Nagy Outlines Strategies and Meaning of ‘Taking Care of Yourself’

Dr. Derek Nagy, Featured Guest Writer

You have likely heard many people say “make sure you take care of yourself” or “be well” recently.  As a society, we know that it is important to take care of ourselves given the amount of stress we are under.  Despite this sounding pretty easy, there is a lot that goes into taking care of yourself.  There are skills that we need in order to effectively take care of our mental and physical health.   The skills that I am going to discuss in this article are self-awareness and self-management, which are 2 of the 5 competencies of Social Emotional Learning (SEL).  I will also provide you with some areas of your life to think about so you can continue to build the capacity to take care of yourselves, which is a lifelong process. 

Self-awareness is the ability to understand our own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence our behavior in different situations.  This includes understanding our strengths and weaknesses.   As we improve our ability to understand ourselves, we increase the likelihood that we will be able to make adjustments that have a positive impact.  

Self-management is the ability to manage our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations.  This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals.  

These definitions come from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).  

What areas of life should you be thinking about?



Get some!! Research shows that teens need about 9 to 9 ½ hours of sleep per night.  This is a full hour more than you needed at age 10.  The reason is teenage brains are going through a second developmental stage.  Extra sleep supports the brain changes that occur during adolescence (teen years).  This amount of sleep will also help you feel well rested and can help protect you from mental health conditions like depression.  I recommend that you think about your sleep schedule.  Is it working for you (self-awareness)?  If not, what changes can you make in your sleep routine that could lead to a happier, healthier self (self-management)?  



Getting the right amount of exercise can increase your energy levels and improve your mood.  Our bodies release chemicals called endorphins when we exercise.  Endorphins are your brain’s feel-good chemicals.  Exercise also serves as a natural stress reliever.  Sometimes people shy away from exercise because they think that going for a 5 mile run is the minimum that qualifies as exercise.  Not true!! Start small, but try to increase the frequency.  Go for a walk around the neighborhood.  Are you getting the right amount of exercise (self-awareness)?  If not, what changes do you want to make in order to make sure you are taking care of your body(self-management)?



Keeping up with online school is tough.  With the first quad coming to an end, consider reflecting on what you did well (self-awareness) and what you would like to do differently (self-management) during the second quad.  Teachers are doing the same thing.  Figure out who can help you make some of the changes that you want for yourself and let them know what you are trying to do.  Falling behind in school is a significant stressor and an important part of taking care of yourself is having a routine that includes getting your school work completed.  If the assignments are hard, communication with your teachers and the important adults in your life becomes even more necessary.  Trust me, your teachers want to hear from you.  


Time for yourself

We also need time for ourselves.  We need to make sure that we participate in activities that we enjoy.  For some of us this could be alone time reading a book, playing a video game, or participating in an outdoor sport with some friends.  The key is knowing what you need to be happy and productive.  What activities do you participate in regularly that you enjoy (self-awareness)?  Are you participating in those activities enough or too much (self-management)?   


Metacognition (thinking about our thinking)

The way we think affects how we feel and what we do.  The good news is that we have the ability to control our thoughts, but it takes some practice and effort.  We all experience what are called automatic negative thoughts (ANTs).  These are thoughts that just pop into our heads that are generally unhelpful and often times inaccurate. When we start to notice ANTs and can evaluate them and counter them with more helpful replacement thoughts then we can begin pushing through some of our own thinking barriers.   

Here’s an example: You have an English paper due in 1 week.  ANT = “I’m never going to be able to finish this English paper!!”  Evaluation of that ANT = “in the past I’ve had English papers that have been hard, but with some support I’ve finished them.”   Replacement thought = “With some help from my teachers and some planning I can get my English paper completed.”  

What ANTs impact you (self-awareness)?  What can you do when you realize that you are being negatively affected by your thought patterns (self-management)?


Social Life

We need time with our friends.  While it is harder to see them in person now, we can spend time playing games and hanging out with our friends virtually.  These could be video games, other games that you can play over zoom, or just spending time talking to each other.  I know it’s not exactly the same, but I truly believe that it is more beneficial than spending that time alone or posting on social media.  The social interaction that occurs in live conversations benefits our social emotional functioning.  Who do you miss spending time with (self-awareness)?  How can you be intentional about creating time to spend with them (self-management)?    


In sum, taking care of yourself requires self-reflection and management of different areas of your life.  Finding the balance of participating in activities that bring you joy and satisfaction, taking care of your mind and body, and staying on top of your personal responsibilities will likely lead to healthier social and emotional lives.  Again, this is a lifelong task that requires adjustments.  What areas would you like to understand better about yourself?  What changes are you going to make?  Who is going to help you get it done?