they have to take care of themselves.
SMC: I want to dig deeper into the subtext around Hannah’s comment about women and self-care. Social conditioning plays a huge part in our dialogue, as a culture, around mental health and wellness. Can you talk about some of the received wisdom you’ve encountered related to self-care? Or some of the stigmas you’ve encountered related to mental health?
BH: I learned, growing up, that mental health struggles were to be kept hidden, never to be discussed. It has taken a very long time to see the importance of caring for my well-being, but after seeing the positive results of that work, I'd rather be able to share my experiences freely, honestly, and vulnerably with others.
HC: One piece of wisdom regarding self-care that has been transformative to me was given to me by one of my professors and mentors, Dr. Laura Amoriello, who is an Assistant Professor of Piano here at IC. Last spring, she conducted a self-compassion study for music majors. Through this study, a group of students participated in different self-compassion activities and group reflections. One of the major ideas that Dr. Amoriello imparted during these sessions was: “How would you feel if you cared for yourself as if you were caring for someone in your life that you love and care deeply for?” This concept has significantly shifted how I care for and treat myself, and has truly encouraged me to be more forgiving and understanding of myself.
SB: In our culture, hard work, work ethic, and commitment are highly valued. I value that and learned it from watching my parents through their working lives. There can be a stigma to taking time off which is counter-productive. I like to work hard but I definitely need time to exercise, recreate by biking, golfing, boating and I enjoy traveling for vacation. Those times away help me to recharge and come back ready to go. I love what I do professionally as director of athletics and recreational sports at IC. There is very little separation of my life in that role and my personal life. The job is consuming and that is really the only way to do it well.
SMC: For me, growing up as the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants, I saw my parents and my grandmother work incredibly hard to create a life for me and for my brothers. I learned very early the value of hard work and the importance of a strong work ethic, and that has stayed with me throughout my career in higher education and even before that, when I was in my undergraduate and my graduate programs. I always admired the way that, in addition to working very hard, my parents and my grandmother always made time for family. I’m wondering what role models each of you have when it comes to self-care and wellness. Are there any people you admire? Any mantras or significant quotes that guide your approach to wellness?
HC: My favorite mantra is “Don’t let perfect be the enemy good,” which is attributed to Voltaire. By reminding myself of this each day, I can focus on being proud of my accomplishments, no matter how small they may be. This allows me to reflect on my successes and to feel a sense of gratitude every day.
BH: Brenee Brown did a TedTalk on vulnerability that changed my life. The way she contextualized vulnerability as a strength allowed me to more directly address my own full well-being.
SB: I find inspiration in the people I interact with on a daily basis, and I have many friends and colleagues who inspire me to try to be my best. Dr. Andy Getzin, our team physician at Ithaca College is an inspirational friend and colleague. Dr. Getzin is a highly skilled physician and also an elite triathlete. One of my classmates at IC, Lisa Boyer ’79, is coaching Division I women’s basketball at South Carolina University. They won the DI National Championship two years ago and Lisa will serve on the 2020 Olympic basketball coaching staff. Lisa inspires me by her sustained professional success at an elite level and her commitment to a rigorous fitness routine.