Refilling Your Tank: Simple Steps for Self-Care

On a recent flight, the flight attendant gave us the standard instructions for oxygen masks should we need them at any point in our trip. I have heard the safety protocols on every flight I have ever been on, but as I listened on this day, I reflected on how these were applicable to more than just this potential situation. Just as we are told to secure our own masks first, we must care for ourselves before we can effectively lead others.

Have you ever gotten to the end of school year running on fumes? I can remember too many times where I was counting down the days until the year was over so I could have time to breathe again. It wasn’t until many years into my professional career I realized I could reframe my approach. What if I took time to refill my tank throughout the year? What if I intentionally monitored my energy? What if I did more of what made me happy beyond just the summer months?

This approach seems so simple, yet I would venture to guess that many of us just don’t do it. The reality is, there’s no good reason. We are the experts in what we want, need and crave, and we need to strap on our own oxygen masks and breathe in more of what will help us take care of ourselves.

To get you on the right path, I offer you a reflection you opportunity. I would encourage you to grab some paper, a writing utensil and find a comfortable spot, and think about what these answers are for you.

Who? Who are the people who bring you joy? Who are the people you call when you need a pep talk? Who gets to see the best version of you? Think about these people and how much time you are spending with them. How can you get more of that? Maybe that is putting an alert in your phone to call your grandma each Sunday. Or setting a weekly on-campus lunch date with a friend. Just as you put classes and meetings on your calendar, you should take time to schedule these people into your days.

What? What are the activities you enjoy doing? What activities provide you with a burst of energy? There are always going to be “have to” aspects of our lives, but the key is finding the spaces where we can inject those activities that bring us happiness. For me, it’s been keeping a book in my bag. Rather than filling idle time with a mindless scroll of social media, I can simply pull out my latest read to keep me company.

When? When are the times of day you are at your best? When are the dates and events you are the most excited about? It is no secret to those who know me, know I am not a morning person. I also know early afternoon is my ideal time for creative brainstorming. With this, I have learned to plan and schedule my meetings and projects accordingly. Look at your calendar, and see how it aligns with your own energy flows. What needs to change and shift?

Where? To go full cliché here, where are your happy places? Where are the places that you look forward to visiting? These can be specific locations you’ve found on-campus or in your hometown, or you might have something more general, such as a love of local coffee shops. Think about how you might spend more time meeting, studying, and/or just hanging out in these places.

How? How does it look when you’re at your best? Knowing what it feels like to have a full tank helps you know when you are there. More importantly, it can tell you when you are not and need to recalibrate.

Why? This is perhaps the most important question of all. Why does this matter? In addition to deciphering what you want and need, deciphering the purpose in prioritizing yourself is critical.

Now that you have put to pen to paper on this, you have a plan for self-care in your literal hands! You just cracked the code of what you need to do to be the best version of yourself, and now you simply need to take the time to do them.


Andrea Kleekamp has worked in higher education – primarily with risk management and prevention education – for over ten years. She currently lives in Kansas City (the Kansas one) and works remotely for a national fraternity overseeing health and wellness initiatives. You can also follow Andrea’s primary self-care strategy of choice – reading – at her blog


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