Cultivating Self-Care Practices While Studying

Hey there fellow Grad students, RBT’s, and any and all people prepping for boards. (November testers you get a s/o). Each of us going about this BCBA route falls into at least one of those categories mentioned. I am sure we have all already noticed the absolutely crazy, number of tasks that need to be balanced on top of the other roles we play in our lives (moms, dads, sisters, friends, caregivers, etc.). My planner is a disaster and I am hoping I am not the only one. For me, I am a grad student and work full time (yay fieldwork). When I am not doing either of those things, I try to practice self-care by trying to prep board study materials in advance, get enough sleep, go to the gym, remember to respond to the 8 different texts I received, go on dates, and consume enough spinach so my doctor doesn’t tell me I am unwell.

At best: I go to bed at 10pm, after completing a good workout, studying, and hoping the guy I just met doesn’t ghost me the next day.

At worst: I am up until 1am completing homework, feeling exhausted, with zero motivation to work out, and consuming Chick-Fil-A instead of spinach. Although I am trying to limit days like these, I am constantly exhausted.

Even for those of us not testing in November, life is crazy – insane actually. Your daily routines and tasks may look a little different than mine – sub the guy for your kid, or the workout for a date night with your hubby, and you get it: Life is hectic, and doesn’t ever really seem to slow down.

I noticed how badly my life needed self-care, and how out of tune I was with my body a few weeks ago. One health scare later (mostly good though), I realized how tired my body was feeling from the constant stress it was under. My body was, quite literally, yelling at me to get my sh*t in gear and give it a break. Fast forward to me writing this: it’s still a work in progress.


Knowing what I know about ABA, I obviously began to analyze myself. What exactly was I doing that could be worked on and improved to provide more self-care to my life? I wondered what antecedent interventions could I put in place. There were three things that popped into my head that were quick fixes: packing lunch the night before instead of the morning of, laying clothes out the night before, and getting a much bigger planner with lots space to write. These three things may not seem huge, but they are for me. I am usually the person who is running out the door in the morning trying not to spill her coffee. Don’t ask me why I am like this I do not know.

I do know, however, that I am the person who is constantly convinced she could quickly do the dishes before she leaves, or quickly fold the laundry, or clean up the bathroom counter. What I think takes 2 minutes is actually 5-10 and then I am rushing trying not to be late. It’s a vicious cycle. A cycle that has been ended by simply packing that lunch and laying out those clothes the night before. (Seriously if anyone knows of any jobs in the Cincinnati area that only require scrubs plz contact me.)

Now onto my planner. My planner the last few weeks has been a life saver. After two outpatient procedures with a lot of anesthesia and painkillers, my brain was…not good. I walked into work totally having forgotten my client schedule. Or well, I did until I wrote it down in my fancy new planner. (TY Target). My planner now serves as a borderline bible for me. It is my tracker, my safe space, and my compass. Three weeks in and I have grown extremely attached.

Now listen, I know this may sound a little absurd. “You’re really telling me you changed your life by packing your lunch at night and buying a planner the size of a laptop?” No, I am not. I made these small changes due to self-care then moved up from there. But the key was making sure I mastered these tasks, and then moved on to something else #shaping #successiveapproximations.

This past week the new task was to wake up at 6am, and (maybe) try to work out. I was successful twice. Two other mornings, I woke up, but opted for coffee, newspaper, and morning silence instead. However, by engaging in self-care, I was also able to check my to do list for school work, grab gym clothes for after work (so I could avoid coming home to change and getting distracted). Additionally, this self-care moment allowed me to enjoy my coffee from an actual mug instead of a Yeti that was about to explode on me as I speed walked to my car. It was…. calming. I can honestly say that the therapy sessions I conducted every day last week were some of the best I have given. I was wide awake (yay for coffee before the drive to work), I had eaten a much better breakfast, and I was letting my body rest and get enough sleep at night. I felt like a new woman. So much so, that I’ve decided I’ll stick to the 6am wake up calls, and the night time lunch packs and clothes laid out for work the day before. I’ll increase the criterion required to meet my self-management goals in a few weeks, as I probably will need to re-evaluate how certain environmental stimuli evoke private events such as stress. Right now, I am focusing on these smaller changes to lifestyle that are making a huge impact on my ability to be a therapist, student, daughter, and friend, all while allowing ample time to go watch football games on the weekends.


So, I have this question to pose to all of you: What small changes could you make in your life right now that would make a world of difference in your day to day? Could you also pack lunch the night before? What about making coffee at home instead of allocating time to stop at Starbucks? Or getting progress notes done on Wednesday so you can enjoy dinner with friends without thinking about work on Thursday?

Being able to notice your own setting events and antecedents can make a world of difference in your routine and bring you some sense of self-care. And I promise it doesn’t take as long as you think to adjust. If I can turn myself into a morning person in a week (I honest to god could sleep for 18 hours with blackout curtains if you let me), then you can definitely make some small adjustments to tune up to help regulate your day to day. When you think about it, we aren’t that much different from some of our clients in how we respond to stress or changes. So, instead of being reactive to the events of the day, let’s stay as proactive as possible. Good setting events (morning coffee) = good mood at 8am, and I am pretty sure that’s something we could all stand to get on board with.

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Hey guys! I am Abagaele. I am a Grad student and RBT completing fieldwork and doing school full time. I am from Ohio, and currently reside in my home city of Cincinnati. I have a particular interest in verbal behavior, neuroscience, and pediatric feeding techniques. When I am not working or studying, I enjoy reading, traveling, hiking, and drinking wine or craft beer. I have hopes to take a travel RBT or BCBA position here in a few months, most likely out west. And I am also considering a PhD. You can follow my life outside of ABA (maybe I’ll include ABA??) on my Instagram @abagaele_g, it’s not that interesting but yah know, whatever.

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