University is often a stressful time and it can be hard to remember how to take care of yourself. Today I’m going to introduce the idea of a wellness plan, which is, first and foremost, a way to cope ahead with the future if challenges were to arise. It provides insight and acts as a guide when you find yourself struggling. Each wellness plan is unique, but I wanted to share how I created mine.
I created my first wellness plan a few years ago, when I was in first year. Ever since then, I’ve updated it every few months to make changes as needed. I love designing PowerPoint presentations, but this time I used Canva to create the design of my wellness plan.
After a beautifully designed titled page, my wellness plan has a "contents section.” The first bullet point is “signs I’m doing well v.s. signs I’m doing poorly.” I have a list of “life categories” — e.g. appetite, sleep, mood — and have written down what it looks like when I’m well and not so well. For example, when I am very stressed out, I lose my appetite. When I feel good and healthy, I eat three meals a day. At first, it may seem like an easy exercise, but it’s a great way to get to know yourself and identify your bodily and psychological needs.
Another example in my wellness plan is “communication.” When I am doing poorly, I stop reaching out to my friends and try to appear okay when I’m clearly struggling on the inside. When I am doing well, I spend a lot of time socializing with my partner and friends.
The next section of my wellness plan is called “warning signs & triggers.” In this section, I list the signs I’m not doing so well and the triggers that have led to distress in the past. For example, warning signs that I’m about to burnout include racing thoughts, panic attacks and increased nightmares. Everyone is different, but common triggers can include academic stress, relationship problems or work-related issues.
Next, I have a list of “emergency contact.” This is an important component because my loved ones have a copy of my wellness plan. This means that in case of an emergency, they will be able to contact someone directly in order to make sure I’m safe.
Then, I have a list of “activities I enjoy.” This helps me because when I am overwhelmed, it’s easy to look at my list and pick an activity that will boost my mood without having to think too much about what to do — though, sometimes it’s hard to plan in advance. My activities include art (drawing, painting), watching cute animal videos, grabbing coffee with a friend and doing jigsaw puzzles. These are all great strategies to rely on when I need to distract myself.
My wellness plan also has a section titled “ways to contribute.” Practicing gratitude has always helped me feel good about myself, so I have a list of ways I can contribute. For example, writing thank you cards, volunteering for a non-profit organization and participating in a study are all ways to contribute.
The next part of my wellness plan includes a list of coping statements. Sometimes when I’m struggling, I engage in negative self-talk, so a list of coping statements is useful when I’m trying to reframe my thinking.
My examples include:
“I do the best I can with the resources I have.”
“I’ve been through many painful experiences and I’ve survived.”
“All I have to do right now is keep breathing. That’s my only job. Just breathe.”
Finally, the last section of my wellness includes my thankful list. I have a list of the people I’m grateful for, and they are a reminder that I am supported and not alone.
A wellness plan that is shared with loved ones is a great tool that anyone can create. In this fashion, my friends are able to keep an eye on me and notice when I’m not doing so well. Then they can remind me to take a look at my wellness plan!
Everyone’s wellness plan will look different. Potential sections to add include: having a suicide/self-harm safety plan, work-related triggers, photos of loved ones, list of online resources (for example, anxiety apps or crisis line numbers) and ways to self-soothe (take a bath, rub essential oils on your neck, etc). There are endless possibilities! I encourage you to give it a try because you never know when a wellness plan might come in handy.
At the very least, it is good exercise if you want to check in with yourself and plan ahead if you suspect you might get overwhelmed in the near future.
The authors of this column are not mental health professionals. If you need additional support, please contact Student Health Services, Sexual Assault Support Centre and/or the Wellness Centre. In case of an emergency, call 911.