Alanna Reid | Staff Photographer
For Peter Dadson, a first-year chemical engineering major, Pitt’s Self-Care Days are essential to maintain a healthy academic and social life — especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The upkeep of mental health for all is of utmost importance, especially being in a pandemic with many restrictions and changes to our norms,” Dadson said. “If an individual isn’t given the opportunity to relax for the sake of their mental health, then the toll of strenuous stress and strain will manifest itself in their academic or social life in a detrimental manner.”
Students celebrated the first Self-Care Day of the semester last Tuesday. Students received one Self-Care Day last semester in October. Following a request from Student Government Board President Eric Macadangdang, students were given two Self-Care Days this semester — with the next one on March 24 — after spring break was cancelled.
Self-Care Days are dedicated to helping students relax and focus on their well-being with a break from classes. All classes were canceled and instructors were encouraged to adjust assignment deadlines. Students reported spending the day doing a variety of activities — from catching up on sleep and homework, to participating in University-sponsored activities.
Jay Darr, the director of the University Counseling Center, said it is important to promote student well-being throughout the school year, not only on Self-Care Days. Darr said Self-Care Days can positively impact student engagement, GPA, retention and persistence. Darr also said the UCC partnered with various Pitt communities to develop resources that can benefit students’ mental health.
“The UCC along with students, UnpackU and campus partners, develop an exciting lineup of live, interactive events and self-guided activities aimed at helping students discover, define and develop self-care practices not only for a single day, but ongoing,” Darr said.
For Self-Care Day, the UCC hosted a number of activities, including the SMASH Mobile Rage Room. At the room, students wrote their stresses or concerns on a plate, were given protective gear and then smashed the plate to relieve stress. The UCC also gave out free self-care kits with a face mask, hand sanitizer, a stress ball and cookies. Students could also choose to participate in a giveaway and a variety of self-guided care activities.
Catherine Smith, a junior pharmacy student, said Tuesday’s Self-Care Day helped her relax and allowed her to catch up on school work.
“Self-Care Day was definitely much needed since I’ve been busy between classes and volunteering at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic,” Smith said. “I was just glad to have some time to take a breather, it felt like a snow day! We didn’t have any [Self-Care Day] in pharmacy school [last semester], so it was great to have that day to catch up with no pressure.”
Dadson said self-care is important for students to recover both physically and mentally. He said he spent the day catching up on his engineering coursework, and following much of his usual daily routine.
“A lot of my daily routine didn’t change, I still went to the gym at 8 a.m. and slowly and steadily checked off assignments from my to-do list,” Dadson said. “I wouldn’t say my Self-Care Day was relaxing, but it was nice to have a day without classes and deadlines, especially with me being in the middle of midterm season.”
Smith said she noticed her professors accommodated the Self-Care Day by reducing the workload or delaying the assignments along with cancelling class during the day.
“My professors were pretty accommodating,” Smith said. “We didn’t have anything due that day or an exam the next day, but school can be really overwhelming as a whole so I always feel pressure to get ahead.”
Macadangdang said on Feb. 16 that SGB informed Pitt’s administration about concerns surrounding last semester’s Self-Care Day.
“I know that there were several issues and concerns with how our Self-Care Day worked out last semester in terms of coursework, and we have relayed that information to administration, clearly and directly before the start of this semester,” Macadangdang said. “But please let us know if any issues arise.”
Though Dadson said he was lucky that Self-Care Day cleared up some time for him to study for an upcoming test, he added that some professors were not as accommodating.
“Some professors weren’t as accommodating with some people in certain sections of the same class getting exemptions from assignments while other students who didn’t have the class on the same day, but still in the same week, were still responsible for turning the same assignment in,” Dadson said.
Dadson said he had mixed feelings about the Self-Care Day falling in the middle of the week and would have preferred a long weekend.
“Part of me is a little disgruntled that I can’t have a longer weekend, which is greatly needed with the stress of midterms, being in a pandemic … However, I thought that this being on a Tuesday just gave me a buffer between classes, helped me to catch up on certain things,” Dadson said. “While I did enjoy having a day off, I wish I could have spent my entire day focusing on refreshing and replenishing my mental health.”
Smith said she understands why Pitt decided to have the day in the middle of the week instead of a long weekend. Still, Smith said, it felt awkward to have a day off on a day where she usually spent time working.
“The fact that it was on a Tuesday was fine, I’d definitely prefer having a long weekend, but I know the University can’t do that because there’s the risk of students travelling,” Smith said. “It’s a little awkward pausing in the middle of the week and then going back to normal.”
Smith said while she definitely misses spring break, the Self-Care Day was “better than nothing.”
“Self-Care Days definitely don’t replace spring break or long weekends, but I understand why it has to be like this,” Smith said. “Self-Care Days are better than nothing, but I’m definitely missing spring break!”