Beginning college is always a stressful experience, moving from the tightly controlled high school environment into one where no one is going to remind you that essay is due on Monday, or tell you how to begin the networking that will be so crucial before graduation. As a new college student, it’s also hard to figure out what self-care strategies will work best for you—or even to remember to do self-care at all.
But USC students now have a way to figure all that out.
At a retreat for University of Southern California staff, faculty members of the school’s Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy were tasked with figuring out ways to better assist freshman students.
What the USC Chan faculty members came up with is a course: Occupational Therapy 101: “Caring for Your Self: Engaging in Healthy Habits and Routines.” In its first years, it is being taught by Ashley Uyeshiro Simon, an assistant professor specializing in lifestyle-based occupational therapy.
“There is a lot of change between external motivation in high school, like your parents telling you to study and then giving you a bedtime at night, versus college where there’s no one to tell you to study. It’s all up to you, and it has to be this intrinsic motivation instead,” Uyeshiro Simon explains in her course, which centers on self-care.
For some students, OT 101 even changed the course of their education.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do coming into college,” said USC freshman Emma Collins. “I started as a business major, but after a couple of weeks in this class, I decided to switch to psychology since it matches with the most occupational therapy prerequisites for the master’s program at USC. I’m minoring in occupational science. After learning about it just a little bit, I knew it was a better fit for me.”
Topics included cover identity and diversity; taking care of one’s body through healthy routines; stress, anxiety, and depression; finding occupations that restore and protect one’s mental health; substance use; time management; forming sustaining relationships; and making assertive connections. All of these things are crucial to help students understand the importance of self-care and get the tools to do that.
Post-secondary schools like USC are seeing higher and higher rates of mental illness among their students, whether it comes from increased diagnoses of what was already there, the stress of an over-connected world, or higher rates of “helicopter parenting” before college. College is a place to learn key self-care skills as well as academic skills.
This course, and the growing spread of ones like it, recognizes that forming and maintaining healthy habits is a skill that can be taught and learned.