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As Jada sat in the college’s health services office, wheezing deeply and trying to catch her breath, she pulled out her cell phone. “Dad, I’m really not feeling well,” she said when he answered. “My asthma is really bad. Can I come home for a while?”

Also, for the first time in her life, Jada reported to her dad that she felt depressed and anxious. Her parents lived in the same town, so her dad was able to meet Jada at her dorm room. When he arrived, what he saw shocked him. His daughter was sitting in a corner of the room, surrounded by dirty dishes, eating a tiny salad.

“The room looked like a crack house,” he recalled. “There was garbage all over the floor—and I mean garbage—chicken bones and that kind of thing. It stunk.” When he started questioning his daughter that day, she tried to explain.

“I’ve been trying to keep the place clean,” she said, “but my roommates don’t take care of anything. I just got tired of being the only one making an effort. Everything is so dirty, and I was doing all the cleaning of the dishes for the longest time. I just got tired of doing it, so now I just grab a snack for lunch.” Her roommates had smoked in the room, and one day brought a cat home, even though pets weren’t allowed. The garbage, the smoke, and the pet dander all made Jada wheeze. The mess influenced how well she was caring for herself—even how she ate and slept. And all of that influenced how she felt.

Her dad took Jada home for a week, where she was able to get hydrated, avoid the toxic environment, eat good food, and get good sleep. Her breathing returned to normal.

A former college counseling director, Joannie DeBrito, reports that self-care issues are common for college-age students who are out on their own for the first time. “I instructed my counseling staff to assess every kid’s level of self-care,” she says, “because almost always if someone was feeling depressed or anxious, at least part of that was due to poor sleep, poor nutrition, poor environment, and not taking care of themselves. Sleep deprivation is probably the number one thing for young people because they are so tied to technology.

“I saw people who were in those kind of environments and were neglecting self-care get to the point of not only being depressed and anxious, but suicidal,” DeBrito explains. “When self-care suffers, things just get worse and worse. The more stress kids have, the less they sleep. And the less sleep they have, the bigger their stresses feel—it’s just a snowball going downhill.”

Self-care is important for our kids to learn, and for us as parents to practice. Think about it: raising well-adjusted, well-connected kids depends on the strength of our relationships. And relationships or connections can only be as strong and healthy as the individuals involved. You can’t connect meaningfully with others if you don’t bring your best self to the table. The implication is clear: good relationships begin with good self-care.

Lesson Complete!