Photo of a person snuggled up with a dog, a book and cozy socks.

While students are on break, it can still be a stressful time for staff and faculty as we prepare for the holidays and the upcoming spring semester. Here are some simplified self-care tips that can help you take care of yourself this winter. 

1. Change the narrative

You might not realize it, but you talk to yourself all the time. The narrative we choose to use when we engage in self-talk can play an important role in helping us or hindering us. 

For example, imagine that you’re trying to work up the motivation to answer emails or tidy up an area in your home. You may say something like, “Ugh, I should really get started on those dishes soon.” This type of self-talk can actually increase stress and create unnecessary pressure to complete a given task. 

Instead, try changing the narrative to see how you feel taking a gentler approach. For this example, you could say something like, “It would be such a great kindness to my future self if I got up right now and cleaned at least one dish.” 

Changing the narrative in this way can help you practice self-compassion, which can be especially beneficial when you’re trying to work through stressful situations, demanding tasks or feelings of burnout. Keep in mind that this isn’t a foolproof formula. Changing the way you speak to yourself might not always make you jump into action, but it can help you be kinder to yourself in the process.

2. Prioritize and simplify self-care tasks

When we feel stressed, self-care tasks can sometimes feel like a chore. If you don’t have the energy to do everything you want to do, it’s important to identify which self-care tasks are necessary for you to function day-to-day. Prioritize these tasks and simplify them when possible. Here are a few examples of ways to simplify care tasks:


Practicing good hygiene can be difficult when you’re feeling burnt out, depressed or overwhelmed. However, it’s an important component of both our mental and physical health. If you taking a shower feels too overwhelming, consider trying one of these simplified options:

  • Put a plastic or water-safe stool in your shower, so you can sit down and breathe a sigh of relief while you bathe.
  • Opt to wash your face and brush your teeth instead of taking a full shower. When even this is too much, consider investing in micellar face wipes, dry shampoo or wisp toothbrushes to simplify this option even further.


The way we dress can be a reflection of our emotional state. Having clean clothes, towels and sheets is one way to improve our overall well-being. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your laundry, consider trying one of these simplified tasks:

  • Try putting your clothes away into their respective drawers without folding them. This will allow you to still sort between shirts, pants and other articles of clothing while reducing the amount of time you spend folding or hanging them. You can also place organizer bins inside your drawers to create some order for your unfolded clothes.
  • Wear your clothes more than once before washing. Most articles of clothing, like jeans, can be worn two or three times before they truly need to be washed.


Doing dishes can be a stressful task, but so can having an ever-growing pile of dishes in the sink. When it feels like there is no good alternative to dirty dishes, consider implementing this trick:

  • Opt to use paper plates and plastic utensils for meals during stressful times. For those of us who are environmentally conscious, this may be a hard alternative to accept. However, it’s okay to pause your efforts to save the planet while you work on saving your own mental health. A few days of less-than-perfect sustainability won’t make or break your efforts overall.

Groceries and food

Eating regularly and enjoying an array of foods is important for our physical and mental health. However, if the thought of grocery shopping feels like a burden, consider trying one of these options instead:

  • Order your groceries ahead of time for pickup. This option allows you to browse and select products on your phone and schedule a time that works for you to come pick them up. No more crowds or impulse purchases!
  • If you’re too overwhelmed to pick up your groceries, try scheduling a delivery instead. Many grocers provide free or low-cost delivery services when you order on their app. You can also order groceries for delivery from retailers like Amazon.
  • If you're struggling with food insecurity or need extra help affording groceries this month, check out the Buff Pantry at the UMC. They provide up to 20 pounds of food each week to students, staff, faculty and affiliates who need a helping hand.

Physical activity

Physical activity can be a great way to reduce and manage stress, but when life gets hectic or stressful, it can also be hard to get started or find the time to commit to structured activities. Here are some ways to simplify movement and fit it back into your routine:

  • Give yourself credit for movement that don’t fall into any exercise plan. This can include walking to pick up the mail, shoveling your walkway or other activities like vacuuming around the house. All of these activities require you to move your body, and it’s okay if you aren’t able to add more regimented movement into your day.
  • Try reconnecting with your inner child through play and silliness. For instance, you can play with your dog, build a snowman, enjoy a game of tag, initiate a snowball fight or have a dance party in your living room. These can also be great ways to get your partner, friends or kids involved in movement.
  • Enjoy an active rest day with yoga, stretching, meditation or a leisurely walk.

3. Set boundaries

Boundaries are limits or rules that we set for ourselves and how we interact with others in order to protect our mental health, well-being and energy, among other things. Setting boundaries is a good habit to practice everyday, but it can be particularly important when we are feeling stressed out, navigating complex family dynamics or preparing for the holidays. 

Here are a few examples of healthy boundaries:

  1. My to-do list is here to serve me.
    Prioritizing and scheduling tasks is supposed to make your life easier, not more difficult or stressful. Remind yourself that to-do lists don’t need to be a looming reminder of what you still haven’t completed. Instead, try to think of how your to-do list can serve you. For instance, it may remove the burden of having to remember all of your upcoming tasks, or it may help you preserve energy when sorting through what your priorities should be.
  2. I can walk away and come back later.
    Sometimes it may feel like you have to complete every single task or project in one shot. Give yourself permission to walk away and come back later. This can help improve your motivation, mental health and resilience. Take a break, practice self-care and come back to it at a later time after you’ve had a chance to recenter yourself.
  3. The state of your house doesn't define you.
    It’s normal to feel like your home needs to be perfect, especially if you’re anticipating guests for the holidays. However, it’s important to remember that your value is not defined by how immaculate your house appears to others. Being good or bad at something (like dusting or organization) has nothing to do with who you are as a person, friend, coworker or family member. Remind yourself that you’re still a kind, smart, capable, loving and worthy person even if your house is messy.
  4. Feelings are temporary.
    How you’re feeling today won’t be how you feel forever. Remind yourself that emotions are temporary. Whatever you’re experiencing in this exact moment is unlikely to determine the rest of your life, even if it feels that way right now. Instead of focusing all of your energy into your current circumstances, try imagining how you might feel seven days from now, seven months from now and seven years from now. More likely than not, as time passes, it won’t seem as dire.

4. Focus on 15-minute wins

Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed, it can be hard to start even the simplest of tasks. If this sounds familiar, try challenging yourself to start with fifteen minutes to see what you can get done in a more manageable way. This technique lends itself well to work, life and care tasks. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Pick a single task
    Pick any task, large or small. This can include things like cleaning out your email inbox, getting outside, partaking in physical activity, packing for a trip, sorting mail, paying a bill, doing the dishes, finally returning that impulse Amazon purchase or anything else you can think of.
  2. Start the clock
    Set your timer for fifteen minutes. This will give you enough time to make progress without derailing your entire schedule for the day. You can use a kitchen timer, stopwatch or phone.
  3. Allow resistance
    Oftentimes when people feel resistance to a task, they immediately stop, quit, procrastinate or distract themselves with other things (hello, social media). Because of this, feelings of resistance often become an excuse to not take action on a task. However, if you can allow yourself to feel discomfort and still take action in spite of it, you’ll be able to make meaningful progress toward any goal. This is the foundation work of cultivating grit—the ability to persevere through long-term goals.
  4. Challenge yourself
    Turn tasks and deadlines into a game with yourself. Can you complete something in less than fifteen minutes? Can you complete a task in less time than it took you previously? Can you make it fun?

5. Treat rest as a right, not a reward

You do not need to earn the right to rest, connect or recreate. Practicing self-care often means we must unlearn the idea that all tasks must be completed before we can sit down and relax. The truth is, your to-do list will never really be done. There will always be something else to do tomorrow or next week or next year.

This winter, give yourself unconditional permission to rest. Instead, make time to do more of what you love. It can be helpful to jot down some ideas of things that feel mentally, physically or spiritually rewarding. Consider things like reading a good book, going for walks, spending time with friends you haven’t seen in a while, crafting or exploring new hobbies. Spend this season paying attention to the things you genuinely enjoy doing and do them.

Resources for staff and faculty

CU Boulder staff and faculty have access to a variety of self-care resources, including:

Faculty Staff Assistance Program (FSAP)

FSAP provides free mental health services for all CU Boulder staff and faculty, including brief counseling, community referrals, workshops and support groups. Virtual and in-person drop-in hours are available Monday through Friday from 2 to 3 p.m.

*Note: Hours may vary over winter break.


AcademicLiveCare is a telehealth platform that allows faculty and staff to schedule and attend medical and mental health appointments from a smartphone, computer or other mobile device for free. AcademicLiveCare is intended to provide supplemental care in addition to campus services and insurance benefits. It does not provide crisis or emergency care.


Health and Wellness Services has launched a new mental health app for students, staff and faculty! Download WellTrack to track your mood, practice skills and complete modules. WellTrack is available on the App Store and Google Play. Sign in with your IdentiKey for free access.

Acupuncture and massage services

Staff and faculty can access acupuncture and massage therapy services through Medical Services at Wardenburg Health Center. Take some time off during the day to treat yourself to some massage or acupuncture. 

*Note: Acupuncture and massage services are not covered by employee health insurance plans and must be paid out of pocket.

Rec Center Appreciation Week

Enjoy free entry to the Rec Center from Jan. 2 to 8 with your Buff OneCard. Please note that additional activities, such as the climbing gym, recreational skating and guest passes will require an additional fee. 

Basic Needs Center

The Basic Needs Center is a campus care collective, connecting you to essential resources when you need them most. As a virtual and physical hub of services, we collaborate with on-campus and community partners to get you the care you need. We provide education on navigating local and national resources in addition to helping support you in emergency situations.

Office of Victim Assistance (OVA)

The Office of Victim Assistance (OVA) provides free and confidential information, consultation, support, advocacy and short-term, trauma-focused counseling services for students, grad students, faculty and staff who have experienced and/or witnessed a traumatic, disturbing or life-disruptive event. They are familiar with a wide range of topics, including sexual assault and harassment, discrimination, microaggressions, identity-based trauma, abuse, intimate partner abuse, stalking, crime, grief and more.