Balance, Career

Learning Self-Care Through Parrots

When I learned I had to write my blog about self-care for Self-Care Week, I wasn’t sure what to do. I don’t think I’ve ever deliberately set time apart to recharge before. Sure, I’ve procrastinated and goofed off when I should have been doing work, but I always felt guilty about it afterward. So, for Self-Care Week, I decided to get out a jungle-themed colouring book for “mindfulness” and destressing that had been sitting on my shelf for a while, and set aside some time in my schedule for self-care for what was, probably, the first time in my undergraduate career.

A picture of the cover of a colouring book with designs of the Amazon Jungle. There are partially coloured insects, birds, and vegetation

Who knew a colouring book would lead to an epiphany?

I flipped through the colouring book, debating which sheet I should colour first. There were adorable designs of vegetation and flowers, birds, snakes, insects, and intricate patterns. I eventually decided on a design of a parrot surrounded by wildlife.

As I started colouring, I went through a range of emotions. At first, I felt pretty relieved to be taking a deliberate break from my studying and readings and wasn’t as wracked with guilt as I usually am when I’m not working. But then I started thinking about all my upcoming deadlines—including my blog deadline—and started panicking. And then I noticed that I had messed up the parrot’s eye and that my coloured pencils were dull and that my colouring book masterpiece was not shaping up to be artistic enough to publicly post on my blog.

A sketch of an intricate jungle scene: there's a parrot, surrounded by textured, detailed vegetation, meant to be coloured in

Taken before this colouring page sparked a crisis.

I soon realized that this exercise was not very relaxing or recharging at all. So I took a deep breath and set aside my colouring book. I eventually managed to finish colouring in my parrot and his jungle scene in peace, with the help of a few realizations:

  1. I have to set aside time for self-care for myself and not for external reasons. In other words, self-care can’t just be something I’m inspired to do for a blog post. (In this spirit, I’m going to withhold my finished colouring book page. I know you were all dying to see it, but knowing I was completing my parrot design for myself and my eyes only took a lot of pressure off of the activity.)
  2. Self-care is just as important as doing work. I couldn’t focus on relaxing because I felt colouring simply wasn’t productive. But I realized keeping up your mental and physical health helps a great deal in academic, professional, and personal success. I was feeling burnt out and under the weather today, and (eventually) taking the time to colour in a cute parrot definitely helped.
  3. Colouring books, for me, worked as a great self-care exercise. When I finished colouring, I had tangible proof of the work and mindfulness I put into the activity in the form of a colourful jungle scene.

As I move up in the world of work and take on new roles in new environments, new responsibilities, and new career decisions, self-care will become more and more important. As I navigate a career of transitions and new challenges, the stress will likely keep piling up, making it much more important to set aside chunks of time for replenishing activities. As I learned from my colouring book debacle, self-care isn’t about going through the motions, or doing something because you’re forced to; self-care has to be deliberate, and it has to be for yourself.

If you want to strengthen your self-care skills or just want to recharge after a difficult school/work day, you can check out Hart House’s Weekly Wellness week!