Photo of staff and faculty members posing with Chip the Buffalo.

The start of a new semester can be exciting and challenging. Changes to our work schedules, home lives, daily routines and overall responsibilities can make it hard to pinpoint exactly where we need to prioritize our time or energy.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you understand your relationship with self-care, what works for you right now and where to go from here. 

What does self-care mean to you?

Over the past few years, self-care has transformed into a buzzword. While taking care of ourselves seems self-explanatory, self-care as a whole can feel abstract or difficult to achieve. Take some time to reflect on what self-care means to you and any assumptions you may have about what self-care looks like.

These questions can help you get started:

  • What activities or images come to mind when you think about self-care? 
  • What feelings do you associate with self-care?
  • Do you have any hesitations about engaging in self-care?
  • Why is it important for you to engage in self-care?

What are some barriers to your self-care routine?

There are a number of barriers that can interfere with our efforts to engage in self-care. These include personal circumstances as well as structural factors that may be out of our control. Think through some of the barriers that may be impacting you.

Here are some common barriers to self-care and ways to overcome them: 


Many of us know how to take care of ourselves, but we may not always know what to prioritize or how to get started with self-care. You might not fully understand your needs or you may be used to pushing them aside to get things done. If this sounds familiar, it can take time to become more mindful and cultivate a deeper self-awareness around your needs. An easy way to check this is by looking inward: Can you identify your emotions or feelings easily? Can you identify the areas in your body where these emotions occur? If you struggle with this, consider taking a few minutes each day to do a body scan. This can be a great way to pause and become more attuned to listening to your body’s needs.

Lack of time

Chances are you have a lot on your plate right now. It’s normal to get caught up in our work tasks, to-do lists and obligations (both real and imagined). However, this can lead to increased distress as we attempt to get everything done. It’s important to remember that life isn’t just a list of tasks to complete. There will never come a time when there is nothing left to do and all the items on your list are finally checked off. Instead, try to acknowledge that life is always in motion. Whether you’ve completed your tasks for the day or not, take time to put the to-do list aside and focus on other things, like self-care. In fact, addressing our most basic needs can actually improve our ability to function in other areas of our life.  


Have you ever experienced that nagging, guilty voice in the back of your mind when you think about self-care? The truth is, self-care guilt is pretty common and it can creep up on us in a variety of ways. You may feel guilty because you see self-care as an indulgence, or you may feel guilty because your time isn’t your own (hello, kids). Feelings of guilt can also surface when we feel obligated to say yes to others or when taking care of ourselves doesn’t feel as productive or worthwhile as other tasks. Overcoming feelings of guilt may require you to rethink your assumptions about self-care or redefine some different areas in your life, so you can start making yourself more of a priority.

Unrealistic expectations

Self-care can feel like a lofty goal sometimes, especially if we have unrealistic expectations for what it is or what it can do for us. It’s important to remind ourselves that self-care is meant to be a sustainable practice that helps us to address our immediate and future needs. When we hold ourselves or our routine to unreasonable standards, it can be difficult to achieve any level of self-care. This is because we can become trapped in all-or-nothing cycles of thinking. For instance, if you commit to walking in the morning twice a week and you only get out once, you may tell yourself that self-care is too hard or that you just can’t do it. Instead, try to reframe your thinking and adjust your self-care plans to work for where you are in this moment of life. In this example, if walking multiple times a week feels unattainable, consider dialing back or changing up your plans to make it more manageable. 

Community care

While self-care is important in promoting our health and well-being, it’s not the only type of care that matters. In fact, community care is equally important in order for us to live happy, healthy and full lives. But what’s the difference? Self-care focuses on the ways we take care of ourselves. Community care focuses on how communities and support systems care for each other. When it comes to taking care of our health and well-being, it’s okay to ask for help and acknowledge that we can’t always do it on our own. Take some time to reflect on what you need most right now or what activities you feel overwhelmed by. Is each item something that you can champion on your own or would it be more helpful to have some form of outside support? Understanding the limits of self-care and being able to seek out and accept forms of community support can help you avoid self-care burnout and lean into new or existing support systems in your life. 

Structural barriers

Self-care can butt up against structural barriers that are out of our control, including social inequities, discrimination, financial barriers and limited access to resources or services. For instance, you may lack or have inadequate access to primary care, mental health services, child or elder care, financial support or knowledge relevant to navigating complex systems. Overcoming these types of barriers can be challenging. It’s important to realize that you don’t have to do it alone. Sometimes the simplest (and hardest) way to get support is to ask for it. For instance, letting your supervisor know that you are struggling to secure childcare or letting your primary care physician know that you are struggling with mental health concerns can create opportunities to have important conversations and connect with additional support that you may not have had before.

What is working for you now?

Most of us already do a lot to take care of ourselves and engage in self-care, even if we don’t always recognize it in that way.

Take some time to think through all of the activities that help you take care of yourself that you already do on a regular basis. This could include practicing gratitude, reading for enjoyment, practicing a skill, taking time away from your electronic devices or work, catching up with friends and so much more. Write down all of the little (and big) things you do for yourself.

What gaps do you want to fill?

Now that you’ve identified the activities you already do for yourself, consider if there are any gaps you’d like to fill or activities you’d like to add to your daily, weekly or monthly routine. 

Keep in mind that it can be difficult to add multiple activities all at once, so pace yourself and know that you can always revisit activities or adjust your plan as needed. Instead of trying to do it all, try to brainstorm and prioritize one or two things. Commit to a goal that’s feasible for you right now. Keeping a journal to track your mood or other changes over time can also provide great insights into how your self-care journey is progressing.

Get a free, printable self-care worksheet

Download a free copy of our self-care worksheet to guide you through each of these prompts. This can also be a great tool to use to track your progress and make changes as needed.

 "Free, printable self-care worksheet".

Download your free copy

Resources for staff and faculty

There are support services available to help you practice self-care, learn about boundaries and take control of your well-being. 

Faculty & Staff Assistance Program (FSAP)

FSAP is committed to promoting the mental and emotional well-being of CU’s staff and faculty. They offer free consultations, brief individual therapy and workshops. 

Workshops for Self-Care & Personal Growth

FSAP hosts free self-care and personal growth workshops to help staff and faculty explore ways to improve their wellness across multiple areas of life, including stress reduction, time off, financial literacy and more. 

Recreation Services

Did you know that CU staff and faculty can use the Rec Center? Paid memberships are available for staff, faculty spouses, alumni and affiliates. A membership at the Rec allows you to access additional services like personal and partner training, group fitness classes and more (for an additional fee).

Feel Good Fridays

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) and the CU Boulder Art Museum have partnered to offer free meditation sessions every Friday for the CU Boulder community. Stop by the main gallery on Fridays by 12:30 p.m. or register to join virtually (no late admissions). 

Massage and acupuncture

If you’re looking to improve your self-care or physical health this semester, consider scheduling a massage or acupuncture appointment with Medical Services.

Collegiate Recovery Community

The CU Collegiate Recovery Community (CUCRC) provides community, support and connection for students, faculty and staff in recovery or seeking recovery from a wide range of behaviors. Their fall meeting schedule is available online and include special sessions for staff and faculty.