Radical Self-care Will Get You Through This Program

A 4th-year student, we’ll call her Jane, shared this juicy nugget of wisdom with a good friend of mine during our first year in the program. It was so good we wrote it at the top of our communal study whiteboard, and there it remained throughout the year. A daily reminder of what it would mean to support ourselves during this program.

I came to Bastyr with, what I consider to be, a fairly good idea of what “self-care” meant; I took my supplements, moved my body, and had a (mostly) balanced diet of fruits, veggies, etc. I was working to develop a sleep hygiene regimen and had done some therapy. Still, the word “radical” stuck with me, and rolled around in my brain for those first few months. What did “radical self-care” look like? How was it different from what I was already doing? What more did I need to really feel supported during this program?

As I struggled to understand this concept, the first year of med school was really doing a number on me. Then the pandemic hit, and it was suddenly very clear to me that my version of self-care was not enough; I needed to radicalize, and quickly. The following are practices I’ve developed since*:

Life still happens while in school. Unfortunately, some of us may lose family members or experience unexpected illness. We may go through a breakup or struggle with housing issues. Having a regular place to tend to mental and emotional health can be very helpful. We may find out halfway through a school year that burnout is our new companion. Not to mention the web of oppressive systems we live in and under. Having an objective person to help us navigate Life + School can be super helpful.

I’ll scream it from the rooftops: YOU NEED A BUDGET. No, seriously, check out You Need A Budget (ynab.com). They’re an incredible software and budgeting philosophy that supports financial health and literacy. BONUS: They give a FREE yearlong subscription to students. And no, I’m not getting paid to tell you this; I just love them that much.

Up the Supps
I know I don’t need to tell Naturopathic Medical students the value of good supplementation. I knew this program would be demanding when I signed up for it; what I didn’t recognize at the time was how costly it could be to both body and being. I’ve found strong allies in Lion’s Mane for brain, Kava for pre-test anxiety, and Ashwagandha to help with overall adaptation to stress. Over-supplementation is very real, though, as is drug-herbal and herbal-herbal conflict, so make sure you’re consulting with your own ND/NMD before diving in headfirst.

This can be a tougher one to implement because it first requires you to identify both what you’re protecting and from whom/what. This can look like having protected study times and spaces that help support your journey through school. It can also look like saying no to that late-night study session because you need consistent rest and downtime. We are complex beings so boundaries will likely need to shift as you develop and align with your unique values.

No self-care strategy is complete without community-care. As we know from the Determinants of Health, no human is quite fully healthy if their community is not healthy, and vice versa. Look for ways you can participate in communal care, whether that’s your schoolmates, neighbors, city population or communities of origin.

To explore your own radical self-care, you may consider reflecting on these questions:
What areas of my life get the most attention? Which ones get the least?
Who has been the most supportive of my journey? The least?
Are there supports (friends, school resources, plant allies, etc) I lean heavily on; are there ones I’m not seeing?
What parts of my being feel neglected (body, mind, emotions, spirit)?

Cheers to 2023!

* Please do not read this as my version of a one-size-fits all advice column on how to get through this program. I came into this program as a chronic caretaker/savior of our others; caring for myself wasn’t always the priority. You may be coming from a completely different perspective; it is up to you to reflect on that and discern what’s right for you. My hope is these ideas will present a jumping-off point or two for figuring out what works.

Christie McNabb (aka Wylde)
NMS-3 & NMSA Chapter President at Bastyr-Washington.

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